Why Monarchs? While monarchs are intrinsically important, conserving monarchs matters for more than just their own protection. We’re exploring the ways that monarch habitat and conservation helps people, other wildlife and the environment in this ‘More than Monarchs?’ series! Join us to learn more.
Beyond being a great food source for monarchs and other pollinators, milkweeds have many other uses (see a previous More than Monarchs article on milkweed’s role in World War II, for example). Milkweed was the key ingredient in the best complexion cream on the market for 57 years, but we have limited knowledge about why its use is no longer as prevalent in the cosmetics industry.
“Ingram’s Milkweed Cream” whose slogan, “Beauty in every jar,” was formulated and manufactured by Frederick F. Ingram & Company in Detroit, Michigan. It is suspected that Ingram invented the cream as a pharmacist working for Millborn and Williamson. He went on to be a partner and then purchased the company in 1892.
Testimonials from famous actresses sang the praises of Milkweed Cream. Cleo Ridgely, who starred in several movies, rode a horse from New York to San Francisco and wrote Ingram telling him how well Milkweed Cream protected her face from the sun. The advertisements had a large number of claims associated with the complexion cream: removes redness, combats acne, sun protection, sun spot removal, erases wrinkles, younger skin and more.
Interestingly, milkweed seed oil is high in Omega 7 fatty acids, a natural oil found in the sebum of young skin but diminishes as we age. The oil also contains magnesium, calcium, manganese, zinc, antioxidants, stigmasterol, and other compounds used to treat damaged skin from sun exposure.
In 2008, Rogers Harry O’Kuru, a U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist, invented a powerful sunscreen made from milkweed oil. O’Kuru also invented a super-moisturizing cosmetic oil using milkweed as a base.
So, why don’t we use milkweed in cosmetics? Could the cosmetic industry play a larger role in monarch conservation? If the economic value of milkweed increased in today’s society, it could provide even greater ecological benefits to support biodiversity conservation.
Won’t using milkweed deplete milkweed stands? Not necessarily. Milkweed is a slow growing perennial that spreads through seeds and rhizomes - horizontal roots that send up more milkweed stems. As a renewable, natural resource, the best milkweed “production” fields are full of biodiversity and are at least a decade old. Creating cosmetics that use sustainably sourced milkweed oil could help fuel the migration and provide other environmental benefits. For some examples of organizations working on this, visit the Sustainable Monarch partners page.
The possible role of milkweed in the future of cosmetics is just one example of how monarch habitat can make a difference in many ways. What are the co-benefits of monarch conservation that matter most to you? Keep following our “More than Monarchs?” series to hear more stories of what monarchs can do for us, our communities and our world.
Article contributed by Debbie Dekleva of Monarch Flyway, for the Monarch Joint Venture Communications Working Group and NAPPC Monarch Taskforce's More than Monarchs Series. Photos from Red Book Magazine and Ingrams.
The Monarch Joint Venture is a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration. The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the positions of all Monarch Joint Venture partners.