The Power Of Sweet Almond Oil – Basic Nutrition And The Base Behind Most Body Oils And Hair Care Products.

Almond oil in bottle on wooden background
Almond oil. Copyright: tashka2000 / 123RF Stock Photo

Almond oil has remarkable benefits, not just for nutrition but also in cosmetics and as an aid in massage. It was being used long before the oil’s properties were scrutinized. The almond tree itself has also been grown throughout the Mediterranean to produce not only the kernel which is used in confectionary but to generate the oil which has a wide variety of uses.

Almond oil and almond nuts. Copyright: margo555 / 123RF Stock Photo
Almond oil and almond nuts. Copyright: margo555 / 123RF Stock Photo

The tree, a member of the Rosaceae family and the origins of its use as a supplier of nut oil, traces its roots back to Roman times. The tree may well have been brought along the Silk Road because it is commonly found throughout Central Asia and into China. Historically, almond oil was prevalent in Ancient Chinese, Ayurvedic and the Greco–Persian schools of Medicine to treat various dry skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. Anecdotal evidence and clinical experiences suggest that almond oil seemingly reduces hypertrophic scarring following operations such as Caesarean section as well as rejuvenating the skin. Almond oil also has emollient and sclerosant or skin-protection properties and has thus been used to improve complexion and skin tone (Ahmad, 2010). The oil is also known as Badam, Mandelbaum and Louza in some countries.

Economic Production

The USA is the principal growing region accounting for 55% of production with Spain as the next major cultivation centre with about 20% (Chen et al., 2005; Wijeratne et al., 2006; FoodWrite, 2014). Whilst the nut is commonly used in cooking or food production, both countries supply nuts for cold pressed oil generation.

Types Of Almond Oil

There are two types of oil available – the sweet almond oil which is the base for most cosmetic hair care and massage products and bitter almond oil. The sweet oil exclusively comes from edible almonds (Prunus amygdalus var. dulcis Mill.) selectively cultivated for their sweet taste.

Bitter almond oil is derived from a variety of almond (Prunus amygdalus var. amara) that contains the protein glycoside (means it is a protein with a bound sugar group or moiety) known as amygdalin(e) which produces cyanide when it is digested. This production of cyanide is a defence mechanism for the tree but is generally a toxic issue and is generated by the action of the enzyme amygdalase on the amygdalin protein. Most almond trees growing wild produce bitter varieties that have varying degrees of the glycoside. Their oil must be treated to remove the amygdalin protein so as to reduce the cyanide content. However, most commercial almond oil is derived from sweet almonds which do not produce amygdalin and thus do not compromise production economically.

Oil Processing

The nut or kernel is first washed and cleaned to remove dirt and non-nut materials. It is crushed and pounded to a powder where it is then cold-pressed. The oil is left for a about a week to mature, then filtered and bleached to improve its colour.

Nutrition & Health Uses

The oil is said to be similar to olive oil as it is rich in vitamin E (Kodad et al., 2011), various monounsaturated fatty acids, potassium and zinc besides a number of other vitamins and minerals. The fatty acids are mainly oleic acid (77% w/w), linoleic acid (17% w/w) and myristic acid (1%w/w) (Gaud et al., 2008; FoodWrite, 2014). There is a small amount of vitamin A but the levels are highly variable depending on the cultivar and method of oil extraction.

It has a nutty taste but does not pick up the sweet almond notes found in the whole nut.

No conclusive scientific data exists currently on the medical benefits of the oil but almonds and its oil have been linked to anti-inflammatory, immunity-boosting and anti-hepatotoxicity benefits (Ahmad, 2010). One study in a rat model has investigated the benefit of reducing liver damage induced by carbon tetrachloride (Jia et al., 2011). Associations exist between almond oil and improved bowel transit which consequently reduces irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. Some studies show a reduced incidence of colonic cancer. Moreover, cardiovascular benefits have also been identified with almonds and almond oil elevating the levels of so-called ‘good cholesterol’, high-density lipoproteins (HDL), whilst it reduces low-density lipoproteins (LDL) (Spiller et al., 1992).

Cosmetic Uses

The oil is hypoallergenic and safe enough to use on even babies (Bährle-Rapp and Bährle-Rapp, 2007). It is generally a carrier oil and the main ingredient for a host of products where in pharmacopeia terms it is called Oleum amygdalae. It can be purchased as a separate component which is then used as the base for aromas and perfumes, to mix with other oils or to simply mix with a solid fat to create massage bars for example (Browning, 1999).

Almond oil is pale yellow, light in feel and non-greasy in texture, and can easily penetrate deep into the skin, softening and dislodging the dirt and debris accumulated in the skin pores and hair follicles. This even prevents blackheads and acne. Thanks to the Vitamin A and the tocopherol content in the oil, it may even reduce acne from flaring up. Midwives also massage the perineum during pregnancy to prevent tearing at the time of birth and labor (Edwards, 1999).

