WTF is Jojoba?

The Run Down

What is it? Waxy extract from the seed pods of a desert shrub

Vegan? Yes.

Possible allergen? Not known to be. Swatch a tiny bit on the back of your hand first if you’re worried. All sources I’ve found say it’s safe for those with nut allergies.

Toxic? No. But it is a strong laxative. Do not eat. Ingesting a tiny amount from your lip balm won’t hurt you, though.

Smells like? Nothing. Refined jojoba oil has no smell.

My artistic rendering, because better safe than copyright disputed

My artistic rendering, because better safe than copyright disputed

The Walk About

Over and over again I’ve watched youtubers and bloggers lose their shit over jojoba (in a good way). It’s taken a backseat recently to newer fad oils like Argan and macadamia nut, but believe me, ole’ jojoba can still be found chillin’ in the midst of many an ingredient label, quietly doing its thing. What exactly is that thing, though?

Glad you hypothetically asked! Let’s dig in.

First off, it’s pronounced ho-HO-ba. It’s easy to remember. Just imagine what sounds Santa Claus would make if he suddenly turned into a sheep and you’ve got it.

Jojoba is a shrub found throughout the deserts of the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico. Jojoba oil comes from the seeds of the plant, where it exists naturally as a wax ester. In other words, it’s not quite an oil. Total misnomer! Wax esters are long-chain polymers made up of a fatty acid paired with a fatty alcohol. This substance makes jojoba both unique among plant species and particularly well-suited to human use, because this oily, waxy structure is far closer to sebum – our naturally occurring hair and skin oil – than to jojoba’s plant cousins. On a molecular level, most plant oils are instead made up of triglycerides, which are shorter-chain, bulkier polymers with no attached alcohols.

The O’odham peoples of the Sonoran desert were the first humans to make use of jojoba nuts. White explorers noted that the O’odham tribes used the plant for treating burns, moisturizing skin, and as a laxative and that jojoba seemed super effective at all of those things.

Though a few Western botanists might’ve been psyched over these revelations, history had other stuff going on, and pretty much tossed jojoba on the backburner for a couple hundred more years. Why waste time and money processing plants in the desert heat when you can just go out and hunt for some sweet, sweet whale oil instead? High five! Am I right? Anybody? No? Party poopers.

Unfortunately, yeah, whale oil is also a great dupe for human sebum, and history is awful. The U.S. didn’t ban whale oil importation until 1971, thus finally paving the way for jojoba’s moment in the spotlight.

Take a bow, jojoba oil!

Since it requires little water to cultivate and grows readily in terrible desert soil, withstanding whatever heat you’d care to throw at it, jojoba is super eco-friendly, as well.

Window Shopping

Personally, I’d like to see it showing up in more hair conditioners. The most affordable conditioner I spotted with jojoba in the mix? Herbal Essences’ Smooth Collection Conditioner. I didn’t buy that, though, because it also contains sulfates, which in my book is kind of counter-productive. Instead, we’re rolling with Freeman’s Papaya and Awapuhi Conditioner (picked up on clearance at Bed, Bath, and Beyond). This conditioner has an almost gel-like consistency and a great papaya scent.


As far as oil cleansers go, my pick is The Face Shop’s Rice Water Bright Cleansing Oil. It’s a Korean import, but if you’re on the west coast of the U.S., at least, it’s not too hard to track down.


Bath and Body Works is also a wonderland of jojoba oil. Below are two of my favorite scents, just for funsies: Meyer lemon and sweet pea. Both are lotions. Sweet pea is, of course, a classic, and a long-time bath staple of mine. Also hiding out in this picture, because I originally divided everything up differently and am not staging a reshoot, is one of Demeter Fragrance’s massage and body oils, in my favorite of their quirky, iconic scents: sushi. It’s a light, sweet, gingery sort of smell, featuring nothing at all fish related, in case you were worried.


If your lips aren’t jojoba-ed up enough, I recommend these guys. The cheap, but gloriously effective E.L.F. lip exfoliator (a scrub in lipstick form) and the oh-so-popular EOS lip balm in strawberry.


The Craft Table

You can also just buy jojoba oil on its own from Trader Joe’s or Amazon or possibly a local beauty supplier. It’s great to use as-is on skin and hair or you can go all DIY with these tips:

  • Combine with aloe for topical sunburn soother (aloe and jojoba are a match made in desert heaven)
  • Mix jojoba oil with either olive oil or a vitamin E oil blend (Burt’s Bees sells one) for a homemade take on the oil face wash/makeup remover trend
  • Mix it into your favorite lip scrub or lip balm recipe for a little added smoothness (for a basic, no-frills scrub, combine jojoba oil with a bit of white sugar, honey, and vanilla)

Any other ideas for uses? Thoughts on jojoba? Other jojoba-infused products to try? Let me know below.  And if you really want to dive into the chemistry of jojoba oil, head on over here.

I’ll be back on Monday with another enthralling beauty investigation, but the topic for that one depends on whether or not I get a certain creepy-crawly beauty staple delivered on time. Fingers crossed!

What madness is this?

The interwebs are full of scary warnings concerning the toxic sludge we slather all over ourselves every day. How much is just shameless fear mongering, though? And what about the beauty ingredients that aren’t evil incarnate? All the random fad plants and oils that crop up each season (pun totally intended) often remain a mystery to me, and I’m guessing to most people who aren’t actively developing them or professionally using them (i.e. – almost everyone). What ‘minerals’ are actually in mineral make-ups? Can I actually absorb vitamins through my skin? What’s with all the dye codes? Can hair heal? Is hair alive? Because, past the follicle, I don’t really think it is, yet the shower orgasm lady says otherwise. What the hell is jojoba? Aluminum chlorohydrate? EDTA? Shellac? Is any of this stuff actually helping anything? Is ALL of it slowly killing us???

Seriously - what's in all this? What IS ALL THIS?

Seriously – what’s in all this? What IS ALL THIS?

Stick around as I answer these and many more burning questions in what is sure to be one of the nerdiest beauty blogs ever. I promise this’ll be a fun little adventure. We won’t just be diving into the dry land of label reading and molecular structure diagrams. I mean, I totally will, but I won’t force that stuff on you unless that’s what you’re all secretly clamoring for. Let me know in the comments if you do, in fact, desperately need triglyceride drawings and technical jargon. It’s okay. We’re all slightly weird and super curious here. By ‘we’ I currently mean just me, so there you go. Weirdness point made.

I plan on covering everything from mysterious natural ingredients, to vaguely labeled or confusingly coded ingredients, to the toxic/harsh/drying baddies we’ve all been warned about. I might also occasionally venture into the make-up and hygiene components of eras past, for funsies. It’s a proven fact that our ancestors were kind of crazy and reckless. You guys, urine is never the answer.

So that’s what’s happening. Stay tuned for my first pretty element, our mysterious friend jojoba, and comment below if you’d like to suggest a future topic. I’m all ears.