Consider the small but mighty almond. On its own, it’s the doctor-approved, heart-healthy, portable snack that’s loaded with monounsaturated fats (aka the good kind), fiber and antioxidants. Ground a few up in a food processor and you’ve got yourself some creamy almond butter for dipping your apples in. (Yum.) Strain them with water and you’ve got yourself a decadent, dairy-free alternative to milk. (Double yum.) And to round out this nutty little guy’s résumé, it’s also a potent and popular skin-care ingredient.
How exactly is almond oil good for your skin?
For starters, it’s important to note that there are two different kinds. “Bitter almond oil is considered an essential oil, while sweet almond oil is a carrier or fixed oil,” explains Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, a board-certified dermatologist (and creator of an eponymous skin-care line that combines medical-grade ingredients with aromatherapy and botanicals).
As such, they come from two different trees as well: Prunus dulcis var. amygdalus is responsible for sweet almonds and Prunus dulcis var. amara produces the bitter almond, which is flatter and shorter in shape. (Fun fact: Even the flowers on each respective tree are different; the sweet almond tree typically has white flowers, while the bitter almond tree has pink ones. You know, in case we have any budding botanists reading this…)
“Bitter almond oil is more often used for its scent and isn’t very long lasting on skin,” says Ciraldo. It’s also important to note that if you’re going to use bitter almond oil—in any capacity—you should always double-check that it’s “free from prussic acid,” which can be highly toxic.
1. Hydrates and Moisturizes
On the other hand, “Sweet almond oil is rich in water and traps in fatty acids that replenish moisture and keep your skin well hydrated. It also contains vitamins E and A, as well as naturally occurring fatty acids,” says Ciraldo.
2. Protects Against UV Damage
To break it down even further, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, which can help protect against oxidative stress or free radical damage. In fact, a study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology showed that almond oil “is capable of preventing structural damage caused by UV irradiation” and was useful in “decelerating the photoaging process.” (Translation: It can help fend off premature aging caused by environmental factors.)
3. Reduces Acne
Combined with the vitamin A (which increases skin turnover and is key for clearing pores and keeping skin smooth) and the aforementioned fatty acids that help retain moisture, it provides a natural trifecta of anti-aging and hydrating ingredients. So you can see why almond oil has been used in ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic skin-care practices for centuries.
Bottom line: If you're looking for skin-care benefits, you want sweet almond oil—not the bitter kind. (On second thought, they're pretty aptly named, eh?)
That all sounds fantastic, but is there any downside to using almond oil on your skin?
Overall, sweet almond oil is a great moisturizer and is often used as a hydrating base in skin-care products because it’s not too heavy and absorbs nicely. According to Dr. Ciraldo, most people should be fine using almond oil on their face or body, unless you have eczema or are prone to breakouts, as it isn’t completely non-comedogenic (meaning it could clog your pores).
What should I look for in a (sweet) almond oil?
“I would opt for one that’s organic, cold pressed and unrefined,” advises Ciraldo. And as is the case when trying any new ingredient, you should first test it on a small patch of skin to make sure you tolerate it well before proceeding.
Also, take a second to read through the ingredient list. “If it contains any artificial fragrance, color or parabens, I would avoid putting it on your skin,” says Ciraldo. “I would also store any almond oil products in a cool, dry place—possibly even in the fridge—to help prevent yeast or bacterial contamination.”
Do you have any product recommendations?
Why yes, we’re so happy you asked. We like to smooth on a few drops of straight organic almond oil directly over any dry patches of skin like the elbows, knuckles, knees, on the soles of our feet, on our cuticles and on the ends of our hair. And when we’re in the mood for some TLC, we mix it with a few drops of other, more fragrant essential oils (like lavender or rose) to get the added aromatherapy benefits.
Alternatively, there are plenty of products we love that incorporate almond oil into their formulas like:
- L’Occitane Cleansing and Softening Shower Oil ($25)is a longtime favorite because it has the most incredible oil-to-milk texture and fills your bathroom with that addictively sweet almond scent. Plus, it’s so hydrating that we rarely need moisturizer afterward—especially in the summer months.
- Bumble and Bumble Bb. Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil and Protective Primer ($28)offers protection against heat and UV damage, while also conditioning strands so they’re silky smooth and less prone to frizz or tangles.
- Earth’s Nectar Green Olive and Lavender Scalp Oil ($22)combines sweet almond oil with green olive seed and lavender oil to help clear and soothe your scalp. We use it as a weekly scalp treatment when things are feeling particularly dry or itchy.
- Rodin Olio Lusso Geranium and Orange Blossom Face Oil ($102)is a decadent face oil that smells as good as it makes your skin feel. Massage a few drops on your face and neck as a final step of your skin-care routine—or as a dewy base for makeup.
- Ellis Brookyln Marvelous Massage and Body Oil ($65)has full spectrum CBD, grapefruit peel and rosemary leaf oil to soothe your senses and ease sore muscles instantly. Work it over any kinks (we frequently use it on tight calves after a run or our shoulders, which are perpetually tight). The fresh pine scent is an added bonus.
A final note on almond oil…
The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization committed to educating consumers on ingredient safety, gives sweet almond oil (or “prunus amygdalus dulcis” as it’s known in the plant community) a score of one, meaning it poses little to no health concerns. However, Dr. Ciraldo does want to point out that, “The safety profile has data gaps, as there isn't much peer-reviewed study on this ingredient as of yet.”
In conclusion, if you’re at all wary or find that your skin doesn’t tolerate almond oil well, there are other oils (like jojoba and coconut) that have many of the same beneficial properties, but with more modern studies to back up their safety.