Chili in Cosmetics - How Does That Work?

Pictured above: cosmetics ingredients.

Perhaps, perhaps not. Let's view this as is the beginning of an experiment.

You: Do you realize those are chilis, Lise? CHILIS! Are you nuts? You aren't thinking of using those in an eye cream, are you?

Me: Oooh there's an idea! But, no. Let me set your mind at ease. We're not making eye cream with these.

Chili Infused in Oil

The 4 dried chilis above were originally intended for an infused oil with 'a bit of capsicum zing' to add to a product.

But then this happened.

If you count the stalks, you'll see 4 times as many ended up in the jar.

You: And exactly how did that happen, Lise? Did they just jump in there all by themselves?

Me: How did you guess? :)

OK, I'll come clean. I got curious about maximum strength as I was preparing the ingredients. And I had quite a few chilis. So, yeah, they kind of jumped into the jar all by themselves.

Here's an overview of what's in this brew:
  • Raw Material: Dried chilis, chopped up
  • Chili to oil ratio 1:10
  • Oil: apricot kernel
  • Infusion time: 6 weeks
Tip: When making an infusion with loads of capsicum and feeling tempted to sniff the mixture, sniff very carefully.

What Chili Has to Offer

While this blend is brewing, let's examine what our star ingredient contains.

Chili (INCI: Capsicum frutesense) is a stimulant and thermogenic substance (read: it causes a feeling of warmth) and helps encourage blood circulation. It also desensitizes neural receptors which makes it useful for pain relief.

Chilis have a history of both internal and external use and have a reputation for
  • stopping hair loss (not sure if this has been tested but I could be tempted to give it a try)
  • being a muscle relaxant (tested)
  • relieving pain in arthritic joints (tested and proven)
The main active component in chili is called capsaicin.

Because the actives in chili are oil-soluble, an oil infusion will capture the full range of phytocompounds (ref). And even though other extraction methods will work, an oil infusion won't require any fancy machinery or equipment and can be done simply and easily at home.

Used externally (at a reasonable dose), chili stimulates circulation. The cool part? Patch tests have shown there is no 'meaningful irritation or contact dermatitis' (ref), so, used correctly, it won't bother the skin.

Although this all sounds like non-stop good news, there are some indications that 'more study is needed (ref).

So, contrary to what might have been your first knee-jerk reaction, chili can be quite useful in a cosmetics setting. As a matter of fact, you can purchase chili extract with some cosmetics ingredients suppliers.

Extra Chili Fun

Apart from all the other cool stuff chili has to offer, the plant has both antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.

I know what you're thinking, because I thought the same thing. If it's antimicrobial, maybe we can we use it as an all-natural preservative.

Without having researched this, I'm hazarding a guess we would be looking at a similar situation to trying to preserve a cosmetic using essential oils. In order for it to work as a preservative, we would in all likelihood have to exceed safe usage levels by several hundred percent.

But I'm just guessing. Please add a comment if you have input on this.

And here's a final fun fact: capsaicin is the main component of pepper spray.

If you're signed up for my newsletter I'll show you how to use a chili-infused oil in a cosmetics product (or maybe even 2).

Do Tell

Have you evert used chili in your products? How did you use it and what were your experiences?

More About Capsicum with Topical Use

Tabasco, Cayanne Pepper, Plants For the Future
Topical Effects on Chili on Hand Pain in Patients with Rheumatoid Artthritis, Journal of Traditional Medicine and Clinical Naturopathy
Topical Capsaicin for Pain Management, NCBI
Safety Assessment of Capsicum Anuum Extract, Int Journal of Toxicology
Chiligel for topical use, Int Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Chemical Composition, Science Direct
The Two Faces of Capsaicin, Cancer Research
Chili Pepper, Wikipedia
Capsaicin, Current understanding of its Mechanisms and Therapy of Pain and Other Pre Clinical and Clinical Uses, MDPI


Sharon Shiner said…
I make a pain salve with herb infused oil (comfrey, yarrow, st. john's wort and calendula), capsicum oil, essential oils and CBD. It's lovely and warming, and has been a great addition to helping with my lumbar arthritis :)
LisaLise said…
HI Sharon - that sounds absolutely lovely! Thanks for sharing!
Unknown said…
I purchased some chili oil awhile back but have not used it in anything yet. It seemed like an interesting ingredient. Maybe I will try it in a scalp oil to see if it helps with reducing hair shedding.
LisaLise said…
HI Michelle - Excuse this tardy reply-- your comment seems to have gotten skipped over! I think your hair boosting idea sounds like a good one. Chili does has a reputation for helping increase hair growth.
Las summer I made an alcoholic extract of rosemary and chili that I had totally forgotten about until I read your post. I think it's time to start playing with it and use it in my recipes.
LisaLise said…
Hi Eli - your extract sounds lovely! Do check back and let us know what you use it in :)
Unknown said…
Hi Lise, really interested to hear this. I had wondered about chili, but not dared to use it. I suffer from Reynauds (white fingers due to poor circulation) so really keen to know if I can use chili in a hand cream to help. Willing to experiment with any suggestions! Thanks : )
LisaLise said…
Hey there Unknown - You ask a very interesting question! My first thought is to ask your doctor about it, and my second thought is to suggest doing a small test of sorts (apply some chili-infused oil to one hand to see if it has any effect). If the oil seems to be helpful, then using it in a balm or cream might be the next step. :)
Unknown said…
Hi Lise. What type of chili’s are you using. I know there are many different heat levels in chili’s.
LisaLise said…
Hi Sherry - I've tried several different types of chilis (from relatively mild to pretty hot), so I think you'll have to choose chilis with a heat level you will be comfortable with. I am personally more fond of the hotter chilis (both in my food and in my skincare) :)
Unknown said…
Hi, Lise! Can I use roughly ground dry chilies instead?
LisaLise said…
HI Unknown - yes you can! Go for it :D
Unknown said…
So what happens if I infuse Nigella oil with chillies?
LisaLise said…
HI Unknown -- You'll have a very spicy and peppery infusion.
Unknown said…
haha! I did that by mistake, but my question was to ascertain if there are no known contra-indications.
LisaLise said…
Hi Unknown -- this is something you will have to research and check because it will depend on the (scoville unit) strength of the chilis, infusion process and time etc etc. Some people react immediately to even a small amount of capsaicin while others can slather the strongest dose on without issue.
Unknown said…
This is so intriguing post (and your other chili related content) that I just had to give it a go. I'll let you know how it goes after 6 weeks. I'm thinking about making scalp oil and body massage oil with this.

LisaLise said…
Hi Unknown -- That sounds great! Do remember to proceed with caution when applying chili-infused oil to the body (and to wash hands after application). Enjoy!
Anonymous said…
Hi Lise! In what percentage do you put chili extract in your formula?
LisaLise said…
Hi Anon — different percentages in different formulas — One was up to 10%