Is rose hip oil good for anti-aging? Episode 67

Is rose hip oil good for skin lightening, scar treatment, and other anti-aging benefits? Tune in to this week’s show to find out. 

Show notes

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Question of the week: Is Rose hip oil good for anti-aging?

Lisa says…I keep reading on various websites about the “miraculous” Trilogy rosehip oil. I’ve always thought that glycolic/lactic acids were the only treatments that can make a major difference, not a simple oil. And, is it right to pay 30$ for such a tiny bottle?

What is rose hip oil and where does it come from?

There are two fundamentally different types of oil that one can squeeze out of a rose. The first is rose petal oil which is probably what most people think of when they think of rose oil. That’s the essential oil which is used in perfumery. As you’d expect, rose flower oil comes from the petals of the flower.

The other type of oil is rosehip oil which comes from the hip of the plant. What is the hip you ask? The hip (which is also called the hem or haw ) is the radish-shaped, berry-like portion that’s left behind after the flower blooms. It’s also where the seeds of the plant reside. That’s why this oil is sometimes called Rose seed oil.

To make things even more confusing, you can extract rose hip oil from many different types of roses. Rosa damascena, the damask rose, which is widely grown in Bulgaria, Turkey, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Iran and China. Rosa centifolia, the cabbage rose, which is more commonly grown in Morocco, France and Egypt. In fact, the American Rose Society currently recognizes 37 classes of roses. This is important because different roses yield oils with different concentrations of “active” ingredients.

True rosehip seed oil is produced from the seeds of Rosa aff. rubiginosa which is also called Rosa eglanteria; occasionally Rosa moschata Herm OR Rosa Mosqueta. So as I said, it’s a little confusing.

It’s important to understand if you’re buying a product with rose petal oil or rose hip oil because chemically these two oils are VERY different.

Rose flower oil consists of a variety of aroma chemicals including citronellol, geraniol, phenyl ethyl alcohol and a bunch of others. It smells great but you wouldn’t want to use this on your skin because these aroma chemicals can be very irritating. In fact, one of the constituents is linalool which you may have seen listed on other products as a fragrance allergen.

Rose hip oil, on the other hand, is composed of long chain fatty molecules that are both saturated and unsaturated.

Poly-unsaturated fatty acids:

  • Oleic acid: 10-20%
  • Cis-linoleic acid: 41-50%
  • α-linolenic acid: 26-37%
  • Saturated fatty acids:
  • Palmitic acid: 3-5%
  • Stearic acid: 1-3%

It also contains other substances such as transretinoic acid, tannins, flavonoids, vitamin C and β- carotene .

The key take away here is that rosehip oil contains a large concentration of linoleic acid which is really good for skin and a lesser concentration of some other known anti-aging actives.

The case for rose hip oil – what is it supposed to do?

Here are the claims for rose hip oil according to the Trilogy website:

  • “Helps improve the appearance of scars, stretchmarks, fine lines and wrinkles”
  • “deliver all-over nourishment and repair for optimum skin health.”

Finally, depending on the source, you may hear that Rose hip oil is good for brightening the complexion and getting rid of dark age spots.

So what’s the deal? is rose hip oil is is really good for skin or not? Let’s get back to those Kligman questions.

Kligman question #1: Is there a mechanism?

The first question addresses whether or not there is any scientific rationale for how Rosehip oil could provide the benefits we just talked about.

It turns out there are some plausible reasons to believe that Rosehip oil could (in theory at least) be a good anti-aging agent.

First, as we discussed, one of the main components is linoleic acid which is recognized as an important component of cell membranes. It is known to be involved in prostaglandin synthesis, membrane generation, and other cell regeneration processes. This could explain how Rosehip oil may help diminish stretchmarks and scars.

Second it contains a form of retinoic acid which has been proven to be effective against fine lines and wrinkles.

And third it contains vitamin C which has several benefits including the ability to brighten complexion and diminish dark spots.

So, checkmark on the first question. There is at least a theoretical explanation for the magic of Rosehip oil.

Kligman question #2: Does it penetrate?

The second question deals with whether or not the components in Rosehip oil can penetrate skin to the point where it could possibly work.

Once again, the answer is yes. The active components that we just talked about, the linoleic acid, the retinoic acid, and vitamin C, all have been shown to penetrate skin in order to be functional.

Now, before you start hopping up-and-down with excitement because Rosehip oil seems so good, let me throw out one note of caution.

You also have to consider how much of these active components are present in Rosehip oil to understand if enough will penetrate skin to provide any benefit. In the case of linoleic acid it makes up somewhere between third and half of the oil so if you’re using straight Rosehip oil I would expect there’s plenty of linoleic acid present.

However for retinoic acid and vitamin C there’s really not much there to begin with. According to one study vitamin C is only present at about 0.2%. This is quite low since the optimal concentration is considered to be between 0.3 and 10%.

Kligman question #3: Is there proof it really works on people?

This is by far the most important question because while ingredient may hypothetically work without some evidence to prove that it’s effective under real life use conditions you could be totally wasting your time and money. So let’s look at the evidence for each of the benefits that rosehip oil supposedly provides.

