Azulene is a naturally occurring substance that functions as a pigment in many types of plants, fungi and invertebrate organisms. The ingredient was first isolated in the 15th century from the German chamomile herb, which is still a common source of azulene. By the end of the 19th century, scientists had discovered azulene in other plant life, including yarrow and wormwood.
Septimus Piesse is credited for giving azulene its name in 1863. The word is derived from the Spanish word "azul," which means "blue" and was chosen by Piesse because of azulene's striking, brilliant blue color. In its natural form, azulene is an oily liquid and will not dissolve in or mix with water. Sometimes azulene is referred to as guaiazulene.
The most common use of azulene in skin care products is as a natural coloring agent. When added to products, azulene imparts a blue tint that enhances the look of a formula. Azulene is found in a wide variety of beauty products, including soaps, cleansers and moisturizers. It is also contained in hair care products and treatments, including conditioners, chemicals used for permanents and straightening and hair dyes.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists azulene as exempt from certification when used as a color additive. This means that products that contain azulene do not have to go through the FDA's usual testing and approval process prior to being sold on the market. The regulations do prevent azulene from being used in products intended for the eyes and lips, meaning that it cannot be employed as a pigment for eye shadows, eyeliners or lip colors.
The reason for the FDA's decision to not further regulate the use of azulene is due to its overall safety. The ingredient does not contain lead, arsenic, mercury or other toxins and is not known to pose a risk for genetic mutations or cellular damage that can lead to cancer. Generally, azulene is well tolerated when used as a coloring agent and not likely to cause hypersensitivity reactions the way synthetic blue dyes can. For this reason, azulene is one of the most commonly used colorants in products designed for those with sensitive skin.
Clinical studies of azulene have shown that the ingredient offers benefits beyond enhancing the color of skin care products. Azulene extracted from chamomile is known to reduce inflammation in the skin tissue. Inflammation occurs anytime the immune system releases chemicals to combat infections or to protect the skin from foreign molecules. The chemicals that comprise azulene mildly inhibit the actions of the immune system, resulting in a reduction in redness and swelling.
The anti-inflammatory benefits of azulene have led to its inclusion in formulas meant to address acne. In these products, azulene helps to alleviate the redness from blemishes, allowing the complexion to clear up more quickly. Azulene is also used in moisturizers and skin care treatment serums, creams and lotions that are intended for stressed or damaged skin. When added to a skin care product for its anti-inflammatory actions, azulene may be accompanied by alpha-bisabolol, another ingredient obtained from chamomile, which helps to calm skin irritation.
As an antioxidant, azulene has the ability to shield the skin from damage from free radicals. Although it cannot prevent the skin from ever aging, azulene can minimize symptoms associated with more mature skin and help reduce the likelihood that fine lines and wrinkles will develop prematurely. By neutralizing free radicals, azulene can also help prevent the cellular damage that causes skin discoloration from occurring due to sun exposure.
Chamomile and its derivatives, including azulene, are also known to rejuvenate skin cells to help address cellular damage that has already occurred. Additionally, azulene has mild antibacterial properties and is sometimes used in natural medicine as an ingredient in antiseptics.