Cactus 101: All You Need to Know About the Benefits of Using Cactus-Based Products in Your Face and Skin Care Routines

We spent the past month diving deep into the benefits of cactus for your face and skin as part of an investigation we led to create the best possible cactus-based product at Lohm.

It all started with the question: Is cactus good for your face? And the answer is yes! Research proves that cactus packs a powerful punch for your skin — whether on your face or anywhere else on your body.

Using cactus in skin care might seem a bit “prickly,” but it turns out that there are a lot of untold benefits. From hair health to wrinkle reduction to acne reduction to improved UVA/UVB damage prevention to the reduction of black circles and pigmentation, cactus packs a powerful punch when included in your daily facial care routine.

This article will cover:

The Cactus Has a Lot of Benefits Beyond Cactus Water

Cactus water has been trendy for a few years, with celebrities touting the benefits for your skin and big beauty brands claiming it freshens and boosts your skin. Like any electrolyte and vitamin-heavy drink, it provides all-over skin care benefits — and yet, only 7% of respondents in a survey by Poshly had given it a try.

However, topical application has even more science-based research than the that on oral consumption. Both are packed with Vitamin E, Vitamin K, and a number of health benefits (read on to learn all of them). Topical application — as opposed to taking it orally — will help reduce wrinkles, fight signs of aging (dark spots, fine lines, etc.), and boost your overall skin wellness.

So, How Does Cactus Help Improve Your Face Tonality and Health?

In a lot of ways! Cactus is a powerhouse natural product that has a lot of researched benefits.

  • The cactus can reduce skin damage caused by UVA and UVB rays. Those are the ones that contribute to extrinsic (environmental) skin damage.
  • When added to a facial mask, the cactus has been known to improve the moisture, brightness, and elasticity of treated skin.
  • Cactus is used to treat dark spots on your skin or underneath your eyes. Because of the large dose of vitamin K it provides, it serves as an all-over brightener.
  • Cactus has also been proven to help with wound healing.
  • Cactus oil has been shown to help with hair growth in some recent studies.
  • Cactus has shown a potent antioxidant activity determined by different test systems — namely DPPH radical scavenging activity, Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity, reducing power, β-carotene bleaching assay, and metal chelating activity — and also exhibited significant antibacterial activity against almost all tested bacteria. (Did that get too science-y for you?)
  • Cactus plants have been used widely in North America as a source of food and for the treatment of different health disorders, such as inflammation and skin aging.

The Cactus Also Contains a Wide Variety of Vitamins

The cactus is a beneficial plant with a such a wide variety of uses because it contains a huge range of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids (EFAs), including:

  • Vitamin E: Vitamin E helps to block free radicals, which play a large part in the aging process, from the body. Prickly pear contains over 150% more vitamin E than argan oil, and all varieties of cacti contain a large amount of vitamin E.
  • Vitamin K: Vitamin K helps to brighten the skin, reduce fine lines, calm redness and irritation, and heal skin — especially after cosmetic (or medical) procedures.
  • Betalains: Betalains have powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxifying properties. These are commonly found in beets, but are also present at high levels in cacti.   
  • Linoleic acid: An omega-6 EFA, linoleic acid nourishes and repairs your skin by strengthening the skin’s barrier, helping it retain more moisture. Additionally, it has some properties that can help reduce acne while softening the skin.
  • Oleic acid: Also found in avocado and other mainstream oils (like almond oil and olive oil), oleic acid is beneficial for sealing in moisture while helping carry other essential nutrients deeper into the skin.
  • Essential fatty acids: All vegetable oils contain both nonessential and essential fatty acids. When the skin doesn’t get enough EFAs, it puts us at risk of dry, irritated, or dull complexions.
  • Palmitic acid:

    This acid has both antioxidant and healing properties and is known to help dermatitis and eczema. While it does naturally appear in our skin, its quantity diminishes over time, but it can be supplemented with the topical application of palmitic acid.

  • Phytosterols: These cholesterol-like molecules are found in all plant foods. They help with the slow-down of collagen production that can be caused by the sun and encourages new collagen production.

  • Polyphenols: This naturally occurring plant product has the ability to protect skin from the adverse effects of UV radiation, including the risk of skin cancers. It is suggested that polyphenols may be used to supplement sunscreen protection and may be useful for skin diseases associated with solar UV radiation-induced inflammation, oxidative stress, and DNA damage.

  • Flavonoids: Flavonoids are a subclass of polyphenols and are widely distributed throughout nature. The polyphenolic structure of flavonoids and tannins renders them quite sensitive to oxidative enzymes.
  • Cacti also contain amino acids, vitamins B and C, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron.

With such a wealth of vitamins and nutrients, this plant rightfully earns its name as a “powerhouse” when used in skin care and wellness products.

What Types of Cactus You Can Use on Your Face?

