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J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2016 Nov 29;12(1):55.

Ethnobotanical survey of cosmetic plants used in Marquesas Islands (French Polynesia).

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Ecole Nationale Supérieure Agronomique de Montpellier SupAgro, 2 pl. Viala, Montpellier Cedex 02, 34060, France.
Cosmetic Valley, 1 pl. de la Cathédrale, Chartres, 28000, France.
Ecologie Marine Tropicale des Océans Pacifique et Indien, ENTROPIE UMR 250/9220 IRD-CNRS-UR, 101, promenade Roger-Laroque, Nouméa Cedex, 98848, New Caledonia.
University of Paris Saclay - Versailles-Saint Quentin en Yvelines, 55 Avenue de Paris, Versailles, 78035, France.
University of French Polynesia, EIO UMR 241, B.P. 6570-98702 Faa'a, Tahiti, French Polynesia.
Consultant in forestry and Polynesian botany, B.P. 52832-98716 Pirae, Tahiti, French Polynesia.



Cosmetic plants and their uses have often been neglected in ethnobotanical surveys which focus mainly on plants with medicinal or food uses. Thus, this survey was carried out to specifically investigate cosmetics in a small community and to establish a cosmetopoeia, based on the model of pharmacopoeia for medicinal plants. The geographic spread of the survey covered the Marquesas Islands, one of the five archipelagos of French Polynesia (Pacific Ocean). This archipelago was also recently investigated for its pharmacopoeia.


This survey is based on individual interviews of Marquesan informants on the islands of Tahiti (Society archipelago) and Nuku Hiva (Marquesas archipelago). The methodological approach was semi-directive with open-ended questions based on cosmetic criteria (application area, cosmetic use, plant). Before each interview, researchers and the informant signed a Prior Informed Consent (PIC). Quantitative analyses were performed using basic statistics and the indice of Fidelity Level (FL).


Twenty-eight informants from five of the six inhabited Marquesan islands were interviewed and yielded more than 500 cosmetic recipes. Marquesan cosmetopoeia included 79 plant taxa, of which 5% are Marquesan endemics, 23% are indigenous, 28% are Polynesian introductions and 44% are modern introductions. Among the introduced species, half were cultivated whereas the other half were weedy species. Most of the plants were abundant and only eight species were considered rare, of which four were Marquesan endemics. Main cosmetic plants were identified through informant citations and fidelity levels, and included Calophyllum inophyllum, Cananga odorata, Citrus aurantiifolia, Cocos nucifera, Curcuma longa, Gardenia taitensis, Mentha spp., Ocimum basilicum, Rauvolfia nukuhivensis and Santalum insulare var. marchionense. The most referred application areas were skin, hair and private parts whereas the main cosmetic uses were perfume, hydration, medicinal care and healing.


Through this survey, Marquesan cosmetopoeia was investigated in detail and uncovered a majority of introduced and abundant plants, and a minority of endemic and rare plants which required proper management to avoid future shortage. The well known perfumed coconut oil or monoi appeared as the main Marquesan cosmetic preparation either for the skin and the hair. Several plants and preparations warrant scientific investigations for their originality.


Cosmetics; Cosmetopoeia; Ethnobotanical survey; French Polynesia; Marquesas Islands; Pacific Ocean

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