babchi seed oil contains many phytochemicals including psoralen and bakuchiol, photo with a dropper beside the seeds and the oil

Psoralen: A Phytochemical to Avoid in Skincare?

For at least 3,000 years, plants containing psoralen are thought to have been used as natural skin remedies, fragrances, and dyes/colourants. The psoralens are furocoumarins (a classification of phytochemicals) that are very common in the exposures we have in day-to-day life as they exist in many common plants like celery, fig, carrots, parsley, and bergamot.

Psoralen in Medicine and Dermatology

An understanding of the medical potential of psoralen began to develop in the late 1940s. As knowledge grew, so did the pharmaceutical and clinical applications. Psoralens cause the skin to be more light-reactive for a short time.

In healthcare, specifically dermatology, psoralens are drugs administered as part of a therapy called PUVA. The term "PUVA" is an acronym for "Psoralen + ultraviolet light A." PUVA therapy is a type of phototherapy used to treat psoriasis, other severe skin conditions, and some skin cancers. It's actually often called phytochemotherapy. Treatment requires the patient to ingest a light-sensitizing medication (the psoralen) before exposure to UVA rays. The drug psoralen is usually taken orally or sometimes as a topical soak for people with these severe skin conditions.

In combination with ultraviolet radiation, psoralen is a medical treatment with many potential risks, including skin cancer. There have been reports of psoralen abuse in an attempt to use its sun-sensitizing nature to improve skin tone and tanning abilities. This type of abuse is of the extreme risk and should never be considered. The consequences could be dire, resulting in severe burns and skin loss.

Psoralen in Natural Skincare Products

In contrast to the medication used as a type of chemotherapy for skin diseases, the phytochemical psoralen is an undesired bystander in the extraction process of various seed oils.

When any essential oil or cold-pressed oil is prepared from a plant or seed, the harvested product contains good and not-so-good phytochemicals. This is why essential oils are so irritating for so many people - the extracted compounds are more volatile and contain more active compounds.

This is a good and a bad thing.

Extracting oils for cosmetic use means you want the phytochemical goodness to be preserved: antioxidants, vitamins, fatty acids, etc. However, many of these oils contain components at high risk of irritation, allergy, and sun sensitization.

Babchi (Psoralea Corylifolia) seed oil is the perfect example. When it's cold-pressed or distilled, the raw oil contains many phytochemicals: psoralen, Bakuchiol, limonene, linalool, angelicin, α-elemene, isopsoralen, corylin, and many more. These active phytochemicals are all of interest for cosmetics and potential medicinal uses. Compounds like limonene and linalool are common to many plants and responsible for their fragrance. Compounds like Bakuchiol have been shown to have good cosmetic results and no significant side effects. Compounds like psoralen have medical benefits but risks and many side effects.

If you're looking for pure, natural, green-beauty as close to nature as possible, you might prefer to use babchi seed oil on your skin. However, this means you will get *much less* of the desirable phytochemical (Bakuchiol) and *much more* of the potentially dangerous one(s).

image source:
Image source:


Green Beauty Elevated

This is where science, ingredient refining techniques, and different extraction methods are helpful. A consumer can look for a natural cosmetic product with more advanced ingredients to achieve a better cosmetic result. Using more advanced science to fine-tune and perfect the end product is why beauty brands and cosmetic chemists exist.

If you want to use Bakuchiol on your skin, you can opt for a product that contains babchi seed oil. However, you're at risk of potential side effects and a lower chance of seeing a cosmetic result. We discussed Bakuchiol at great length in a different article. It's a natural ingredient; however, the science needed to extract the pure form would not be considered natural. Therefore, it cannot be truly called a botanical extract in the true sense of the word. As a brand, we think taking green beauty to the next level is the best approach to making natural products more effective than simple carrier oils alone.



When you're shopping for your skincare, do you want things to be as close to nature at all costs? Or do you look for an approach that uses the best natural and scientific ingredient worlds?





Farber EM, Abel EA, Cox AJ. Long-term Risks of Psoralen and UV-A Therapy for Psoriasis. Arch Dermatol. 1983;119(5):426–431.

Becker SW. USE AND ABUSE OF PSORALENS. JAMA. 1960;173(13):1483–1485.

ELLIOTT JA Jr. The treatment of vitiligo with 8-methoxypsoralen. South Med J. 1956 Jul;49(7):691-7.

Wolff K. Side-effects of psoralen photochemotherapy (PUVA). Br J Dermatol. 1990 Jun;122 Suppl 36:117-25. 

Nettelblad H, Vahlqvist C, Krysander L, Sjöberg F. Psoralens used for cosmetic sun tanning: an unusual cause of extensive burn injury. Burns. 1996 Dec;22(8):633-5.

Uikey SK, et al. Intern J Phytomed 2010;2:100-7

Bakuchiol, a novel monoterpenoid G. Mehta, U.Ramdas Nayak, Sukh Dev ; Tetrahedron Letters ; 1966

Leave a comment