The pitaya – or dragon fruit as it is commonly known – is a stunningly beautiful fruit with an intense colour, intriguing shape and delicious taste.
As if that weren’t enough dragon fruit also have gorgeous flowers which waft heady perfume into the night air.
But for cosmetic scientists it is the anti ageing and skin firming properties of this exotic wonder fruit that offer such interesting possibilities.
The pitaya is the fruit of several cactus species, most importantly of the genus Hylocereus (Sweet Pitayas). They have a creamy pulp which is something like a strawberry in texture in the mouth and – depending on the variety of pitaya – can be anything from white to an intense pink with a delicate scent when cut open.The seeds of the fruit are small, black and edible.
Dragon fruit are also known as ‘pitahaya’, ‘fire dragon fruit’, ‘dragon pearl fruit’, ‘strawberry pear’, ‘nanettika fruit’, or ‘thanh long’, and they have a history and botanical background as colourful as their looks.
A relation of epiphyllum, pitaya like dry, tropical or subtropical climates and can be found from Texas through to Mexico down to Peru and Argentina. They are native to Mexico and Central and South America, and the vine-like epiphytic Hylocereus cactus is also cultivated in South East Asian countries such as Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
The French introduced Dragon Fruit to Vietnam 100 years ago and ‘thanh long’ as they are called in Vietnamese have been grown commercially for many years.Although originally something of a luxury food for royalty and wealthy Vietnamese, they are now much more widely available.
In Southern China, Hylocereus undatus – known locally as ‘Pa wong fa’ - grows on the seashore. The silk tassels from the flowers are dried and used to make a cough medicine. The tassels are also boiled as a vegetable and cooked with pieces of pork to make soup.
The opening of the large white, waxy and intensely fragrant flowers is much anticipated by growers – nowhere more so than in the domestic gardens and courtyards of Mexico where they fill the warm night air with fragrance.With a typical cactus flower shape the flowers too have been given exotic names – ‘Moonflower’ or ‘Queen of the Night’.
The nutritional and antioxidant value of dragon fruit is high including: calcium, iron, carotene, phosphorus and Vitamins C, B1, B2 and B3
More than anything, it is the growing environment of the pitaya that has contributed to the anti ageing properties of the fruit.Cacti grow in harsh climates and they need strong defences to conserve water and ensure proper flowering and fruiting.As a result, extracts from Hylocereus undatus contain high level of saccharides which make it ideal for use in skin tightening and firming formulations.
Aqueous extracts of the leaves, rind, fruit pulp and flowers of Hylocereus undatus have been studied for their wound healing properties. Topical applications of Hylocereus undatus were shown to produce increases in hydroxyproline, tensile strength, total proteins, DNA collagen content and better epithelization.
Dragon fruit offer cosmetic scientists so much as a naturally active ingredient.Not only does this fascinating natural ingredient have proven anti aging properties but the story of the dragon fruit also offers a rich and exotic narrative for the cosmetic copywriter.