Professional masseur doing massage of female back in the beauty salon. Copyright: domenicogelermo / 123RF Stock Photo
Professional masseur doing massage of female back in the beauty salon. Copyright: domenicogelermo / 123RF Stock Photo

Regular application of the oil can protect the skin from oxidative stress and UV radiation damage, keeping it soft and supple (Sultana et al., 2007). Bear in mind though that it is an oil that should not be used even externally if the person has a nut allergy !

  • – Cleansing The Skin

Almond oil is safe to use on highly sensitive skin and is not associated with allergenic reactions. It is ideal for removing cosmetics especially eye make-up as it is not known to irritate skin around the eye socket.

Cleansing the skin is easy with almond oil because of its soft texture and will penetrate deep into pores and hair follicles to remove dirt. The oil is recommended for anyone wishing to reduce the formation of blackheads and prevent acne.  The oil is best applied on a cotton wool ball, left for a couple of minutes and then wiped away with fresh cotton wool. A facial scrub, exfoliant and cleanser is prepared by adding sugar to the oil. This is applied to the face with  a gentle circular scrubbing motion to remove debris an clear away dead cells. Wash the face with water to remove the remaining oils although some beauticians leave it to soak in further with a second application once the dirt is removed. A similar oil but more suited to dry and mature or aged skin would be jojoba oil.

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References

Ahmad, Z. (2010). The uses and properties of almond oil. Complementary Therapies In Clinical Practice, 16(1), pp. 10-12.

Bährle-Rapp, M., & Bährle-Rapp, M. (2007). Sweet Almond Oil. Springer Lexikon Kosmetik und Körperpflege, pp. 539-539

Browning, M. (1999) Making Massage Oils. In: Natural Soapmaking. Sterling Publ. Co., New York. USA. p. 78

Chen, C.Y., Milbury, P.E., Lapsley, K., Blumberg, J.B. (2005) Flavonoids from almond skins are bioavailable and act synergistically with vitamins C and E to enhance hamster and human LDL resistance to oxidation. J. Nutr. 135, pp. 1366–1373

Edwards, V.H. (1999) The Aromatherapy Compendium. Storey Publ.

FoodWrite (2014) Internal Report: Edible Oil Production. Business Report pp. 25-27

Gaud, R.S. et al., (2008) Natural Excipients. Narali Prakashan. Pune. India

Jia, X. Y., Zhang, Q. A., Zhang, Z. Q., Wang, Y., Yuan, J. F., Wang, H. Y., & Zhao, D. (2011). Hepatoprotective effects of almond oil against carbon tetrachloride induced liver injury in rats. Food Chemistry, 125(2), pp. 673-678

Kodad, O., Estopanan, G., Juan, T., Mamouni, A., Socias, I. Company R. (2011) Tocopherol concentration in almond oil: Genetic variation and environmental effects under warm conditions. J. Agric. Food Chem. 59, pp. 6137-6141

Spiller, G. A., D. J. Jenkins, L. N. Cragen, J. E. Gates, O. Bosello, K. Berra, C. Rudd, M. Stevenson, Superko, R. (1992). Effect of a diet high in monounsaturated fat from almonds on plasma cholesterol and lipoproteins. J. American College of Nutrition 11, (2): pp. 126-130.

Sultana, Y., Kohli, K., Athar, M., Khar, R.K., Aqil, M., (2007) Effect of pre-treatment of almond oil on ultraviolet B-induced cutaneous photoaging in mice. J. Cosmet. Dermatol. 6, pp. 14–19.

Wijeratne, S.S.K., Abou-zaid, M.M., Shahidi, F. (2006) Antioxidant polyphenols in almond and its coproducts. J. Agric. Food Chem. 54, pp. 312-318.

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2 Comments

  1. I read your article about about sweet almond oil and it reinforces my own views about it being very good for skin and hair. I’ve used it for a number of years for looking after my hair having seen how others do it on cosmetic web-sites. The first thing I do is apply it to my hair overnight, which to be honest looks horrible and greasy, like I hadn’t washed it for a month! In the morning I washed it as normal and WOW! Previously it was quite dry at the ends and rather unmanageable due to being dyed and heat styled. It’s totally soft and silky. I also use it on my face at night as I have combination skin. I don’t seem to suffer with oiliness so much the next day when I use this almond oil. The skin on my fingertips was peeling off but that is clearing up with regular use. Also great for massage! My miracle oil 🙂 I will now use it always!

  2. I have used in my hair which makes it soft and quite shiny. Just put in before washing and leave for about an hour. Also a good make up remover for the eyes. I initially got this to reduce my dark circles under my eyes. It apparently works and for me, really well.

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