January 11


Pigments in Botanical Oils

Pigments in oils tell a story…

Carrots are orange, blueberries blue; lemons are yellow, and tomatoes are red.

Nature’s colors are complex molecules that protect and prevent disease for the plant’s overall health; carotenes are orange, cyanidin, blue; flavonoid, yellow, lutein and zeaxanthin are green, and lycopene, red.

As delightful to the eye as these compounds are, their vital role is one of protection. Primarily antioxidant, they protect cells from the excesses of life processes, too much sun, light or oxygen. Nourishment too, in the form of vitamins, polyphenols and flavonoids is found in plant parts that include leaf, root, stem and seed.

Pigments of every hue and shade are important compounds for maintaining the health of the plant as well as ours when we eat them.


Pigments produced by the action of sunlight on plant metabolism provide us with exceptional protection and nutrition. When found in the reproductive parts of plants, the seeds where the botanical oils are created, these colorful compounds are exceptional for the health of the skin.

Used externally, oils help minimize sun damage and loss of moisture. Seeds like sesame, almond and olive are among many pressed for their nutritious oils for food preparation, and topically on the skin.

Oils produced by seeds consist of a large volume of lipids, the oily fatty acids along with a smaller percentage of nutrients and compounds that add color, scent and flavor.

These compounds are formed by nature to parent the seedling towards a mature and independent plant-hood. Full of antioxidants, including phenolic compounds and terpenes, along with minerals and vitamins and the lipids, seeds are concentrated nutrition for the plant.

Orange - Carotenoids

Pressed from seed-bearing parts of plants, botanical oils are a diverse and important source of skin and body nutrition. Many are brightly colored, in contrast to the pale yellow grocery store oils. The stronger the color, the higher the antioxidant potential found in the oil.

The reds, oranges and purples of carotenoid compounds, display their presence vividly. Used on the skin these compounds protect cells from sun and weather damage while allowing the sun’s rays to penetrate the skin and aid in the production of vitamin D, a vitally important nutrient for a healthy immune system.

Adopting the theme, ‘eat your colors’ as a diet plan guards your health daily. Colorful eating livens up the plate and is a foolproof pathway to health. Botanical foods are complex combinations of compounds and elements that include carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals and other plant chemicals. Included in this complexity are the antioxidants that protect against uncontrolled free radicals, those electrons that are not bound to a molecule and reactive, able to damage cells.

Found in a variety of forms and colors that include the polyphenols and terpenes, vitamins and flavonoids, these commonly available antioxidants are protective and nutritive compounds that balance and protect life processes.

Red - Beta-Carotene, Lycopene 

Red, the color of heat and energy, think tomatoes in summer, is the color of the compound lycopene. Plants that produce lycopene use it as protection from damage by too much oxygen and light. As a member of the carotenoid group, lycopene’s importance for health is as an antioxidant, a quality shared by the group as a whole.

This group of compounds in the red/orange/purple range of foods and oils are found in watermelon, raspberries, cherries pomegranate, red onions and cabbage. In foods, red colored compounds help the body ward off cancerous conditions, diabetes, osteoporosis and help improve mental functioning. Tomato seed oil contains lycopene as do rosehip seed and carrot root oil extractions that benefit and protect the skin.

The orange of beta-carotene is the botanical precursor to vitamin A. In plants it is called pro-vitamin A as it only becomes vitamin A in our body when our metabolic system transforms carotenes into the vitamin. The ability of the carotenes to boost the immune system strengthens the body against diseases like cancer, conditions of the heart and figures strongly in the health of the eyes and skin.

On the skin the orange beta-carotene compounds found in some oils act as powerful antioxidants that protect against damage by ultraviolet radiation.

Very orange, buriti oil from a South American palm, rose hip seed oil from Chilean wild roses and red palm oil from Africa are high in beta and other carotenes. Foods high in beta-carotenes are yellow and orange squashes, papaya, apricots, oranges, carrots, sweet potatoes and yams.

Yellow / Green - Flavonoids, Xanthophylls

Flavus, the word for yellow in Latin, is the root of the word flavonoid. While not all flavonoids are yellow, they form a very large family of over 4,500 plant compounds. Flavonoids are responsible for the yellow coloring of lemons, oranges and grapefruit and the compound is found in the oils of pomegranate, sea buckthorn and tomato.

The protections awarded by flavonoids are legion and include anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergenic properties that are able to guard the body and all layers of the skin from damage.

Xanthophylls form the green and yellow plant compounds and also belong to the family of carotenoids. The differences between carotenes and xanthophylls are chemical and functional. Xanthophylls are water-soluble oxygen containing molecules whereas carotenes are without oxygen and oil soluble. Lutein and zeaxanthin are two xanthophyll compounds that contribute to the greens and yellows of nature. 

They are not vitamin A precursors as the carotenes, but are powerful antioxidants and have vitally important functions in the health of the eye and sight. Found in large concentrations in the macular region of the eye’s retina the compounds are thousands of times more concentrated there than in the rest of the body.

Green and orange peppers, spinach and greens in general, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green beans, zucchini, cabbage and avocado are among the foods with high levels of the xanthophylls. In the realm of oils, carrot seed, grapeseed, avocado and broccoli seed’s green color contain these compounds. 

Blue - Anthocyanidins

blueberry seed oil and fresh blueberries

The blues, purples and violet colors are water-soluble pigments found in plant tissues. Often but not exclusively, the compound names include cyan-, a shade of the color blue. Cyanidin, proanthocyanidins and anthocyanidins or anthocyanin, along with catechins and epicatechins, are forms of flavanols with highly antioxidant properties. Their protective content is important for the circulatory system and health of the eye.

These flavonoid compounds are present in skins of fruit, the leaves and stems. Lesser amounts of these water-soluble elements are found in the nutritive portion of seeds and their oils. At least two oils are rich in these flavanols, cranberry seed and African marula oil. Both oils are particularly beneficial in nourishing and supplementing the skin with plant compounds along with a rich combination of compatible fatty acids. Acai oil, from the South American palm is a particularly concentrated source of anthocyanin making it highly antioxidant, protecting against premature aging of the skin and body.

Pigments in Oils for Skincare & Formulating 

Our skin is made up the same fatty acid structures as the seed oils of nature.

 Over half of the outer most layers of skin are composed of oils and waxes. With this naturally high ratio of oil in the skin, it benefits greatly from oils applied externally as well as supplied in the diet. Skin care with plant-based oils need not be exotic.

Applying one or more, high quality oils to the skin daily will supplement its natural oils. As simple as using olive oil from your kitchen, oils are what protect the moisture contained in the cells that keep the skin smooth and youthful. Generally after bathing the skin is particularly receptive and will soak in the healthful compounds while the oils’ fatty acid lipids, the oily part, protect the skin against moisture loss.

Using color as your guide when planning meals or caring for the skin supplies the body with the elements it needs most, nutrition and protection. Our discussion of a few members of nature’s brilliant pallet is only an introduction.

The complex web of protective compounds found in the plants may never be completely untangled in a laboratory. For our purposes, by using our eyes we can pick a wide variety of nourishing foods and oils to paint ourselves towards health.


About the author 

Susan Parker

I'm Susan M Parker, author, teacher and researcher. My life is steeped in the lipid oils, carrier oils, plant butters. Since publishing my book Power of the Seed in 2014 I have been teaching and sharing my work with the botanical and lipid oils with students from around the world.

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