Health Effects of Almond Oil
Almond oil has a long history in many different schools of traditional medicine. It is used for a wide variety of purposes, ranging from skin and hair care to lowering cholesterol, reducing inflammation, and more. Read on to learn more about almond oil and its potential uses for boosting your health.
What Is Almond Oil?
Almonds (Prunus dulcis) are native to hot climates and grow in a wide range of environments throughout Southwest Asia and the Middle East.
There are 2 main varieties of almonds: the sweet almond (Prunus dulcis var. dulcis) and the bitter almond (Prunus dulcis var. amara). Almonds themselves are also referred to as Prunus amygdalus or Amygdalus communis. Almond oil is sometimes referred to as Oleum amygdalae in the scientific literature [R].
There is a popular misconception that cultivated sweet almonds – the type you usually find in the grocery store – contain potentially dangerous levels of cyanide. However, while sweet almonds are safe, bitter almonds produce almost 50 times more cyanide than the same amount of sweet almonds. Wild and bitter almonds contain a compound called cyanogenic glycoside (or amygdalin, a specific type of this compound) that can produce cyanide. These particular types of almonds need to be roasted or otherwise processed to make them safe to eat [R, R, R, R].
Many studies comparing whole almonds and equal amounts of almond oil have found few differences in their effects. This suggests that the majority of the health effects of almonds comes from the oil itself [R, R].
Types of Almond Oil
There are 2 primary types of almond oil: sweet almond oil and bitter almond oil. As their names suggest, these two oils are extracted from different varieties of almonds [R].
These different types of almond oil have different uses, although the type of almond oil used in scientific studies is almost always sweet almond oil (due to safety concerns about the potential toxicity of bitter almond oil).
However, be aware that the term “almond oil” may sometimes be preceded by the name of a different fruit. Products with names like these are not actually made from almonds, but rather are different names for oils made from other plants (for example, “peach almond oil” is actually oil made from peach kernels).
How Almond Oil Is Used
Sweet Almond Oil
Sweet almond oil is used as a carrier oil, which means that it is used to dilute other essential oils to make them safer for use on the skin. This is because sweet almond oil does not evaporate easily, has a mild smell, and is readily absorbed by the skin. For these reasons, sweet almond oil is also often used as a placebo or control treatment in aromatherapy studies [R, R, R, R].
Its role as a carrier oil also gives it unique properties when used to deliver other drugs and compounds. A study (RCT) on 20 menopausal women found that using sweet almond oil as a carrier for delivering the hormone progesterone (in the form of a nasal spray) was better than using a different carrier oil (in this case, dimethicone). Using almond oil allowed more progesterone to enter the bloodstream, which increased its effectiveness [R].
Sweet almond oil is also used as an oil for massages.
Other direct benefits of sweet almond oil include using it for skin or hair care, protecting or enhancing brain function, and more.
Additionally, sweet almond oil is used as a flavoring in many types of food, or even eaten by itself for different health benefits.
Bitter Almond Oil
Bitter almond oil is used in cooking, as well for a variety of health-related uses that take advantage of its antiviral, antibacterial, anti-itch, anti-fungal, and anti-spasmodic properties.
In cooking, bitter almond oil is typically used as a flavoring syrup. The taste of food-grade bitter almond oil comes primarily from a compound called benzaldehyde, which is present in artificial bitter almond flavorings as well. Bitter almond oil is used to flavor foods such as marzipan, and liqueurs such as Amaretto.
Food-grade bitter almond oil is usually treated to remove the amygdalin (a compound in bitter almonds that gets metabolized into cyanide) so that eating it will not lead to cyanide poisoning. However, crude bitter almond oil (not food-grade) generally will not have been through this treatment, and so should be used with caution [R].
Outside of cooking, bitter almond oil is also sometimes used as an essential oil (concentrated plant extracts with strong aromas commonly used in aromatherapy).
- Unsaturated fats: Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fats, and phytosterols (the plant version of cholesterol, which is structurally similar but not identical)
- B-family vitamins: Vitamin B2 (also known as riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), and vitamin B9 (folate)
- Vitamin E compounds: Especially in the form of α-tocopherol
- Minerals: Magnesium, calcium, potassium, copper, phosphorus, manganese, and zinc
- Proteins: Specifically, high levels of arginine (an amino acid)
The fatty acids in almond oil are mostly oleic acid and linoleic acid, with traces of other types of fatty acids. These 2 fatty acids are believed to be the most relevant components of the potential health benefits of almond oil [R, R].
However, the precise amount of each component in any particular batch of almonds or almond oil may vary according to the variety of almond used, the year they were harvested, the location of the orchard they were grown in, and other differences in processing and storage [R].