Scar treatment
We found a couple of studies that evaluated the effect Rosehip oil has on scars. The first one is done by Trilogy, a company selling trilogy Rosehip oil.

It’s a small study with only 10 subjects. The subjects were instructed to apply Rosehip oil twice daily and not to use any other skincare products. Evaluators assessed the effect on both new scars and old scars at intervals of 4, 8, and 12 weeks. The results showed the following: 41% improvement in colour of scars; 27% improvement in appearance of scars; 26% improvement in visible area of scars. (By the way the ratings were both clinician rated and self assessment.)

This is certainly encouraging and we applaud for sharing their data, however, it’s a very small base size, it’s not blinded study, and it’s not placebo controlled. That means we don’t know if rosehip oil works any better than a regular moisturizing cream. We should also mention that Trilogy did another study on stretch marks with the same test design and almost identical results.

Fortunately we found another study that’s a little more rigorous.

This study was done on masectomy patients. It was also done with 10 panelists but they used a control group so I’m assuming that means they had five test subjects and five control subjects which is a very very small base size.

They had the patients apply a 26% solution of Rosehip oil for next 8 weeks and noticed increased skin growth in the sutured areas.

My concern with the study other than the small base size, is that it really only measures scar prevention that has nothing to do with getting rid of existing scars. Also, I couldn’t find out how the control group was treated. If the control group received no treatment at all then the study really only proves that applying some kind of oil helps protect the skin while it’s healing from a wound. Again, it’s encouraging but it certainly doesn’t prove that Rosehip oil works better than anything else.

There were a couple of other studies we found where there wasn’t a clear control and I couldn’t determine the base size but these studies did supposedly show an effect on post surgical scars.

So what does all this mean? There doesn’t appear to be any clear-cut evidence that Rosehip oil diminishes scars.

Skin lightening/dark spots
What about skin lightening? The only study we can find in this regard was not done on Rosehip oil but alcoholic extraction from rosehips. The researchers did an in vitro test on melanoma cells from mice and an in vivo test on guinea pigs (giving it orally.) Their results in both cases showed a reduction in the processes that result in skin pigmentation and they recommend that orally ingested Rosehip extract may be effective for skin lightening. It’s hard to say what this means for topically applied rosehip oil since the compounds that are alcohol soluble or different than the ones that are oils and these animal test data don’t directly correlate to human use.

At best you could look at these results optimistically and say that more research should be done.

Wrinkles and moisturization
Next, is there evidence that rosehip oil helps with wrinkles and skin moisturization? We found another study by Trilogy this time with 20 female subjects, 50% of which had dry skin. They applied rose hip oil twice daily for 8 weeks and the researchers measured wrinkle depth and assessed skin roughness and moisture level. Results showed 44% improvement in skin moisture; 23% improvement in fine lines and wrinkles; 21% smoother skin.

This is certainly not surprising since almost any good moisturizer will give similar results. Again the study was not blinded or placebo controlled so there’s nothing to indicate that this product is better than something that’s cheaper.

I want to briefly mention one other potential benefit of rosehip oil even though it’s not claimed for the Trinity product. That benefit is that it acts as an anti-inflammatory. We did find one study in Pubmed that talked about Rosehip oil is an anti-inflammatory.

They tested extract from the Dogwood Rose which is different from the rose that Rosehip oil is typically extracted from I don’t know how much of a difference that makes. but they tested and Hydro alcoholic extract and not an oil extract which certainly could make a difference, so take the results of this study with a grain of sodium chloride as they say.

In addition the testing was done on animals. Specifically part of the test was done on used a rat paw for edema which is swelling. The other part of the test the extract was given orally and they measured how well the extract could mitigate damage to the stomach lining.

The researchers concluded “Altogether, the present data demonstrate the anti-inflammatory property of Rosa canina suggesting its potential role as adjuvant therapeutic tool for the management of inflammatory-related diseases.”

But again, it was a different type of extract and the testing was done using a specific animal model that may or may not translate to human use and it wasn’t all done topically. so no clear evidence the Rosehip oil is a good anti-inflammatory.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Rosehip oil is a good moisturizer and it does contain some chemicals that in theory can have an anti-aging affect. However, even though it does have a plausible mechanism and at least some of its components have been shown to penetrate skin, there’s little direct data to prove that it works when applied to real people. There’s enough animal and in vitro testing to indicate there may be something worthwhile here but the only direct testing on people for the things that are important like scar healing and skin lightening were very very small tests and they didn’t compare rosehip oil to other alternatives. For example, if you’re trying to reduce scars there is much more evidence that silicone sheets are effective. And if you’re trying to lighten your complexion ingredients like hydroquinone and niacinamide are proven to be effective and they’re much less expensive.

But if you do decide to use Rosehip oil then here are some tips for you:

  1. Make sure you’re buying the right kind of Rose oil. Don’t be fooled into thinking a cream scented with rose petal oil will work the same way.
  2. Look for the pure oil since this will have the highest concentration of active ingredients.
  3. If you must use a cream or lotion, make sure rose hip oil is listed as the first or second ingredient. We know from some of the studies we looked at that it takes 15 or 20% of the oil to be effective.
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