After my recent experience with the power of copaiba oil as a painless wart remover, I wanted to explore more of the scientifically proven benefits and properties of the oil. So for the third entry in the Just the Facts series, I bring you everything we know about copaiba oil.
- Origin and History
- Components of Copaiba Oil
- Skin Cancer and Tumors
- Wound Healing
Wanna skip straight to the science-verified uses? Download my free uses and recipe cheat sheet by clicking below!
Origin and History
While most people are pretty familiar with the plants that oils such as lavender or peppermint oil are derived from, most people have never heard of a copaiba plant. That’s probably because it’s a tree that grows in South America, particularly the Amazon. It is of the genus Copaifera (now you see where the name comes from). Copaiba oil is distilled from the resin of the tree, rather than the leaves as in the case of peppermint and lavender. Aside from being used to make essential oil, the resin is widely used to make lacquers and varnishes. (1)
Historically, copaiba is cited as a treatment for dermatosis, eczema, and gonorrhea (2), as well as a stimulant, diuretic, carminative, and laxative. Although in large doses it is cited as causing nausea, vomiting, strangury, bloody urine, and fever. (3)
Copaiba oil has been used medicinally in Brazil, where it grows, for hundreds of years. Originally, it was used as an anti-blenorragic agent ( i.e. a medicine used to treat vaginal mucus discharge). These days in Brazil, its main topical use is anti-inflammatory, and its internal uses are a diuretic, expectorant, and antimicrobial agent. It also commonly included in cosmetics as a base. (4)
Components of Copaiba Oil
For Copaifera langsdorffii, the major components are: leaf and fruit oils: β-caryophyllene (16.6% and 14.8%) and γ-muurolene (25.2% and 29.8%); fruit peel oil: caryophyllene oxide (47.3%); root wood oil: caryophyllene oxide (40.5%) and 4-α-copaenol (17.6%); root bark oil: caryophyllene oxide (30.7%) and kaurene (8.2%); trunk wood oil: γ-muurolene (8.3%), caryophyllene oxide (31.0%) and kaurene (30.2%); trunk bark oil: β-bisabolol (30.5%), kaurene (16.7%) and kaurenal (31.9%); copaiba balsam oil: β-caryophyllene (53.3%), with the balsam oil being the most used. (5)
This seems to be the most widely studied variation, although it should be noted that the variation sold by Young Living and many other companies is Copaifera Officialis. The difference? It’s like the difference between different breeds of house cats. They are all cats, but each breed has some unique qualities. That being said, it is likely that copaiba oil from either source would behave similarly, as is mentioned in source 10.
It is proposed that the medicinal properties of copaiba oil are due to the diterpines it contains. These are hydrocarbons considered to be the tree’s biological defense against predators, damage, and disease.
In a double-blind clinical trial, it was found that copaiba oil (as part of a natrozol gel) significantly reduced the surface area of skin covered by acne (acne vulgaris specifically, which is mild acne) when applied twice a day for 21 days. The mechanism is believed to be β-caryophyllene, which has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect. (4)
If you want to try this yourself, my personal suggestion would be to try using copaiba oil with the oil cleansing method. The oil cleansing method is currently my go-to method for cleansing my face, and after almost two years now I’m still quite satisfied with it. Comment if you’re interested in more details about the method or how I use it.
Bottom line: Probably effective
Skin Cancer and Tumors
Studies have been done to explore the effectiveness of copaiba oil in treating skin cancer and tumors using several methods.
In a study done by Sylvia R. M. Lima et. al. in 2003, it was found that oral administration of copaiba oil resin to mice decreased lung tumor size and number of nodules. The resin was administered every two days after the mice were induced with tumors. The mechanism of this is thought to be the cytotoxicity of the resin to the cancer cells (it was shown to reduce cell viability of melanoma cells when incubated together in the lab). Note: Copaifera multijuga was used. (6)
Venturing et. al. just published a study this month (Nov 2015) proposing copaiba oil as a lipid capsule for imiquimod (a drug approved for the treatment of basal cell carcinoma). It was found that this was more effective than the drug by itself. This method of encapsulation is already a fairly widely used form of drug delivery, however copaiba oil as the capsule is not. In this case, it was proposed that the effectiveness of copaiba oil as the capsule stems from the fact that the oil tends to trap the drug in the basal layer of the skin. Since the drug is most effective when in this area, it makes sense that retaining it there will increase its effectiveness. (7)
Bottom line: Somewhat effective, but not recommended without consulting with a doctor.
