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 .
There is a popular misconception that cultivated sweet almonds – the type you usually find in the grocery store – contain potentially dangerous levels of cyanide. Sweet almonds are safe, but 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 [2, 1, 3, 4].
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 activity of almonds can be attributed to their oil [5, 6].
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 .
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).
- Unsaturated fats: Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fats, and phytosterols (the plant version of cholesterol, which is structurally similar but not identical)
- B vitamins: Vitamin B2 (also known as riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), and vitamin B9 (folate)
- Vitamin E, 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 [6, 8].
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 .
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 [9, 10, 11, 12].
Its role as a carrier oil also gives it unique properties when used to deliver other drugs and compounds. A study 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 .
Sweet almond oil is also used in massages and skincare products.
Additionally, sweet almond oil is used as a flavoring in many types of food, or even eaten by itself.
Bitter Almond Oil
Bitter almond oil is used in cooking, as well for a variety of health-related uses.
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 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; we therefore strongly recommend against using crude bitter almond oil for any reason .
Outside of cooking, bitter almond oil is also sometimes used as an essential oil (concentrated plant extracts with strong aromas commonly used in aromatherapy).
Almond Oil & Skin Health
Almond oil is widely added to skincare products intended for topical use. While these are generally recognized as safe, there is no safety data available about either topical use or ingestion of almond oil.
Furthermore, almond oil has not been approved by the FDA for the purpose of improving skin health. Talk to your doctor before using almond oil.
Traditionally, almond oil was used to treat dry skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema. Almond oil is also frequently used in massages and is considered to be a good topical moisturizer .
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 .
2) Sun Damage
Excessive exposure to UV radiation from sunlight can play a major role in skin aging and in different skin cancers. In a mouse study, almond oil prevented skin damage from UV radiation when applied topically .
Almond oil can be used to create a low-cost sunscreen with all-natural ingredients. Most natural sunscreens contain oil, a sun-blocking agent, and wax to bind it all together. Researchers developed a low-cost sunscreen, 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 commercial SPF 15 sunscreens .
3) Stretch Marks
A clinical study of 159 women showed that using almond oil could prevent stretch marks during pregnancy, though the study did not mention the type of almond oil or the method of using almond oil (in massage, applied topically, or ingested) .
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 of 150 women showed that a cream containing almond oil had no effect on the number or severity of stretch marks. Some researchers have suggested that massage, rather than the oil itself, might be the critical part of this treatment [18, 19, 20].
On the other hand a study of 160 women found that sweet almond oil applied to the skin helped reduce itchiness, though the total number of stretch marks remained unchanged .
Further trials are required to determine whether almond oil could prevent stretch marks.
Health Benefits of Almond Oil
Almond oil has not been approved by the FDA for medical use and generally lacks solid clinical research. Larger and more robust clinical trials will be required to determine whether almond oil is actually effective for any of these purposes. Talk to your doctor before using or supplementing with almond oil.
In a study 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 [5, 22, 23, 24, 25].
Blood fat levels are associated with 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 stroke. In the previous study, almond oil had no effect on overall blood fat levels; however, almond oil reduced the level of triglycerides, specifically .
In contrast, a different study 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 .
Additional studies are required to determine whether almonds or their oil could effectively reduce total blood fats, cholesterol, or triglycerides.
5) Blood Sugar
High blood sugar 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 [27, 28].
Two 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 [29, 30].
The results of these studies will need to be repeated in larger and more robust studies to confirm a role for almonds or their oil in reducing blood sugar.
6) 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) .
In a study of 9 children with rectal prolapse, their condition resolved after they received 1 to 3 injections of phenol in almond oil directly into the bloodstream .
Note that this extremely small study cannot determine whether the treatment worked because of the phenol, almond oil, or combination of both.
If you or your child suffer from rectal prolapse, seek medical attention immediately.
Animal Research (Lacking Evidence)
Researchers are currently investigating almond oil for other uses, but no human studies have been conducted for these potential benefits. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
Talk to your doctor before using almond oil, and never use almond oil to replace a medically approved therapy.
Almond oil contains antioxidant compounds that are currently being investigated for their potential against chronic inflammation.
Among the antioxidants in almond oil is vitamin E, which is important for the body’s natural antioxidant defense. The vitamin E in almond oil may be beneficial for reducing inflammation, slowing aging, and even bolstering innate defenses against cancer and heart disease [33, 34, 35, 36].
Almond oil may also protect against liver inflammation. 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 .
This benefit is purely speculative and limited to animal studies at this time. Human trials will be needed.
8) Toxic Effects of Pesticides
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 was unclear, and the result has yet to be repeated. Further studies will be required.
Almond oil and its active compounds are under investigation for potential anticancer effects.
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 the future development of cancerous tumors .
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 .
Researchers are also investigating almond oil’s activity against colon cancer cells. They have speculated that the oleic acid in almond oil is responsible for its ability to suppress colon cancer cell growth on contact. Note, however, that these results are not grounds to use almond oil in cancer treatments; they simply indicate the need for further study in animal trials [8, 41].
Limitations & Caveats
Almond oil is sometimes used for purposes that are not scientifically proven, such as in improving complexion, hair care, and boosting brain function. These uses are based in traditional medicine but have no scientific evidence directly supporting them. As always, it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting a new supplement.
Side Effects & Precautions
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 .
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 .
The evidence for sweet almond oil’s relation to diabetes suggests that sweet almond oil may lower blood glucose levels; it is possible that excessive use of almond oil could dangerously reduce blood sugar [27, 29, 30].
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. Misuse 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 only take place under the supervision of a medical expert. Do not attempt them yourself under any circumstances .
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.
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 [13, 44].
Due to sweet almond oil’s potential to decrease blood sugar levels, we advise against using it if you are on 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 in the period leading up 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 [7, 45, 46].
Talk to your doctor before using almond oil to prevent adverse effects and unexpected interactions.
Almond Oil Supplementation
There is no safe and effective dose of almond oil because no sufficiently powered clinical trial has been conducted to find one.
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 practitioners use 1 to 2 teaspoons of sweet almond oil per dose. Due to a lack of safety data, avoid taking any more than what is recommended on a supplement label.
For bitter almond oil, there is not enough information on its use to determine dosage. Bitter almond oil (especially non-food-grade bitter almond oil) has the potential to be toxic; talk to your doctor before using it.