Azulene

Azulene occurs naturally in several types of invertebrate organisms, fungi and plants. Its primary function is that of a pigment. The Spanish word 'azul' refers to the color blue; hence, the name azulene. Azulene's history dates back to the 15th century when it was first isolated from the herb, German chamomile. In the latter part of the 19th century scientists found its occurrence in wormwood, yarrow and other plant life. Azulene is known for its healing properties and is widely used in cosmetics and skincare products not just for its color but also for the many benefits offered. These include anti-inflammatory, soothing, sleep-inducing and astringent properties. Many members of the Asteraceae family of essential oil bearing plants contain azulene, which gives its oils and extracts different hues of gorgeous blue.

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While azulene is predominantly present in oils that are blue in color, it also exists in many other plant-based oils such as those derived from eucalyptus (eucazulene), elemi (elemazulene) and vetivert (vetivazulene). The amount of azulene present in the oils determines the intensity of the color of the essential oil. The more the azulene, the deeper/darker the blue. Plants such as chamomile contain a lot of azulene; hence, the vivid color of blue is notable in its oil.

It is interesting to note that azulene can also have a shade other than blue such as violet hues of blue and red as well as green. It has strong light absorbing properties. The vividness of its multihued colors is due to its parent skeleton, which has a five member ring with two double bonds and a 7 member ring with 3 double bonds. The chemical formula of azulene is C15H18. It is classified as a bicyclic unsaturated hydrocarbon with sesquiterpene derivatives.

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Azulene can exist in more than one form in some essential oils. In such cases, the first azulene takes its botanical name and the second its color, i.e. vetivert has vetivazulene and verdazulene where veti stands for genus and verd for green. A few oils could share the same azulene, e.g. yarrow, which is made of chamazulene and gets it name from chamomile in which it was first discovered.

Azulene is 'present but not evident or active' in many herbal and aromatic plants and is thus considered a latent component. Many azulenes are naturally present in plants or its oil. However, many others are manufactured from a predecessor in the same steam distillation process. One such example is chamazulene (derived from German chamomile), which is a distilled product. The process of distillation subjects the ingredients to high heat and pressure for a long time. When chamomile is combined with its predecessor within Matricaria of matricin in this process, it produces chamazulene - a distilled product. During the distillation process, the resulting oil will have its color and odour altered, where the intensity of its hue and aroma are dependent on how long it has been distilled. Longer distillation results in a stronger color and aroma.

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Logically, the color composition of the essential oil is determined by the percentage of azulene within the oil. Chamomile changes its color because it contains more azulene. However, other oils contain relatively little azulene, and therefore, the color composition of the oil does not change. Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is a pale golden ochre shade, which is the preferred shade in the aromatic industry. When this plant is distilled for a longer period, its color changes as the azulene residue blends in. In France, the distillation process ensures azulene does not form, thereby ensuring that the oil remains the ideal preferred color of golden-amber.

Azulene is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory in nature and is one of the ingredients founds in cosmetics, shaving creams, bath salts and other topical products to help with skin irritations and inflammation. It is used as an additive in ointments, balms, lotions, moisturizers and creams as it apparently helps soothe skin. Azulene is frequently present in skin care products that deal with blemishes and wrinkles as it is believed to have cell regeneration properties.

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Lots of herbal companies use azulene in topical products as it is thought that many properties of chamomile are derived in the distillation process. Many plants that are like daisies are commonly known a chamomile and are often used in teas. There are people that have claimed that chamomile has a range of benefits including healing many ailments and aiding in sleep. Yarrow and blue tansy are other plants that contain azulene. Yarrow is thought to have properties of a natural astringent while blue tansy is thought to be anti-inflammatory.

Azulene extracted from chamomile is believed to soothe the skin and reduce inflammation. The immune system fights infections and protects the skin by releasing chemicals when attacked by foreign elements. This results in the skin getting irritated and/or inflamed. Azulene helps the skin by curbing the immune system from behaving in this manner, which in turn reduces the irritation and swelling that result from the reaction. Therefore, it is commonly included as an ingredient in acne treatment. By reducing the redness that occurs from the acne scars, azulene helps clear the complexion faster. It is commonly used in many topical treatment lotions, creams, moisturizers, serums, etc. to help damaged skin heal well.

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As an antioxidant, azulene helps prevent damage to the skin. While it does not prevent aging, it works well to protect the skin from the early onset of wrinkles and fine lines, which are part of the aging process. Discoloration due to sun exposure and cellular damage are also prevented by azulene, further adding to its antioxidant benefits.

Side effects and cautions

Not much scientific research has been published about the safety of products containing azulene or other herbal plants. It is advisable to exercise caution when using products or ingredients containing azulene or herbs. Please consult a physician or doctor before using any products, especially people who are on other medication, pregnant or nursing. Allergic reactions are rare but possible, so it is better to be careful.

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