The common domesticated apple was originally classified as Pyrus malus when the scientific Latin-based binomial system of naming species was first introduced in the 18th century. By the 19th century, the apple was re-classified as Malus domestica, but the term Pyrus malus is still often used in ingredient lists when apple extracts are used in skin care products. The apple has been a source of food and healing products since the dawn of human civilization. Botanists believe that all of the current cultivars (or types) of apples grown today -- which number at least 7,500 named types of apples – originated in the European crab apple tree. Today, apples are the single greatest fruit crop grown in the world, produced for its healthful food and medicinal qualities.
Since ancient times, the apple has held special symbolism throughout many cultures. The apple was blamed for the original fall of Adam and Eve and their eviction from the Garden of Eden. The Greeks used the concept of a golden apple as the cause of the Trojan War -- a young prince, named Paris, from that city-state was asked to award a golden apple to the most beautiful woman at a wedding. Still, despite such an occasionally troublesome reputation, the apple has been honored and treasured for thousands of years. Alexander the Great, during his invasion of India, took the time to collect samples of dwarf apple trees and send them back to his teacher, Aristotle, in Greece. Although native to the Old World, the apple tree was one of the first species introduced into the Americas by European settlers. John Chapman – known by his nickname “Johnny Appleseed” – famously spent the last years of his life planting apple trees in the Midwest part of the United States. The Welsh, in the 19th century, are credited with being the originators of the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
The healthy benefits of apples are indeed impressive. Eaten raw or cooked, apples provide many factors which support or strengthen human health. In the field of skin and hair care, however, the constituents of apples also provide some important benefits. Apple extract has been studied and shown to provide great antioxidant effects. The phenolic compounds present in apple extract, particularly from apple seeds, have been shown to scavenge free radicals in the skin tissues, protecting against premature aging. There are also indications that these compounds work to actively promote cell health by activating “early cell death” of cancerous tissue. Although proper use of sun screen should be a part of everyone’s health care regime, Pyrus malus extracts in skin care products can potentially provide a healing benefit for skin that has been exposed to excessive amounts of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Apple seed oil is also a source of beneficial skin care. Sometimes called calocarpum mamossum or sapuyul, the oil is rich in essential fatty acids and proteins, providing an effective emollient for skin tissues. The moisturizing qualities of apple seed oil makes it an excellent choice for all skin types, but is particularly effective for dry skin that has been subject to damage from the elements. Apple seed oil, in its pure form, has a pleasant, almond-like aroma.
Unfortunately, apples can present a potential danger to some people. Individuals with a northern European ancestry can be susceptible to what is known as “birch-apple syndrome.” This means that such individuals, who are also allergic to birch tree pollen, can also have an allergic reaction to apple proteins. Since apples are also closely related to pears, some individuals with ancestry from the Mediterranean region can also have, or develop, an allergy to apples. Furthermore, apple seeds contain a small amount of a chemical, amygdalin, which is a form of cyanide; the amount of amygdalin in apple seed oil is so minute, however, that this does not present a real danger but, in some individuals, can cause irritation. Anyone using skin or hair care products containing ingredients derived from Pyrus malus or apple seed oil who develops symptoms of redden, inflamed or itching skin or, in particular, finds any difficulty in breathing should immediately cease use of that product and contact their physician. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding infants should discuss use of products containing Pyrus malus compounds.