Tsubaki, An Ancient Japanese Beauty Secret

Valued in East Asia for its use in beauty and cosmetics, and closely related to the tea plant, tsubaki is one of Japan's most famous flowering trees. Known by the scientific name Camellia japonica, it is endemic to mainland China, Taiwan, South Korea and southern Japan.

Tsubaki oil was used by geisha to keep their hair nourished and hydrated.

Above: Tsubaki oil was used by geisha to keep their hair nourished and hydrated. (Original painting by Haruyo Morita, who drew strong influence from the style and drama of Kabuki theatre, and Edo period Japan).

Tsubaki in Culture of Japan

In recent times it has been widely cultivated as a garden plant, but in the not so distant past the oil derived from its bulbous fruits was used as a multipurpose product, serving as a food, a hair and skin treatment, as well as a machine oil.

Long before its exportation to the west, tsubaki was admired by Japanese people with the first special varieties having been developed and described in the Edo Period (1600-1868).

At that time it was customary to plant a special camellia on the grave of a departed loved one, however, after the start of the Meiji Period (1868-1912), these traditions were largely lost.

Tsubaki beauties

The Beauties of Ōshima

In Japan, tsubaki oil was used for thousands of years as a cooking oil. However, in Ōshima Island, the women who harvested the oil were noticed to have long, beautiful hair and radiant skin. It was discovered that they had been using the oil harvested from the tsubaki nuts on their hair and skin. This is how all Japanese women started using tsubaki for beauty purposes.


Ōshima is the largest of a group of volcanic islands located about 100km south of Tokyo.

Above. Ōshima is the largest of a group of volcanic islands located about 100km south of Tokyo. It is famous for tsubaki which are in full bloom from January to March

Process of extracting tsubaki oil

Above: The process of extracting tsubaki (Camellia Japonica) oil involves gathering, pulverizing, steaming and cold-pressing the seeds.

Tsubaki in Art and Design

Herbalism was was brought to Japan from China in the eighth century and, by the seventeenth century, became a fully fledged field of study. Tsubaki has appeared in paintings and porcelain in China since the 11th century. Tsubaki also features prominently in the art and traditional pattern design of Japan, known as "wagara", where it became a popular motif in the Meiji period.

Tsubaki featuring in Japanese Art and Culture

Japanese folding Screen featuring Tsubaki tree

Tsubaki (Camellia japonica) motif in traditional Japanese textile design

Benefits of Tsubaki oil for Hair and Skincare

Tsubaki's rich history of use as a beauty ingredient is supported by an analysis of the beneficial components which can be found in it.

Beneficial Fatty Acid Composition of Tsubaki Oil

Tsubaki Oil Composition

Japanese Camellia oil is rich in beneficial Omega-3,6,9 fatty acids, as well as numerous anti-aging polyphenol antioxidants, and vitamins A, B, D and E. Omega-6 fatty acids are an important part of cell membranes and help contribute towards the skin's barrier function.

Tsubaki oil contains a very high level of oleic acid, an Omega-9 Monounsaturated Fatty Acid (MUFA), in a concentration of up to 86 %. This contributes to its oxidative stability. Linoleic acid stimulates hair growth, maintains healthy scalp conditions, and will improve moisture retention in your hair.

Oleic acid will also control water loss while making your hair softer and more pliable. Research has also shown that oleic acid could help prevent hair loss. Tsubaki oil is non-greasy and an excellent all-around moisturizer for the skin as well as for hair. Its excellent emollient properties keep skin and hair supple.

Five Elements Tsubaki Hair Serum & Shampoo Bar

Seduced by the wonderful benefits, and strong traditions of tsubaki oil's use in haircare, we included it as a hero ingredient in two of our products (Five Elements Tsubaki Hair Serum, and Five Elements Organic Shampoo Bar with Orange Blossom). If you're considering taking a natural approach to your haircare routine, they're available for purchase on our online shop.

Organic Haircare Gift Set: Tsubaki Hair Serum and Organic Shampoo Bar

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