My daughter has been plagued by a common skin condition since she was 5 months old. In a desperate attempt to find some relief for her while also avoiding over the counter steroid creams, I began to do my research on natural anti-inflammatories. Steroid creams are synthetic anti-inflammatory drugs that reduce inflammation on the skin when applied.
My research was simple–find an herbal remedy or essential oil for skin health that can produce the same level of anti-inflammatory properties without the potential for harsh side effects. Long term steroid use is associated with thinning of the skin (1). This was a situation where I was okay with using essential oils topically on my daughter for a short period of time—in my opinion that is a far better treatment than topical steroids.
The usual essential oils for skin support did nothing for her; they, in fact, made it worse. I tried lavender, frankincense, cedarwood, and tea tree with no results. Finally, I came across research on a little molecule called a-bisalobol, and I was very happy with what I was reading! Bisalobol is a constituent of German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla ) essential oil, and alongside the molecule chamazulene, these two molecules make German chamomile a very unique essential oil.
If you’ve ever used German chamomile essential oil, you will find it is very thick and a deep blue color, due to the chamazulene. When I used it on my daughter, I began to see results within a day. There was definitely merit to the anti-inflammatory claims of a-bisalobol! I also purchased a bottle of German chamomile hydrosol for maintenance. (Also great for teething!) Hydrosols are very gentle and good for daily use on little ones–you can find them HERE and HERE. Although it never completely cleared her skin (a diet change healed her 100%!), it helped immensely and got us through the tough days!
*Note: You may see me interchange between chamomile and a-bisalobol. This is because some studies are done on purified a-bisalobol and some are done using extracts of the entire flower. For the purpose of this post, when I say chamomile I mean German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla )
What is a-bisalobol?
A-bisalobol is a molecule called a sesquiterpene that produces a very thick liquid. It is a known anti-inflammatory agent (1) and produces great results when used topically on the skin, as I found out in my own personal use.
It is used frequently in skincare products—just start looking at the back of some of your cosmetics; I’m sure you will find bisalobol on many of them. It is very safe to use as long as you are not allergic to ragweed or are taking certain medications.
What does the research say?
- In a study on colostomy patients, a German chamomile solution accelerated wound healing and performed better than a 1% hydrocortisone treatment (1). On day 15, 100% of the patients treated with chamomile were healed while only 77.6% of patients treated with hydrocortisone were completely healed.
- A study on rats showed that a-bisalobol was able to reduce inflammation and swelling in carrageenan induced paw swelling (2). It was also able to reduce inflammation associated pain, most likely by reducing the inflammation itself (2).
- Chamomile was found to be about 60% as effective as 0.25% hydrocortisone cream in a study on atopic eczema (3). (I’ll take those odds!)
How does it work?
- Animal studies have shown that bisalobol is able to decrease the movement of white blood cells and pro-inflammatory signals to the abdominal cavity in response to a tissue injury (2).
- A-bisalobol most likely interacts with the inflammatory cascade, and interferes with pro-inflammatory signals (2).
- Rodents with gastric lesions were shown to receive protective gastric properties from bisalobol (2), a direct opposite of the stomach irritation and lesions often caused by NSAIDS.
- A known anti-inflammatory activity of chamomile is the inhibition of inflammatory cytokine release and reduced activity of the very same enzyme that NSAIDS inhibit without the gastric consequences (3).
Okay, Emily, what are you talking about?? Learn more about the immune system HERE!
Uses of Chamomile
As you can see, the molecule a-bisalobol and chamomile are connected, as chamomile is the main herbal source of a-bisalobol. For teas, essential oils, hydrosols, tinctures, salves, and balms, the whole, unadulterated source of chamomile is best, as the bio-availability and synergistic effects are best when used as nature intended.
Chamomile’s powerful healing effects are probably attributed to not only a-bisalobol, which is unstable, but also two oxides of a-bisalobol as well as chamazulene and other naturally occurring molecules. God has given us these plants in a perfect state, and we should use them without synthetic additives and isolation of specific molecules.
Chamomile, in many forms, has traditionally been used as an anti-inflammatory and astringent, but it’s current medicinal uses span not only anti-inflammatory use but also skin irritations, rashes, insomnia, swelling, wounds, burns, and gastrointestinal ailments (3).*
*Safety note: a-bisalobol inhibits the enzyme CYP2D6; therefore anyone taking drugs metabolized by that enzyme should theoretically use chamomile products and chamomile essential oil with caution. (4)
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How to use?
German chamomile works well as a topical application for skin health. I made mine in a roller bottle (Apricot Kernel Oil + essential oil), but a coconut oil lotion ( Extra Virgin Coconut Oil + essential oil) is also a good option! Remember to dilute properly! (I use these guidelines based on age)
Hydrosols are another great option that I love recommending for babies. They are the water layer created during the essential oil distillation process. Hydrosols contain active water-soluble constituents, but are far gentler than essential oils. They can be safely used daily and without the same restrictions and limitations as essential oils; I use them in conjunction with essential oils. You can find them HERE and HERE.
As with any essential oil, educate yourself. Do your research on the company you have chosen; call them and ask questions, research their farms, distillation processes, GC/MS reports, organic practices, and other data. Essential oils are powerful and must be treated as such. Please, keep them in a locked cabinet far away from children. If you want to know what essential oils I use, please contact me. I’d love to chat about it!
What essential oils contain bisalobol?
While German chamomile is the best place to find a-bisalobol and its oxides (2-60% depending on oxidation), it can also be found in:
Balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) at 27% (4)
Australian Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) at 5-15 % (4)
Bisalobol and the essential oil it comes from are truly unique and powerful tools of nature! I love using German chamomile in my home and I will continue to use it in all forms for skin support, relaxation, and digestive health. I even planted some in our herb garden!
What to do next?
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- Using chamomile solution or a 1% topical hydrocortisone ointment in the management of peristomal skin lesions in colostomy patients: Results of a controlled clinical study
- Anti-nociceptive and anti-inflammatory activities of (−)-α-bisabolol in rodents
- Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future
- Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals
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