The cactus family at large has benefits when used in skin care applications. Of course, please consult a botanist before picking any odd one out of the wild or a dermatologist before just applying to your skin. The variety of cactus ingredients that beauty brands and skin care enthusiasts add to their serums, butters, scrubs, and cleansers include:

  • Prickly pear oil (Opuntia ficus-indica): Prickly pear, also occasionally known as the Barbary fig, contains the most vitamin E of any beauty oil on the market (150% more than argan oil) and the highest percentage of unsaturated fatty acids (88%), making it an incredibly powerful oil for skin health.​ Plus, it tightens pores, improves skin elasticity, and so much more.
  • Nopal cactus (Opuntia cacti): The Mexican Nopal cactus may be one of the most betalain-rich plants in existence and, like all cacti, contains a giant dose of skin-benefiting nutrients.
        • What are betalains? They’re a type of pigment found in plants of the Caryophyllales order. Essentially, they are believed to help with anti-aging, although more scientific research is needed.
      • Cactus seed oil: Cactus seed oil contains linoleic acid, vitamin E (tocopherol), vitamin K, and flavonoids that combine into a perfect punch of skin-improving greatness. Cacti also contain high amounts of betalains, which is a naturally occurring antioxidant and anti-aging ingredient.
        • The Pachycereus family: Pachycereus is a family of cactus that grows throughout Mexico. It has a similar chemical makeup to other varieties of cacti and can be used in both DIY skin care recipes and commercial-grade products.

            Don’t stop there — there are other kinds of cacti that can also have an enormous impact on your skin and the overall health and wellness of your face. However, the above are a few of the top varieties of cacti that have proven, clinical benefits for your overall skin health and wellbeing.

            What are the Beauty Benefits of Cactus for the Skin, Particularly on Your Face?

            So, you may be wondering, what do all those vitamins, EFAs, and nutrients do to actually help your skin?

            The short answer is: a lot. The cactus has a wide variety of both traditional and evolving usage.

              • Hydration: The cactus’s superior water retention capacity is excellent for hydrating skin and hair.
              • Skin Brightening: Cactus can also reduce dark circles underneath the eyes and discoloration elsewhere because of its high levels of vitamin K. Brown patches are very often triggered by pregnancy, hormonal changes in the body, and sun exposure. Punching up your dose of vitamin K can help combat the appearance of these spots.
              • Elasticity and softness: The cactus can help restore elasticity and create softer, more nourished skin. That means visibly tighter skin and fewer wrinkles.
              • Acne: The cactus can help treat, inhibit, and suppress viral infections, dermatological damage, and — importantly — acne. Because all types of cactus are non-comedogenic, they will not clog your pores!
              • Wound healing: Cactus can help heal wounds, treat burns, and reduce inflammation. You can create a natural poultice simply by applying the inner cactus mash directly to a wound.
              • Wrinkle reduction: Cactus reduces wrinkles because of the high quantity of vitamin E, a free-radical scavenger that helps increase cell renewal. The high fatty acid content plumps the skin, reduces wrinkles, and adds firmness, all while improving damage.
              • Anti-aging: Because of the overall wrinkle reduction and tone improvement associated with cactus, it is a great nutrient to look for in skin care products. For the 68% of people who use serums primarily for their anti-aging properties, you may want to look for one that lists cactus in the ingredients.

            Why is Prickly Pear (Nagfani) the Cactus Product People Swear By?

            Prickly pear is the super power plant that people swear by because if has the most vitamin E of any beauty oil on the market (150% more than argan oil) and the highest percentage of unsaturated fatty acids (88%). You’ve probably seen numerous magazine articles and products on the shelves of your local department store (or even pharmacy).

            So, why do you want prickly pear products?

            The short answer is that this type of cactus can be used all over your body, doesn’t clog pores, brightens and tightens skin, and is all-over goodness.

            The long answer is that the combination of nutrients (mentioned above) provide long-lasting skin improvement. The benefits vary based on how much prickly pear oil is used in the products that you buy or make. The oil, which comes from grinding the inner seeds in the “pear” part of the cactus, is used in masks, serums, oils, and cleansers and as the carrier of the nutrients that improve your skin or your hair.

            You can use prickly pear oil for toning, brightening, reducing wrinkles, and improving your overall hair quality. People have also argued that it can help boost your immune system, contribute to weight loss, protect the liver, lower cholesterol, protect against heart disease, and more. However, you should consult a medical professional before ingesting to ensure it’s the right choice — and the right dosage — for you.

            How Long Does it Take to See the Benefits of Cactus Skin Care Products?

            As with all skin care products, the impact won’t be immediate: You’ll need to give cactus-based skin care products around four to six weeks to be able to attain a truly noticeable difference. However, you may see a slight visual and textural impact much earlier, especially with serum or oil-based products.

            Which Cactus-Based Products Should You Buy?

            Here are a few that we’ve enjoyed testing.