- Women who are nursing or pregnant should always avoid essential oils as we do not have enough information on how they affect babies.
- Many websites claim copaiba oil is safe (actually they say one of the safest) to take internally, however I would like to see more research before I support that claim.
- Copaiba in large doses has been known to cause nausea, vomiting, strangury, bloody urine, and fever (3). So rubbing some on your skin occasionally will probably be alright but rubbing it all over every day or taking more than 10 drops internally daily may cause problems. Use common sense, and always go to a doctor if you experience adverse side effects.
- Copaiba oil can be applied directly to the skin without dilution in most cases, however those with sensitive skin should take special care. (Read here for dilutions for sensitive skin)
- “copaiba.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2015. Retrieved November 10, 2015 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-copaiba.html
- Duke, J.A. and Wain, K.K. 1981. Medicinal plants of the world. Computer index with more than 85,000 entries. 3 vols.
- Grieve, M. 1931. A modern herbal. Reprint 1974. Hafner Press, New York.
- da Silva AG, Puziol Pde F, Leitao RN, Gomes TR, Scherer R, Martins ML, Cavalcanti AS, Cavalcanti LC. Application of the essential oil from copaiba (Copaifera langsdori Desf.) for acne vulgaris: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Altern. Med. Rev. March 2012. 17(1):69-75.
- Nilce V. Granosa and Edilberto R. Silveira. Volatile Constituents of Copaifera langsdorffii from the Brazilian Northeast. Journal of Essential Oil Research. Volume 17, Issue 2, 2005.
- S.R. Lima, V.F. Junior, H.B. Christo, A.C. Pinto, P.D. Fernandez. In vivo and in vitro studies on the anticancer activity of Copaifera multijuga Hayne and its fractions. Phytother. Res., 17 (2003), pp. 1048–1053
- Cristina G. Venturing, Franciele A. Bruinsman, Renata V. Contri, Francisco N. Fonseca, Luiza A. Frank, Camilo M. D’Amore, Renata P. Raffin, Andréia Buffon, Adriana R. Pohlmann, Silvia S. Guterres. Co-encapsulation of imiquimod and copaiba oil in novel nanostructured systems: promising formulations against skin carcinoma. European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Vol 79. 15 November 2015. pp. 36-43.
- Débora S. Dias, Lívia B. A. Fontes, Antônio E. M. Crotti, Beatriz J. V. Aarestrup, Fernando M. Aarestrup, Ademar A. da Silva Filho, and José O. A. Corrêa. Copaiba Oil Suppresses Inflammatory Cytokines in Splenocytes of C57Bl/6 Mice Induced with Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis (EAE). Molecules. 2014, 19(8), 12814-12826.
- Guimarães-Santos A, Santos DS, Santos IR, et al. Copaiba Oil-Resin Treatment Is Neuroprotective and Reduces Neutrophil Recruitment and Microglia Activation after Motor Cortex Excitotoxic Injury. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2012;2012:918174.
- Adriana Oliveira dos Santos; Tânia Ueda-Nakamura; Benedito Prado Dias Filho; Valdir F Veiga Junior; Angelo C Pinto; Celso Vatapu Nakamura. Antimicrobial activity of Brazilian copaiba oils obtained from different species of the Copaifera genus. Mem. Inst. Oswaldo Cruz vol.103 no.3 Rio de Janeiro May 2008 Epub Apr 30, 2008.
- Paiva, L. A. F., de Alencar Cunha, K. M., Santos, F. A., Gramosa, N. V., Silveira, E. R. and Rao, V. S. N. (2002), Investigation on the wound healing activity of oleo-resin from Copaifera langsdorffi in rats. Phytother. Res., 16: 737–739. doi: 10.1002/ptr.1049
Note: I am not a doctor or certified aromatherapist, and information presented in this article is not meant to replace advice from a licensed health professional.