Why Prickly Pear Is The ‘It’ Ingredient For Skin And Hair

Turns out the desert mainstay is a nourishing, hydrating wonder.
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Written by Beth Shapouri
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Why Prickly Pear Is The ‘It’ Ingredient For Skin And HairFrankie Lopez/Unsplash

Don’t tell succulents, but there’s another cactus-related obsession snagging the spotlight these days — at least when it comes to hair and skincare products. It's prickly pear, the spiny red fruit that grows on the nopal cactus. It makes sense because, well, cacti are survivors. They not only have to hold on to every drop of moisture they can, but they have to do it while fending off all the harsh conditions of the desert. And that means the beauty aisle is discovering what folks in parts of Mexico and Morocco, where the plant is plentiful, have known for generations: The ingredient, also known as opuntia ficus indica (OFI), is a nourishing delight for hair and skin in both extract and seed oil form.

The Benefits of Prickly Pear for Skin & Hair

Prickly Pear Skincare Benefits Infographic

As a skincare ingredient, it’s a powerhouse, according to Jennifer L. MacGregor, MD, a board certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology. A self-described “girl with severely dry skin, eczema, rosacea, and mild acne,” she relies on the ingredient herself to soothe and hydrate. Why does she love it? “[It’s] rich in antioxidants, vitamin E, and also fatty acids to help restore the skin barrier. Another benefit is vitamin K, which is known to calm redness and vessels while brightening eyes and the skin,” she explains.

Often touted for rejuvenating skin, Julie Russak, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, says the ingredient promotes healing “by increasing the supply of oxygen, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other active bio compounds to the wound area.” That same blend makes it ideal for aging skin. Oh, and it’s also found in acne products. “OFI oil has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-fungal properties,” Dr. Russak adds.

The hair care world is also getting in on the action, thanks in large part to prickly pear’s moisturizing qualities. It’s popping up in hair oils and styling creams as a way to ease dryness, prevent breakage, and smooth frizz. What’s more? It leaves locks shiny, which is making a staple in conditioners and hair masks.

If you’re ready to welcome it into your routine, here are a few products to start with:

The Hair Hydrator: Dae Prickly Pear Oil


This styler softens, detangles, and prevents breakage by providing exactly what processed hair needs: Moisture, moisture, moisture. You can even use it overnight on dry hair as a deep conditioning treatment. $36, sephora.com

The Face Refiner: Sunday Riley Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment


The goal behind this serum is to exfoliate skin effectively but gently, and it does just that with a combo of glycolic acid and potassium lactate with soothers like licorice, lemongrass, and, yes, prickly pear extract. $122, dermstore.com

The Mist-and-Go: Amarte Aqua Mist Toner


Here OFI gets help from ginkgo biloba nut, chamomile, and witch hazel extracts for an instant soothing, calming, refreshing burst anytime, anywhere — like, say, a dry airplane cabin. $67, amarteskincare.com

The Frizz Tamer: Christophe Robin Regenerating Serum With Prickly Pear Oil


This hair treatment goes on the ends of damp hair to weightlessly smooth medium to thick strands. It also protects from heat up to 440 degrees. $55, sephora.com

The Skin Balancer: Thrive Causemetics Moisture Flash Active Nutrient Toner


Free of alcohol but packed 0.5 percent salicylic acid, astaxanthin, hyaluronic acid, and sea buckthorn fruit oil, this toner softens and exfoliates skin while calling on the magic of prickly pear to hydrate. $36, thrivecausemetics.com

The Complexion Smoother: Bloomeffects Dutch Dirt Mask


The twist in this skin treatment is that the prickly pear appears in enzyme form, which is said to give it an exfoliating quality. Hyaluronic acid, meanwhile, offers a moisture boost, so it becomes a mask and scrub in one. $49, credo.com

The Multitasker: Carter + Jane Everything Oil Angelic Clementine


The magic of this serum is the 100 percent USDA-certified organic, high-purity, cold-pressed prickly pear seed oil, which moisturizes and calms inflammation on the lips, neck, face, and chest. The original formula has a bit of a hay scent, but this clementine-fragranced version could be a little easier to take for folks with sensitive noses. $128, hsn.com

The Glowifier: Youth to the People Superberry Hydrate + Glow Oil


Adding to the prickly pear benefits, this hydrator contains antioxidant-rich maqui, açaí, and goji to hold off signs of aging while refreshing your skin. Quick trick: Add a few drops to your favorite foundation for a healthy glow. $44, sephora.com

The Eye Perfector: Freck So Jelly Cactus Eye Jelly With Plant Collagen


The eye gel relies on the fruit’s vitamin K to help tackle dark circles while plumping the skin to soften lines. It also contains prickly pear’s cousin — cactus flower extract — for even more hydration. $28, nordstrom.com

The Luxe Washer: Tata Harper Clarifying Cleanser


Prickly pear flower enzymes in this face wash exfoliate, soothe, and condition skin all at once, while a host of other botanical add-ins (think: cassava tapioca and wild-harvested Mojave yucca) lift away impurities. $72, tataharperskincare.com

All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.

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BETH SHAPOURIis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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