Watermelon isn't only for summer picnics, seed-spitting contests, and yummy cocktails anymore (although we'll never turn down an invite to the cookout). Now, the fruit is a surefire gateway to clear, glowing skin. Watermelon seed oil is the acne-fighting skincare ingredient that’s suddenly everywhere; and if you’re prone to getting a pimple or two, especially after one-too-many spicy watermelon margs at happy hour, you can easily integrate it into your skincare routine.
To clarify: Watermelon extract and watermelon seed oil are not the same thing. The former is also a prominent skincare ingredient, intended to soothe and hydrate dry skin (think Glow Recipe's Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask); the latter, cold-pressed from watermelon seeds, is better at dissolving sebum and locking in moisture since it is rich in linoleic acid, Aanand Geria, MD, of Geria Dermatology tells The Zoe Report.
Linoleic acid — which is also known as vitamin F — is an omega-6 fatty acid that the skin needs in order to build up its lipid barrier, stay hydrated, and protect itself from the elements. “Linoleic acid is produced at lower-than-normal levels in patients who have acne," Joshua Zeichner, MD, a New York-based dermatology, explains. "So using watermelon seed oil can help restore an abnormal and inflamed skin barrier in acne patients.” This is due to the fact that linoleic acid balances out the oleic acid that's naturally abundant in sebum — so if your skin is oily or your pores are chronically clogged, watermelon seed oil can help clear them up.
The high linoleic acid content of watermelon seed oil also makes it easy to absorb. You’ll often see it added to thicker oil formulations (like argan and marula-based products) to help deliver active ingredients deep into the skin. For this reason, Dr. Zeichner says it pairs well with collagen-stimulating ingredients, like retinol.
“Watermelon seed oil can help reduce sun damage because it contains vitamins A and E, which are powerful antioxidants that fight off free radicals caused by UV exposure,” Dr. Geria adds. And some more good news: Watermelon seed oil is incredibly hydrating, too. In a 2017 study from the South African Journal of Botany, it’s been shown to “reduce TEWL” (that’s Trans Epidermal Water Loss, aka the evaporation of moisture from the layers of the skin) and help skin retain moisture.
There are two main types of watermelon seed oil usually found in skincare products — citrullus lanatus seed oil and citrullus vulgaris seed oil — and though there's no major difference in the benefits of either, the former refers to wild watermelon.
“These watermelons originated almost 5,000 years ago in the Kalahari desert of Southern Africa, where botanists have found its wild ancestors still growing to this day,” says Julia Noik of African Botanics, a brand that uses wild watermelon seed oil in its Fleurs d’Afrique Intensive Recovery Oil. “Watermelons migrated north through Egypt, and during the Roman era they were cultivated and prized.” Citrullus vulgaris, on the other hand, is the scientific name for the watermelons that evolved from this migration — the typical red and green kind you see at the supermarket. It has a slightly higher linoleic acid content, but that’s about it.
According to Dr. Geria, you can’t really go wrong. “[Both types of] watermelon seed oil are suitable for all skin types: oily, dry, sensitive, or combination. A few drops are all that is needed to reap the benefits.”
Ahead, shop the products that take on this 5,000 year old acne-fighting ingredient in inventive new ways.