All formulations need the correct base for their ingredients. One of the most ancient carriers to be used in skin improvement formulations is sweet almond oil. This light oil extracted from the seed of the almond tree has been the preferred oil for skin care long before shea butter, cocoa butter, jojoba or macadamia nut oil became global favourites. The Enrich formulation from griffin+row contains sweet almond oil because of its emollient and moisturising properties.
Introducing Prunus amygdalus var. dulcis (sweet almond)
Classified under the genus Prunus due to its similarities with the peach and apricot (Prunus persica), this deciduous tree also goes by the botanical names Amygdalis communis, Amydalus communis, Prunus amygdalis (amygdalus) and Prunus communis 1.
The sweet almond is the cultivated variety called Prunus amygdalus var.dulcis. The wild variety Prunus amygdalus var. amara yields a bitter-smelling oil. The typical smell of bitter almond is due to benzaldehyde which is poisonous. Besides benzaldehyde, hydrocyanic acid (prussic acid) and the glycoside amygdalin are the toxic substances that are present in bitter almond oil but are missing from sweet almond oil. Although both types of almonds have their own uses, sweet almond oil is used in cosmetic formulations.
The etymology of the common name ‘almond’ is hazy. The Bible mentions the nut as ‘shakked’ or ‘luz’ (pronounced as ‘looz’) which are Hebrew and Arabic for almond. Away from its homeland, it is termed amandula in Latin and amygdale in Greek. The Italian and Sicilian names are mandorla and mendula 2, respectively, which could be derived from the Latin/Greek ‘medulla’ referring to the inner part or pith. The word ‘almond’ was first used as late as the 14th century and is thought to be derived from the old French alamande which in turn is derived from its Latin and Greek counterparts 3.
The nut is called Bian tao in Chinese, Amondo in Japanese and Badaam in Persian 1.
The almond tree is a native of the Arabian Peninsula, West and South Asia. It has now been naturalised globally in many countries that have isolated pockets of Mediterranean climate and some parts of North and South America. The state of California in the USA saw the first almonds when Franciscan priests planted them in the San Joaquim valley. Today USA is the leading exporter of almonds, followed by Spain, Italy, Iran and Morocco.
Used in: Enrich Why? Sweet almond oil has been included in the Enrich formulation for its protective properties to prevent dehydration in dry skin types. It is high on the ingredient list in Enrich and doesn’t appear in Nourish because it is most ideal for truly dry skin types. The texture of sweet almond oil is very light and it therefore can easily penetrate deep into the skin. Almond oil can be used safely on sensitive skin. In fact, it is often used in baby oils, due to its mild and hypoallergenic nature. Sweet almond oil comes exclusively from the edible variety of almonds, cultivated for their sweet taste.
Traditional uses of almond
Biblical references to the almond date back to the Old Testament. In the chapter Genesis, Jacob urges his sons to buy grain from Egypt in exchange for some choice fruit, honey, myrrh and almonds 4. Another notable instance is when Aaron’s rod blossomed and yielded almonds signifying divine approval (Book of Numbers) 5. Later, Samson is supposed to have wooed Delilah with flowering almond branches 2.
The almond probably found its way into Europe through the silk route. Merchants often stocked up dry fruits-including the almond- to sustain themselves on the long journey from Turkey to China. Wild almond trees are found all along this ancient trade route, although actual cultivation may have begun much earlier 4. The Mediterranean weather must have been conducive to the growth of the tree which is affected by frost and low temperatures.
And so it is that Greek mythology mentions an almond tree that sprang up on Phyllis’ grave in Thrace when she died of a broken heart after Demophon left her after their wedding following the Trojan War. The tree blossomed only after Demophon visited the grave some years later 2.
The Greek physician Dioscorides mentions the use of almond oil for the skin by Romans in his de Materia Medica (circa 1st century AD). The medicinal properties of the oil as used in Indian and Chinese medicine also finds a mention here 6. Both these schools of medicine promote the use of almond oil in the treatment of dry skin in those suffering from eczema and psoriasis 7.
Ayurveda also recommends almond oil to relieve constipation and stomach ulcers. Soaked almonds ground in milk and saffron and taken twice a day is recommended to achieve a glowing complexion 8. That almonds increase sexual vigour is echoed in the Sicilian almond-flavoured wines that are considered to be aphrodisiacs 2.