Health Benefits of Almond Oil
1) Almond Oil May Improve Cholesterol Levels
In a study (RCT) on 22 healthy men and women, replacing half of their usual fat intake with almond oil over 6 weeks resulted in a decrease in total saturated fat and cholesterol intake. While total cholesterol decreased, LDL decreased and HDL increased. The reduction in LDL levels may be due to the phytosterols in almond oil, which decrease cholesterol absorption [R, R, R, R, R].
Blood fat levels are associated with increased risk for coronary heart disease. Triglycerides are the main parts of the natural fats and oils in the food you eat and are one component of overall blood fats. High levels of triglycerides in the blood are associated with increased risk of stroke. In the previous study, using almond oil had no effect on overall blood fat levels; however, almond oil reduced the level of triglycerides, specifically [R].
In contrast, a different study (RCT) found that eating whole almonds caused a decrease in overall blood fat levels. This study looked at the effect of eating whole almonds as snacks in 15 men with high blood fat levels and 12 post-menopausal women and found a decrease in both blood fat and total cholesterol levels. This suggests that at least some part of almonds’ effects on blood fat levels may not lie in the contents extracted from almond oil [R].
2) Almond Oil May Treat Inflammation
Almond oil protects against oxidative stress, which can be a significant cause of chronic inflammation. These antioxidant effects are strengthened by the vitamin E compounds in almond oil, which boost your body’s ability to get rid of free radicals and other damaging compounds. This means that almond oil may be beneficial for reducing inflammation, slowing aging, and even reducing your risk of health conditions such as cancer and heart disease [R, R, R, R].
Almond oil can also protect the liver through its anti-inflammation properties. A rat study demonstrated that 5 weeks of treatment with almond oil reduced damage and enhanced recovery after toxic damage to the liver, indicating that almond oil may have similar protective effects in humans [R].
3) Almond Oil May Help Keep Your Skin Healthy and Moisturized
A clinical study on 9 adults and 7 infants demonstrated that sweet almond oil was as effective and as safe as petroleum jelly (petrolatum) when used as a moisturizer [R].
4) Almond Oil May Protect Your Skin from the Sun
Excessive exposure to UV radiation from sunlight can play a major role in skin aging and in different skin cancers. A mouse study found that almond oil could prevent skin damage from UV radiation when applied topically; this suggests that applying almond oil to your skin before going out in the sun may help prevent skin aging and skin cancer [R].
Almond oil can be used to create a low-cost sunscreen with all-natural ingredients. Most natural sunscreens contain an oil, a sun-blocking agent, and a wax to bind it all together. A low-cost sunscreen was developed by researchers by combining almond oil (75% by mass), beeswax (9%), and zinc oxide (16%). Clinical testing on 5 volunteers showed that the almond oil sunscreen had an SPF of 15 and was comparable to similar commercial sunscreens [R].
5) Almond Oil May Decrease Risk of Diabetes and Heart Disease
Having high blood sugar levels after eating a meal is an important indicator of risk for coronary heart disease and diabetes. Because of this, a number of studies have looked at the potential nutritional effects of almond products in treating or preventing these diseases [R, R].
Several studies have found that almond oil can reduce blood sugar concentrations after meals while eating other forms of almonds (such as whole almonds or almond butter) did not have this effect. These findings suggest that almond oil plays a unique role in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels [R, R].
6) Almond Oil May Help Prevent Colon Cancer
One of the earliest precursors of colon cancer is the appearance of “aberrant crypt foci” (ACF) in the colon, which are small lesions that have high potential to grow into tumors. While these lesions don’t always turn into colon cancers, they are strongly associated with one’s risk of cancer in the future [R].
A study of colon cancer in rats found that diets rich in almond products (both oil and whole almonds) decreased the number of these ACF lesions. This suggests that almond oil or other almond products may reduce one’s risk of developing colon cancer [R].
A cell study also found that almond oil inhibits the growth of colon cancer tumor cells. These anti-cancer effects could be the result of the high level of fatty acids in the almond oil (specifically oleic acid, which is known to inhibit colon cancer cell growth) [R, R].
7) Almond Oil Might Reduce Stretch Marks in Pregnancy
A clinical study of 159 women showed that almond oil could prevent stretch marks during pregnancy, though the study did not mention the type of almond oil or the method of using the almond oil (in massage, applied topically, or ingested) [R].
Another study reported that a massage with bitter almond oil reduced the occurrence of stretch marks in pregnancy in a non-randomized clinical study of 141 women. However, bitter almond oil alone had no significant effect, and a different study (RCT) of 150 women showed that a cream containing almond oil had no effect on the number or severity of stretch marks. This may suggest that it is the massage, rather than the oil itself, that might be the critical part of this treatment [R, R, R].
However, almond oil may be able to reduce the itchiness of stretch marks and may prevent them from getting worse over time. A study (DB) of 160 women found that sweet almond oil applied to the skin helped reduce itchiness, though the total number of stretch marks remained unchanged [R].
