GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Dana and Barbara Gray use oil from macadamia nuts for cooking and beauty products.
Oils of Aloha: Recipe for beauty
Visitors to Oils of Aloha's Waialua processing facility are immediately struck by the rich, buttery scent of roasted macadamia nuts. It's enough to make a person hungry.
But for the longest time, no one even considered the oil being produced as a potential food source. To factory workers it was just another cosmetic ingredient until Barbara Gray, the wife of owner Dana Gray, couldn't resist dipping into the oil with a spoon and tasting it. And it was good.
"That's when we started to bottle it as a cooking oil," she said.
Anyone who's eaten in a Honolulu restaurant or fast-food joint in the last 20 years has probably seen Barbara Gray's work. As a home economics major turned food stylist, she's done her part to help chefs and photographers make food look as ono in 2-D as on the plate for advertisements, menus and the lighted Duratrans images that hang at fast-food establishments.
Her experiments with food come in handy now that she's retired from the stylist biz and is working with her husband full time, coming up with new flavors to add to the macadamia nut oil and new recipes for cooking with the product.
But she hasn't forgotten the roots of the business. It started as a small kukui nut oil processing company geared toward the cosmetics industry.
Just as the company has developed new products for the kitchen, the Grays have just developed a new kukui nut moisturizing cleanser and redesigned the packaging for the Oils of Aloha line of kukui nut oil skin-care products.
Timing is good for the Hawaii-grown products as cosmetics giants search the planet for natural oils and other ingredients with a touch of exoticism, from green tea extracts to vineferine harvested from the vine stalks of sauvignon blanc.
"We're a small company that's trying to do good science. We work with a number of large companies, so we have a certain amount of credibility in the industry," said Dana.
"It's exciting. We sell to major corporations. Estee Lauder, Prescriptives, Kanebo, Shiseido -- they use kukui oil in a lot of their formulations," said Barbara. "We have a wonderful following of people who use kukui products just for dry skin."
ALTHOUGH BATH OILS have long been used on the body, the use of oils on the face has been limited to makeup removal. But that is changing. Dr. Nicholas Perricone added olive oil products to his skin-care line, it appears frequently in DDF products, and at Oils of Aloha, Dana said, "We are convinced oils are important in skin care. It gets into the intercellular spaces (between cells) and helps skin retain moisture. It's widely used for dry skin, sunburn and, anecdotally, for eczema and psoriasis."
"What's so interesting about the kukui moisturizing cleanser," Barbara said, "is if you give a sample to a Japanese visitor, they're happy to try it. If you give it to someone here, they go, 'Whoa. I'm supposed to put oil on my face to clean it? You're kidding.' They don't believe it but it really works. Your face feels incredibly clean and not oily at all."
The couple is working closely with Harry Ako, professor of molecular biosciences in the University of Hawaii's Department of Molecular Sciences and Engineering, who has been helping them with kukui oil for a decade.
"If you just put it on your hands, that will tell you everything," Ako said. "It's awesome. It gets so soft and feels so good. But it's not OK to just say it feels good. You search for proof."
So far they've examined kukui oil's results in treating erythema, the redness of skin resulting from radiation and intense light equal to a sunburn, finding that application of kukui oil before or after exposure helps reduce redness.
But not all research can go forward. In another experiment, Ako used kukui nut oil to treat radiation burns from breast cancer radiotherapy. "It soothed skin immediately, so nurses wanted to use it right away. It felt unethical to withhold its use."
Prior to that, baby oil or other products were used to soothe the painful burns, but because the researchers lost their control group, the experiment ended before they could confirm the results.
Ako said the kukui oil research has been "very interesting and very rewarding because you feel you can help somebody."
Experiments continue with other oils and botanicals as well because Barbara said she continually receives inquiries about other natural ingredients.
"We're very much involved in the North Shore agricultural community," Barbara said. "We feel our work here is as an agricultural processor, and we're looking for agricultural products with secondary uses.
"We're trying to create more jobs here on the North Shore, so we're not looking at oddball things, but something that could be a potential crop."