Charming Cherry Blossoms

Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa wrote, “In the cherry blossom’s shade there’s no such thing as a stranger”, conveying the tree’s gracious, giving and exquisite beauty. HAIR finds out the myriad skincare benefits of these beautiful flowers.

Cherry blossoms—called sakura in Japanese—have been long-admired and appreciated for their beauty, especially during their mass flowering. They have inspired poetry and art, are synonymous with Japan, and the trees have been gifted by Japan to other countries as a symbol of friendship.

A Burst of Flowers
Cherry blossom trees flower across Japan as winter peters out and as warmer weather sets in; flowering starts as early as February on the southern islands with more tropical weather, while the days towards end-March going into April see flowering in some of the main cities up the archipelago. There are many varieties of cherry blossom trees, with most bearing flowers that are light pink to white in colour. Prunus yedoensis is the most popular variety and its flowers are white tinged with light pink.

Mass flowering lasts about two weeks, and this short spell – that symbolises ephemeral beauty, the preciousness of life itself, a time of joy and regeneration- is eagerly awaited and joyously celebrated! The traditional custom Hanami, literally meaning ‘flower viewing’, celebrates the season of cherry blossom trees and people step out to enjoy their beauty and a feast under a flowering tree!

Wellness from Within
Cherry blossoms are enjoyed in food and drink; the bark, leaves, flowers and cherries of the cherry blossom tree are consumed in different ways. The bark is boiled and sipped as a soothing tea; the blossoms are preserved (by pickling them with salt and plum vinegar) and savoured in preparations as well as a refreshing tea; the leaves are used to wrap rice cakes; and the cherries are enjoyed for their taste and antioxidant content.

Apart from being savoured for their taste, cherry blossoms are partaken for their benefits for overall health and for the skin. “Modern research has also found that the pickled blossoms are a rich source of caffeic acid and other antioxidants that specifically help to maintain the health and appearance of skin,” says Dan Lifton, President of Proprietary Branded Ingredients Group at Maypro Industries, a global supplier of nutraceutical ingredients including Sakura, a proprietary nutricosmetic from cherry blossoms.

Lifton explains that wrinkles are caused by the glycation process where a protein molecule unhealthily crosslinks with a sugar molecule. “Glycation creates advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. These compounds speed up oxidative damage, especially to connective tissues of the skin such as collagen and elastin, and this damage leads to skin wrinkling. Sakura has been shown to inhibit the production of AGEs, and thus holds great promise as an ingestible cosmeceutical. In one human clinical trial, it was found that Sakura significantly reduces AGE production, maintains skin elasticity, reduces skin moisture loss, increases skin smoothness, reduces pore size and evens the complexion, minimising brown spots and redness.”

For Topical Application
In the same vein, cherry blossom extracts are used in topical applications for their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-ageing benefits. Cherry blossom products are credited with soothing and nourishing skin as well as brightening skin tone. Extracts of the kernel of the cherry fruits are also used in topical applications for their moisturising and nourishing benefits. “Cherry kernel oil is also rich in antioxidants including vitamins A and E, and is commonly used in soap and other skin care products. It also gives slight protection against ultraviolet radiation,” adds Lifton.

Evocative of the beauty of cherry blossoms, products with cherry blossom extracts are often light pink in colour and mildly fragrant and thus capture the essence of the beautiful flowers in a bottle. So open a bottle of cherry blossom shower gel, lotion or cream, take whiff of its soothing scent and soak in its goodness!