Benzoin is a natural ingredient found in many types of skin care and beauty products. In its raw state, benzoin is a brown solid that with a slightly rigid or bumpy texture and has no noticeable shine. The ingredient can be called by a wide variety of names, including benzoin resin, gum benzoin and gum benjamin. It should not be confused with a chemical that is called also known as benzoin, which is used to protect plastics and other materials from sunlight. Although their names are the same, the substances have completely different chemical formulas.
The skin care ingredient benzoin is a product of the Styrax benzoin tree. This species is found in Southeast Asia, particularly on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java. The tree grows to be no more than 40 feet tall and is found in abundance in the region. Benzoin is produced from trees that are at least seven years old.
To make benzoin, a process known as distillation is often used. During distillation, the bark of the Styrax benzoin tree is boiled in water inside of a special container. The boiling creates a vapor that is rich in benzoin. The vapor quickly rises to the top of the distillation apparatus, where it travels through a series of tubes. The temperature inside of these tubes is much lower than the temperature in the boiling chamber, and as a result, the vapor condenses or becomes a liquid.
Often, once benzoin has been isolated from the bark of the Styrax benzoin tree, it is mixed with alcohol and left in a liquid form. This formulation of benzoin is commonly referred to as tincture of benzoin. The ingredient can also be mixed with a carrier oil to form benzoin oil. In some cases, the temperature of benzoin is dropped even more, so that the material forms the solid benzoin resin.
The use of benzoin in skin care can be traced to ancient China. There, the ingredient was used to promote the flow of energy and blood through the body. Modern day alternative medical practitioners who utilize Chinese herbs often recommend benzoin for the treatment of conditions that affect the heart, liver and spleen. In Chinese medicine, the ingredient is referred to as an xi xiang.
Historical records show that benzoin was used in Europe as a skin care remedy at least as early as the 19th century. Writings exist that detail ways to combine tincture of benzoin resin with rosewater for use as a facial mask and cleanser to beautify and brighten the complexion. Early skin care books and guides dating to the time period also recommend mixing benzoin with glycerin to treat chapping on the hands.
The use of benzoin resin for treating chapped hands and irritated skin in general continues to this day. Benzoin is often included in body and hand lotions and has a softening effect upon the skin, particularly when combined with a rich moisturizing ingredient, such as shea butter. The healing, soothing properties of benzoin have also led to its inclusion in creams and ointments used to treat nipple irritation in nursing mothers.
In addition to its soothing properties, benzoin is also a mild antibacterial, meaning that it eliminates infection-causing bacteria from the surface of the skin. Benzoin can be used in disinfectant topical creams and ointments as well as in naturally based antibacterial soaps. When applied before an adhesive bandage, benzoin reduces the risk for sensitivity to the adhesive and cuts down on redness and swelling. Some doctors also spray benzoin onto the skin before applying a cast to help minimize skin irritation.
Benzoin is widely used in skin care and beauty products because of its scent. The natural fragrance of benzoin is similar to vanilla, making it a common addition to vanilla-scented bath and body products. The ingredient is also widely used in perfumes and body sprays. Many types of incense used in homes and in religious services contain benzoin.
Practitioners of aromatherapy often tout benzoin's ability to alleviate stress and promote relaxation. As an aromatherapeutic treatment, benzoin oil can be used in a room diffuser or added to bathwater. The oil can also be applied directly to the skin for use as a massage oil.