Get the Facts: Coconut Oil
Does coconut oil help eczema? The answer isn’t as clear as you might think.
Published On: Apr 4, 2022
Last Updated On: Apr 4, 2022
From cooking to skincare, plant oils – like coconut, almond and avocado oils – have become a favorite household staple in recent years.
Almond oil is one of several plant oils currently being studied for it’s potential to soothe eczema skin. You might be wondering, how safe is it? And what sets it apart from other topical oils? Is this the beginning of a new trend, like that time we all couldn’t stop talking about almond milk? Here are the facts.
There are two main types of almond oil, bitter and sweet, which come from the Prunus dulcis tree.1 Bitter almond oil is not recommended for ingestion or topical use on the skin. Sweet almond oil, on the other hand, contains properties that are safer and more suited for the skin. It contains nourishing nutrients like vitamins A and E, which contain retinol to help stimulate cell production and antioxidative properties to help prevent cell damage, including the kind caused by UV radiation.1
Sweet almond oil can be refined or unrefined, also known as “cold-pressed.”1 This refers to how the oil is extracted from the almonds and processed for use. Cold-pressed almond oil, or oil that’s extracted without the use of high heat or chemical solvents, is thought to be especially beneficial in general since this extraction process helps keep these nutrients intact.1 However, when it comes to skin specifically, “Unrefined [oil] is a little more risk,” said Dr. Anna Fishbein associate professor of pediatrics (allergy and immunology) at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Contact reactions have been reported, so it’s always wise to talk to your doctor and conduct a patch test first if you think almond oil, or almond oil-containing products, could be the right for you. Of course, if you’re allergic to tree nuts, including almonds, almond oil is not recommended.
Like other topical oils, such as vitamin E or coconut, almond oil is an emollient, which helps the skin lock in moisture. This is critical for people with eczema to help relieve and repair flaring skin. When skin is dried and cracking during a flare, this leaves open spaces between the cells of your skin. Emollients fill these empty spaces with fatty substances, or lipids.2 Phospholipids, another component of plant oils like almond oil, mainly fuse with the outer lipid layer of the skin, potentially acting to help increase the effectiveness of your skin barrier.3
Almond oil also contains linoleic acid, which has a direct role in helping maintain skin barrier function. 3 “There are a few small reports about oils that are high in linoleic acid being theoretically better for eczema than others,” said Dr. Fishbein. Plant oils, like almond oil, can be an especially helpful emollient in this case because they can have an occlusive effect, which means they help the skin stay hydrated for longer by preventing too much water loss. 2 Previous research on plant oils have demonstrated that almond, jojoba, soybean and avocado oils, when applied topically, mostly remain at the surface of skin without deep penetration. This combination of properties creates a hydrating barrier, which is what helps set almond oil apart from other non-plant oils or emollients. 2
You can “apply it to the skin as a moisturizer,” said Dr. Fishbein, or many skincare brands carry products containing almond or similar linoleic acid-containing ingredients. “Cetaphil for example has this as ingredient: Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil,” said Dr. Fishbein. Almond oil that’s safe to use on skin is typically labeled as “sweet almond oil”, either on its own or as an ingredient in serums or cream moisturizers. The prices range from about $8–$20 per bottle. Some products specifically made for use on the face are sold for up to $50 per bottle.
As noted above, almond oil does carry the risk of a contact reaction if you have unknown allergies or sensitivities to almonds. However, if you’ve assessed and mitigated these risks with your doctor and/or a patch test, almond oil has nourishing and protective properties that help make it a cut above the rest.