8) Almond Oil Can Cure Rectal Prolapse
Although almond oil should generally only be eaten or used on the skin, it can produce an inflammatory response and tissue scarring when it is injected directly into specific parts of the body. While normally harmful, these (“sclerosing”) effects can be used by medical professionals to treat certain conditions, such as rectal prolapse (the local scarring caused by the injection helps keep the rectal muscles tighter together) [R].
In a study of 9 children with rectal prolapse, 1 to 3 injections of phenol in almond oil directly into the bloodstream completely cured their rectal prolapse [R].
9) Almond Oil Reduces the Toxic Effects of Pesticide
A study on rats found that sweet almond oil reduced deaths from poisoning by aluminum phosphide (ALP), a pesticide commonly used to preserve rice and grain in areas such as Iran and India. Immediately ingesting sweet almond oil after aluminum poisoning improved the rats’ survival times and survival rate. However, the mechanism of action for this protective effect is unclear [R].
Almond oil can trigger allergic reactions in people with nut allergies, depending on how a particular oil product was processed. Because almonds are a tree nut, people with allergies to tree nuts are particularly at risk for allergic reactions, and therefore should not use almond oil.
Although the relatively high-fat content of almond oil is beneficial for certain purposes, consuming large amounts regularly could lead to weight gain. Therefore, these nutritional aspects of almond oil should be taken into consideration if you plan to incorporate it into your diet [R].
Heavy use of almond oil may be associated with increased risk of preterm birth in pregnant women, as suggested by an observational study of 189 women who had used almond oil regularly during their pregnancy [R].
The evidence for sweet almond oil’s relation to diabetes suggests that sweet almond oil may lower blood glucose levels; this indicates that you should watch for low blood sugar when using sweet almond oil [R, R, R].
Although doctors may occasionally use almond oil injections to treat certain conditions (such as rectal prolapse), this procedure can be very dangerous if not performed properly, as it can lead to potentially life-threatening conditions such as embolism (blocking of blood flow due to fats in the blood). Therefore, treatments like these should never be done by yourself, and should only take place under the supervision of a medical expert [R].
Bitter almond oil should be used with caution due to its toxicity. Cyanide poisoning and death have resulted from an overdose of bitter almonds and bitter almond oil.
Limitations & Caveats
Almond oil is sometimes used for purposes that are not scientifically proven, such as in improving complexion, in hair care, and in boosting brain function. These uses are based in traditional medicine but have no scientific evidence directly supporting them.
Almond oil may interact with topical drug patches, and animal studies have reported that almond oil enhances the rate at which drugs are absorbed by the skin, which could interfere with drug dosing in human patients using skin patches. This is also demonstrated in a human study testing medication by nasal spray, in which almond oil increased the amount of medication that entered the bloodstream [R, R].
Due to sweet almond oil’s potential to decrease blood sugar levels, you should pay attention to how sweet almond oil may affect your use of diabetes medication.
Due to bitter almond oil’s toxicity, even low doses of bitter almond oil may lead to mild effects of cyanide poisoning, which can interfere with certain anesthetics commonly used during surgery. As a result, bitter almond oil should not be used close in time to a scheduled surgery.
Almond oil has moderately high concentrations of minerals such as manganese. It is possible that long-term use of almond oil could cause a buildup of manganese, which could interact with antipsychotics, antibiotics, and certain blood pressure medications. Consult a health provider to discuss almond oil and its potential interactions with any drugs or medications [R, R, R].
There is minimal scientific evidence on dosages for the use of almond oil.
When used topically, different almond oil products recommend varying doses. Dosages usually fall around a few drops per use for facial products, and a few tablespoons — sometimes heated — for massages.
When ingested, traditional medicine suggests 1 to 2 teaspoons of sweet almond oil per dose. Avoid dosages above those found in labelings due to lack of data on safety.
For bitter almond oil, there is not enough information on its use to determine dosage. Due to its potential for toxicity, you should consult a professional before using bitter almond oil.
According to many user reports, almond oil is often used for purposes that have not been directly scientifically tested, such as hair care or for making homemade deodorants. These benefits can vary from person to person, although many people generally report positive results, especially when using almond oil for skin care purposes.
Some users have claimed that almond oil may be effective for treating dandruff. While not scientifically tested, this effect could be due to the useful minerals in almond oil, such as zinc and magnesium, which may be beneficial for the health of the hair and scalp.
However, other users who have used almond oil to treat dark under-eye circles have reported no useful effects. This may be because dark circles under the eyes are often caused by lack of sleep and/or poor blood circulation, which are factors that wouldn’t be affected by the use of almond oil.
In general, there are not many reports of negative effects, which suggests that using almond oil is relatively safe.