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Manila Elemi: A prized ingredient in the skincare industry

Isn’t it mind-boggling to think that the same resin, which was used in the embalming process of dead bodies about five centuries ago, can now be found in expensive bottles of skin care products?

Image source: Tumblr [10] and Vectorstock [11]

Yes, you read that right. It is Manila Elemi, an oleoresin obtained from the bark of Canarium luzonicum, a tropical tree that is endemic to the Philippines. Especially abundant in Bicol (a region in the southeastern part of Luzon in the Philippine islands), this plant has made its way into different parts of the world, from South East Asia to Central and South America. Magellan’s expedition to the Philippines paved the way to the introduction of Manila Elemi to the Middle East and Europe. The wide range of its applications justifies the name ‘Elemi’, which means ‘above-and-beyond’ in Arabic – an expression signifying that the resin harbors both physical and spiritual benefits [1]. This then, explains the crazy contrast in Elemi’s uses – in embalming corpses, in the construction of boats, and even in medicinal and personal care applications [2].

Particularly of great interest is the Manila Elemi essential oil, which is obtained through the hydro-distillation of the resin. It has been suggested that the oil improves overall health and wellness, whether it be used aromatically or topically. Among numerous benefits, Elemi fortifies the immune system through stimulation of the thymus gland, assists in wound healing and prevents infections because of its analgesic and antiseptic properties, and even alleviates respiratory issues, thanks to its expectorant properties [1]. The “magic” brought about by the oil lies in the active components of Elemi. In a study published in 1993, 39 compounds were identified in the essential oil, with the notable constituents being limonene (56%), terpineol, phellandrene, and elemol [3].

Being the major component of Elemi, limonene is responsible for the well-documented antibacterial and antidepressant properties of the oil, while acting as an immunostimulant [4]. Research has shown that Elemi oil exhibits significant antibacterial activity against E. Coli and Staphylococcus aureus, the leading cause of skin and soft tissue infections [8]. α-Terpineol is used as an active ingredient in formulations to moisturize skin, diminish wrinkles, enhance skin elasticity, and inhibit erythema [5]. Recent studies also show that phellandrene exhibits anti-inflammatory and antioxidative activities [6], while elemol attenuates atopic dermatitis [7]. This consortium of benefits makes the essential oil of Elemi an effective topical treatment against eczema, candida infections, and fungal infections [1].

Although Elemi has been a cosmetic staple even in ancient times (historically, it was used in soaps and healing ointments), it is gaining international recognition as a prized essential oil because of the rediscovery of its benefits. With personal care companies employing aggressive marketing on buzzwords such as “anti-aging” and “skin regeneration”, Elemi proves to be a coveted ingredient in the skincare industry. High-end brands such as Estée Lauder, Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, and Dior have incorporated Elemi as an active ingredient in some of their product portfolio. But this does not mean that all Elemi-based skin care products are expensive. As an example, Human Nature, a social enterprise business in the Philippines, offers products containing Elemi at very affordable prices.

So, the next time you do your shopping of personal care items, be an avid reader of product labels and keep an eye open for “Elemi” – it is, after all, a prized ingredient in the skincare industry!



[1] Rowan, Kiri. “Elemi Essential Oil to Heal and Restore Skin and Body.” MONQ, 9 Sept. 2019, Date accessed: 14 Nov. 2020

[2] “Canarium Luzonicum Manila Elemi .” PFAF Plant Database, Plants for a Future, Date accessed: 07 Nov. 2020

[3] Villanueva, Merle A., et al. “The Composition of Manila Elemi Oil.” Flavour and Fragrance Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, 1993, pp. 35–37., doi:10.1002/ffj.2730080107.

[4] Williams, Aaron. “Terpene Profile: Limonene.” MONQ, 9 Sept. 2019, Date accessed: 06 Nov. 2020

[5] Composition for Skin Moisturization and Skin Wrinkle Alleviation, Containing α-Terpineol as Active Ingredient. 31 Aug. 2017. <> Date accessed: 07 Nov. 2020

[6] Scherer, Marcella Malavazi De Christo, et al. “Wound Healing Activity of Terpinolene and α-Phellandrene by Attenuating Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Vitro.” Journal of Tissue Viability, vol. 28, no. 2, 2019, pp. 94–99., doi:10.1016/j.jtv.2019.02.003.

[7] Yang, Hyun, et al. “Elemol from Chamaecyparis Obtusa Ameliorates 2,4-Dinitrochlorobenzene-Induced Atopic Dermatitis.” International Journal of Molecular Medicine, vol. 36, no. 2, 2015, pp. 463–472., doi:10.3892/ijmm.2015.2228.

[8] Villanueva, M.A., et al. “Anti-Bacterial Activity of Manila Elemi Oil.” AGRIS, 1 Jan. 1996, Date accessed: 04 Nov. 2020

[9] Ratkovic, Andrea. “Elemi Essential Oil, the Natural Skin Booster.” Annmarie Skin Care, 12 Oct. 2017, Date accessed: 16 Nov. 2020

Image sources

[10], Date accessed: 17 Nov. 2020

[11], Date accessed: 17 Nov. 2020

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