Cosmeceutical Critique

Vetiver: More Than a Pleasant Aroma?

Leslie S. Baumann, MD

September 30, 2021

An important ingredient in the contemporary perfume and cosmetics industries, vetiver, is the only grass cultivated throughout the world to retain its essential oil, which contains sesquiterpene alcohols and hydrocarbons.1-3 Field and glasshouse studies have revealed that vetiver grass can tolerate extreme variations in climate well, including protracted drought, floods, submergence, temperature, and soils high in acidity, alkalinity, and various heavy metals. Its heartiness may explain its continuing or even increasing use in fragrances and other products pertinent to skin health as humanity strives to adapt to climate change.4 In a 2017 review of various commercial essential oils as antimicrobial therapy for cutaneous disorders, Orchard and van Vuuren identified vetiver as warranting particular attention for its capacity to confer broad benefits to the skin in addressing acne, cuts, eczema, oiliness, sores, wounds, and aging skin.5 The focus of this column will be the dermatologic potential of vetiver.

Chemical Constituents

Vetiver is thought to be one of the most complex of the essential oils owing to the hundreds of sesquiterpene derivatives with large structural diversity that contribute to its composition.3

Dr Leslie Baumann

In a 2012 analysis of the components of South Indian vetiver oils, Mallavarapu et al. found an abundance of sesquiterpenes and oxygenated sesquiterpenes with cedrane, bisabolane, eudesmane, eremophilane, and zizaane skeletons. The primary constituents identified in the four oils evaluated included eudesma-4,6-diene (delta-selinene) + beta-vetispirene (3.9%-6.1%), beta-vetivenene (0.9%-9.4%), 13-nor-trans-eudesma-4(15),7-dien-11-one + amorph-4-en-10-ol (5.0%-6.4%), trans-eudesma-4(15),7-dien-12-ol (vetiselinenol) + (E)-opposita-4(15),7(11)-dien-12-ol (3.7%-5.9%), eremophila-1 (10),11-dien-2alpha-ol (nootkatol) + ziza-6(13)-en-12-ol (khusimol) (16.1%-19.2%), and eremophila-1(10),7(11)-dien-2alpha-ol (isonootkatol) + (E)-eremophila-1(10),7(11)-12-ol (isovalencenol) (5.6%-6.9%).6

Antimicrobial Activity

In 2012, Saikia et al. assessed the antimycobacterial activity of Vetiveria zizanioides against Mycobacterium tuberculosis H(37)Rv and H(37)Ra strains. Their results showed that ethanolic extracts and hexane fractions displayed robust antimycobacterial properties, buttressing the traditional medical uses of the plant, as well as consideration of this agent as a modern antituberculosis agent.7

Two years later, Dos Santos et al. showed that Vetiveria zizanioides roots grown in Brazil exhibited notable antimicrobial effects against various pathogenic organisms.8In 2017, Burger et al. showed that vetiver essential oil primarily contributes its scent to cosmetic formulations but also displayed antimicrobial activity against Gram-positive bacterial strains, as well as one strain of Candida glabrata. They suggest that vetiver should be considered for its antimicrobial capacity as an added bonus to cosmetic formulations.2

In a 2018 study to ascertain the antimicrobial activity of 247 essential oil combinations against five reference strains of wound pathogens, Orchard et al. found that 26 combinations exhibited extensive antimicrobial activity. Sandalwood and vetiver were found to contribute most to antimicrobial function when used in combination. The investigators concluded that such combinations warrant consideration for wound therapy.9

Antiacne Activity

In 2018, Orchard et al. conducted another study of the efficacy of commercial essential oil combinations against the two pathogens responsible for acne, Propionibacterium acnes and Staphlyococcus epidermidis. They investigated 408 combinations, of which 167 exhibited notable antimicrobial activity. They observed that the combination with the lowest minimum inhibitory concentration value against P. acnes and S. epidermidis was vetiver and cinnamon bark.10 This usage points to the potential of vetiver use as an antiacne ingredient.


The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) offered a final opinion on the safety of the fragrance ingredient acetylated vetiver oil in 2019, declaring its use with 1% alpha-tocopherol in cosmetic leave-on and rinse-off products safe at proposed concentration levels. They noted that acetylated vetiver oil has been used for several years without provoking contact allergies.11


Vetiver is an important ingredient in modern perfumery. It also has potential to impart benefits to the skin in topical formulations. Much more research is necessary to determine just what kind of a role this perfumery powerhouse can play in dermatology.

Dr Baumann is a private practice dermatologist, researcher, author, and entrepreneur who practices in Miami. She founded the Cosmetic Dermatology Center at the University of Miami in 1997. Dr Baumann has written two textbooks and a New York Times Best Sellers book for consumers. Dr Baumann has received funding for advisory boards and/or clinical research trials from Allergan, Galderma, Revance, Evolus, and Burt’s Bees. She is the CEO of Skin Type Solutions Inc., a company that independently tests skin care products and makes recommendations to physicians on which skin care technologies are best. Write to her at


1. Del Giudice L et al. Environ Microbiol. 2008 Oct;10(10):2824-41.

2. Burger P et al. Medicines (Basel). 2017 Jun 16;4(2):41.

3. Belhassen E et al. Chem Biodivers. 2014 Nov;11(11):1821–42.

4. Danh LT et al. Int J Phytoremediation. 2009 Oct-Dec;11(8):664–91.

5. Orchard A and van Vuuren S. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:4517971.

6. Mallavarapu GR et al. Nat Prod Commun. 2012 Feb;7(2):223–5.

7. Saikia D et al. Complement Ther Med. 2012 Dec;20(6):434–6.

8. Dos Santos DS et al. Acta Pharm. 2014 Dec;64(4):495-501.

9. Orchard A et al. Chem Biodivers. 2018 Dec;15(12):e1800405.

10. Orchard A et al. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2018 Mar 24. [Epub ahead of print].

11. SCCS members & External experts. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2019 Oct;107:104389.

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