What do wooden ships, breast cancer treatment, floor cleaner and skincare have in common? The answer is enthusiastically, “TERPENES!”
“The most structurally and stereo-chemically diverse family of natural products is that of the terpenoids, more than 55,000 of which have been identified to date in all life forms.” -Susan Trapp, PhD
Terpenes (terpenoids) make up the largest classification of small chemical compounds derived from living organisms. Of the 55,000 terpenes identified, at least half are synthesized by plants. Terpenes determine smell, taste and color in plants, fruits and vegetables and are also found in fungi, algae and animals. In plants, terpenes have a variety of functions, from luring pollinators to repelling predators. Terpene chemistry is widely studied and well understood.
The term “terpene” is derived from the German word for turpentine, which was the first compound to be isolated and chemically characterized. Turpentine is an oleoresin (from conifer) and is historically significant for the naval industry as it was used to coat the bottom of wooden boats. At the turn of the 20th Century, with the decline in wooden sailing ships and growing use of petroleum, the use of oleoresins in the naval industry collapsed. However, resin (terpenes) still have significant commercial production and are used in the perfumery, flavor, pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and chemical industries.
Terpenes have a wide range of uses at different potencies. We may be most familiar with terpenes in essential oils for a variety of aromatic and potentially therapeutic effects. One therapeutic application, and a famous terpene story, is that of taxadiene (Taxol®). The terpene was first identified in the Pacific Yew Tree during a 1960’s massive screening campaign of over 35,000 plants by the National Cancer Institute (lead by botanist Arthur Barclay). Taxadiene is the most well-known natural-sourced cancer drug in the U.S. to date. It is touted as one of the most effective and common chemotherapeutics utilized for ovarian and breast cancer.
In skincare, terpenes act in several facets, from scent experience to enhancing product intention, even boasting skin friendly components on their own. Combined with other ingredients, a terpene acts to provide access and then enhance efficacy of the ingredients function. An analogy would be in comparing terpenes to steroids. In body building, steroids increase the effect of weightlifting. Without steroids, one could increase muscle density from bicep curls, for example. Adding steroids increases the ability build more muscle. In skin care, a brightening ingredient works to normalize melanin production. If terpenes and a lightening ingredient are combined in a formulation, the brightening ingredient is able to work that much more effectively because terpenes have allowed for better access. It can be thought of as a very bold best friend who encourages you to do better and try harder.
With more than half of the known terpenes found in plants, it should come as no surprise that one of the most popular plants in recent history is loaded with the compounds. Though terpenes are used in everyday household items, from cooking extracts to toothpaste, hemp cannabis can be credited for bringing the term to the mainstream. Hemp contains hundreds of terpenes and varying terpene profiles that are influenced by climate, weather, soil type, fertilizer, age/maturation and even the time of day. Once extracted, terpenes work with other compound groups to influence biological processes. This is known as the “entourage effect.”
Here we will explore some of the skin-friendly benefits of the most popular terpenes found in hemp:
Myrcene – Myrcene’s scent is clove-like, earthy, green-vegetative, citrus, fruity with tropical mango and minty nuances. The most prevalent terpene found in most varieties of hemp, it is also present in high amounts in mangos, hops, lemon grass, East Indian bay tree, verbena and Mercia (namesake). In the skin, Myrcene is analgesic and anti-inflammatory and provides a calming effect.
Beta-Caryophellene – Caryophyllene, also known as beta-caryophyllene, is a primary terpene responsible for the spicy or peppery aroma found in several hemp varieties. Caryophyllene is also found in black pepper, oregano, cloves, basil and rosemary. In the skin, it is anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-bacterial.
Pinene (Alpha and Beta) – Pinene is an aromatic compound commonly found in cannabis that smells a lot like–you guessed it–a forest of pine trees. The unmistakable aroma of pinene can be found in various plants in the world. In fact, alpha pinene is the most common terpene found in nature. Pinene appears in pine needles, conifer trees, orange peels, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, mace bitter fennel, rosemary, sage, basil, dill, and parsley. There are two types of pinene with obvious distinguishing factors: alpha pinene is responsible for the characteristic smells of pine needles or rosemary, while beta pinene is responsible for scents that are reminiscent of dill, parsley, basil or hops. In the skin, pinene acts as an analgesic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-viral.
Linalool – Linalool is a common terpene that is found in the hemp plant but is most commonly associated with lavender and is the main contributor to lavender’s distinct flavor and powerful scent. Linalool as a fragrance is found in any kind of personal care products, in household products, in essential oils and in industrial products. Linalool naturally occurs in plants and spices as for example, jasmine, lavender, rosewood, basil, or thyme. In the skin, linalool is analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-viral and an immunostimulant.
Limonene – Limonene is an aromatic hemp terpene commonly associated with fruity, citrus aromas. It is found in many everyday items like fruit rinds, cosmetics and cleaning products. It is especially concentrated in orange peels, comprising around 97% of this rind’s essential oils It’s often referred to as d-limonene, which is its main chemical form. Limonene can also be found in the rinds of grapefruits, lemons and limes. In the skin, limonene enhances skin penetration of other compounds along with being analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant.
Humulene – Humulene is the characteristic terpene of hops and contains an earthy, woody and spicy aroma. It is also found in hemp, clove, sage, black-pepper and ginseng. Early research has indicated humulene is an anti-proliferative, preventing cancer cells from growing. It has proved to be an effective appetite suppressant making it a potential tool for weight loss. In the skin, humulene is analgesic, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory.
Yes, terpenes are awesome anti-inflammatories with potent antioxidant values. They work with other ingredients to ward off aging, calm trauma pigment and clear acne, all while providing a scent experience. Would it shock you to learn one of Lira’s signature ingredients is also rich with these powerful compounds? The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of Mastiha can also be linked to the unique earthy scent. Mastiha contains many terpenes including both alpha and beta pinene, linalool and verbenone (antibacterial, antifungal). Next time you experience the MYSTIQ Illuminating Beauty Oil, be sure to pay attention to the smell. See if you can pick up on the notes of pinene or linalool and know that pleasant aroma is also providing skin healing benefits to your face. Can you imagine if the power of hemp terpenes was combined with the magic of Mastiha? That could revolutionize your skin care routine. Stay tuned…
Watch our video where our education specialist Ella Cress talks about the benefits of Terpenes: