Almond Oil – an ancient beauty elixir

October 31, 2012

Almond oil has been used for centuries as an all-over beauty treatment that fosters healthy skin, hair and nails. Now, this beauty therapists favourite is appearing in more retail products, as consumers learn the benefits of this humble yet powerful natural moisturiser.

Among the oils used in professional beauty therapy treatments, almond oil is a favourite thanks to its rich skin- and hair-moisturising properties, low odour and clear appearance. Tried and tested since pre-biblical times, almond oil is still widely used for the same purposes: to achieve supple skin and silky hair.

Greek mythology tells of a reverence for the humble almond and its mighty oil, which has been used in Greece and Italy for centuries, despite being native to the Middle East. Today its benefits are known across the globe. The US, Spain and Syria lead the way in extracting the oil-predominantly from the sweet almond rather than the bitter variety – for use in beauty products, treatments and foods.

The beauty industry relies on almond oil particularly for massage therapies and soaps and as a base oil for cosmetics. Rich in vitamins D and E, it is deeply nourishing and a key ingredient for manicurists and pedicurists, pre- and post-treatment, thanks to its nail-nourishing and cuticle-soothing effects.

Almond oil is fine and especially mild and gentle, well tolerated by the skin and easily absorbed,’ explains Liezel Barnard, naturopath with natural skincare brand Weleda, which uses the oil in many of its products. “Due to its high content of unsaturated fatty acids, it protects the skin from drying by slowing trans-epidermal water loss and improves the skins natural barrier function. Another interesting fact is that almond oil is more stable – it doesn’t oxidise so easily – compared to rosehip oil, for instance, because of its high omega-9 content.”

SWEET VS BITTER

The oil from the sweet almond is used in topical beauty applications such as in carrier oils, while the broader and shorter bitter almond is traditionally known as a fixed” oil and used widely for its scent, making it an ideal essential oil.

While topical use of the sweet almond oil isn’t known to have any contraindications and is safe to use on the face and body, it’s the bitter almond, containing prussic acid, that has resulted in adverse reactions similar to those of cyanide poisoning when consumed. Therefore, its important to recognise the difference when opting to add almond oil to your beauty regime or your lunchbox.

INTERNAL HEALTH, EXTERNAL GLOW

If your gut is clean, your skin will glow. Adding almond oil to your salad can also have beauty-boosting effects, as it works to gently cleanse and nourish the digestive system thanks to its vitamin, mineral and omega-9 content. However, be sure to keep the oil raw to reap most of its beauty benefits.

Eating the almond itself is also beneficial to the skin, but it’s important to soak the nut first to remove the hard-to-digest outer brown husk. This also literally activates the almond’s enzymes while neutralising the skin’s enzyme inhibitors.

HEALTHY HAIR

While chemical conditioners and treatments damage your hair in the long term, almond oil is a natural hair moisturiser that softens the hair shaft and creates shine. Used alone or as a carrier oil with essential oils such as sandalwood or castor, this nourishing oil has been known to promote hair growth, likely due to its rich vitamin E content as well as calcium and magnesium. Almond oil is also great for strengthening the hair and minimising hair loss.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

When choosing an almond oil to apply topically, or as a culinary addition, be sure to look for one that is cold pressed. This protects the health-giving, skin-softening unsaturated fatty acids, says Barnard.

It’s also critical to look for a pure oil – one that is grown organically, extracted without chemicals and prepared without being subjected to heat or the addition of toxic ingredients that negate the oil’s beneficial properties. If the label doesn’t spell it out for you, its worth investing time to contact the cosmetic manufacturer to find out what standards they set for their almond oil harvesting and production.

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