            Note: Not all of these products are produced at our same high standard of natural, cruelty-free products. Please take time to determine if the products are right for you before purchasing.

            DIY Cactus Skin Care Recipes

            Want to create a cactus treatment at home? You can! Cactus leaves can be found in some grocery stores (try a Hispanic grocery store if you have one in your area), many specialty flower markets, and — in some parts of the world — just outside your doorstep. (Lucky you!)

            Cactus based skincare recipes

            • If you have acne, prickly pear-based recipes could be your go-to. Prickly pear oil has a comedogenic rate of 0, so it won't clog your pores! (This is true of not just prickly pear but of all cacti.) Try a recipe of 2 tablespoons of prickly pear oil, 1 tablespoon of water, and 1 tablespoon of tea tree essential oil.
            • If you’re looking to use cactus for anti-aging, you could make an anti-aging serum by combining 1 tablespoon of prickly pear oil, 1 teaspoon of pomegranate seed oil, 1 teaspoon of argan oil, and 1 teaspoon of watermelon seed oil in a 2 oz amber glass dropper bottle. Next add 4 drops of lemon oil and 4 drops of sandalwood oil. Close the bottle and shake gently to mix. Use 2-3 drops on your face and neck at nighttime.
            • If you want to make an all-around great skin cleanser, you can combine ½ cup of mashed fresh cactus with the spines and outer skin removed, ¼ cup of water, 1 teaspoon of green tea essential oil, and ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg essential oil. This cleanser can be kept in your fridge for 5 days.
            • If you want to make a cactus mask, you can blend a piece of aloe vera with a cactus stalk. Then add 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 tablespoon of lime and blend until smooth. Apply to your face and leave on for about 20 minutes before rinsing off with warm water.

            Where To Find Cacti

            • The prickly pear is native to North America, but can also be found in Morocco, Tunisia, and South Africa. The Aztecs used it to treat burns and the Chinese have used it to dress wounds and abscesses. The plant can reach between 1 and 7 feet in height.
            • The Pachycereus is a columnar cactus that grows in Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

            If you have cactus mash left over, you can drink the juice too!

            Cacti are a great source of nutritional benefits when ingested orally. These range from lowering cholesterol to improving joint function to lowering weight to improving skin tone — and more.

            At Lohm, we are deeply in love with this recipe from Thyme and Love. To make, simply mix these ingredients in a blender and serve immediately:

            • ½ cup diced fresh cactus paddles (nopales), spines removed and cleaned
            • 1 cup frozen pineapple
            • ½ cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
            • ¼ cup water

            Why is Lohm so Interested in Cactus?

            Recently, we traveled to St. Lucia, an island I have dreamed of visiting since I was a child. With its iconic volcanic mountains and lush countryside, it had captured my imagination — and now, with Lohm, I visited not just to see the rainforest beauty but also to discover how they harvest a few unique ingredients for use in skin care products. This fact-finding mission was focused, but not initially on the cactus.

            Hiking the Pitons, we learned that cactus can be used as a shampoo.

            As we (my partner Mark and I) slipped off the boat to hike Gros Piton, the iconic and more accessible of the two infamous volcanic mountains, we smiled. This was the sort of adventure that made us want to take vacations. We walked down the beach, across a stream, and started up the alarmingly steep trail.

            A few minutes in, we were panting, and our guide gently stopped us by a cactus. “Do you know what this is?”

            “A cactus,” I said.

            “And do you know what we do with it?”

            Beside me, Mark huffed. I shook my head.

            “For shampoo. We use the gel to make shampoo. The Rastas use it to grow their hair long.”

            I tilted my head. I knew that there was a moment in 2015 when every company included cactus in their ingredients, but I didn’t know why or where the concept had come from.

            We hiked up the mountain, through big hand-carved steps and around steep boulder faces. It rained. The humidity rose. It rained again.

            On the way back down, I asked for more clarification. “What do you mean they use cactus gel to make shampoo?”

            “They cut the cactus and make the shampoo from the gel.”

            “How long does it last?”

            “You don’t have to wash your hair for the next five days.”

            “And how do you make it? Do you buy it?”

            “No,” said our guide. “I’ll show you.”

            He broke off a branch of a Pilosocereus royenii and twisted it as he walked, discarding leaves and unneeded branches. We slowed as we entered the final descent towards the beach, and then further still as he took the twig he’d been playing with, stuck it in the cactus, and twisted part of it off the main plant. It hung there on his stick as he walked out of the forest, onto the beach, and across to the plywood table a local man had been using nearby.

            The man handed over a knife and our guide quickly cut off the outer layers and into the inside belly, mashing the cactus into the husk of a bowl.

            “Sometimes we use it as a cleanser too,” he said when he was finished, before having me add water and stick my hands in. When I rubbed my face, it immediately felt clean, moisturized, and fresh.

            As it turns out, cactus has a lot more skin care benefits than meets the (rather prickly) eye.