Almond oil is used in alternate medicine to treat kidney stones and gallstones. The laetrile in the oil decomposes to prussic or hydrocyanic acid which is purportedly useful in the treatment of cancer. Another anti-tumour compound called Taxifolin is extracted from the leaves of the tree. The leaves are also useful in the treatment of diabetes 9.
The most popular use of the oil is as a hair and skin improving agent. Application of the oil on the hair tames an unruly frizz while moisturising with almond oil is prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa. It is used as an emollient to soften skin.
Almond oil is comparatively less viscous and is used in the lubricating watches. Other uses of the plant include extraction of a grey-green dye from the fruit, a yellow dye from the roots and leaves and a green dye from the leaves 9. The leaves are also used to deodorise vessels.
As food, the nut is consumed as part of dry fruit mixtures. It is used in candy marzipan, to flavour maraschino cherries, baked goods and ice creams. Almond is an important ingredient of amaretto (meaning ‘slightly bitter’ in Italian) liqueur and orgeat syrup (a combination of rose or orange blossom water with almond and sugar) 1.
Almonds are considered to symbolise good fortune in Italy and are often thrown as sugar covered confetti during weddings.
Bioactivity and associated components of the plant
As mentioned earlier, every part of the almond tree has some use. However, bioactivity is associated mainly with the leaves and the fruit.
Almond tree leaves contain protein, neutral detergent fibre (NDF), acid detergent fibre (ADF), polyphenols and tannins 10.
The bioactivity of the fruit of the almond tree is mainly associated with the kernel of the seed. Almond oil is traditionally extracted by cold press methods. Modern techniques include extraction using supercritical fluid carbon dioxide 11. Almond seeds can contain anywhere between 40-55% oil.
The constituents of almond oil are:
- Saturated fatty acids: Palmitic acid (C16:0) and stearic acid (C18:0).
- Monounsaturated fatty acids: Oleic acid (C18:1) and palmitoleic acid (C16:1)
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids: α-linolenic acid (C18:2), araquidic acid.
Of these the unsaturated fatty acids make up almost 90% of the oil. The fatty acids in almond seeds are found as triglycerides. The composition of these triglycerides is usually in the order given below-
OOO > OLO > OLL > POO > PLO where O = oleic acid, L= linoleic acid and P= palmitic acid.
Triglycerides with stearic acid or those with the composition SOO, LLL, PLL and PLP are found in lower quantities.
- Vitamins: Tocopherols
- Sterols: Sitosterol and trace amounts of campesterol and stigmasterol
Other lipid-soluble compounds found in almond oil are tocotrienols, phospholipids, phytostanols, sphingolipids, squalene and terpenoids 12.
The residue after extraction of oil from the seeds is rich potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. Phenolic compounds such as gallocatechin, epigallocatechin, quercetin, gallic acid, p-coumaric acid, resveratrol, quercetin hydrate and catechin are also present. This defatted almond flour is added to the growth medium in fermentation reactors for the industrial production of antibiotics, enzymes, bio-pesticides, vitamins etc. It is also used as a nutritional supplement for mushroom cultivation. Addition of the flour to soups and sauces gives volume while the flavour is enhanced when the flour is used in pastries 11.
Oleic acid triglyceride and oleic-linoleic acid triglyceride: a spotlight on the main bioactive component
- Oleic acid triglyceride 13
This molecule has three oleic acid molecules esterified to the –OH groups of glycerol. OOO- triglycerides are found in several plant oils although almond oil contains the highest percentage of the molecule. The presence of oleic acid and linoleic acid (see below) in the form of triglycerides confers resistance to oxidation. When used topically, skin lipases present in the secretion of sebaceous glands release these fatty acids and make them available in the stratum corneum 14. Among long chain fatty acids, oleic acid has a high level of cutaneous penetration for the delivery of other active principles 15 16. This makes almond oil one of the best bases for skincare formulations.
- Oleic-linoleic acid triglyceride
This is the second most abundant triglyceride found in almond oil. This molecule has two oleic acids and one linoleic acid esterified to glycerol. As mentioned earlier, the release of oleic and linoleic acid from these triglycerides due to the action of skin lipases makes them the most preferred compounds for skin penetration 15 16.
General health benefits and uses of sweet almond oil
Almond oil is golden, slightly viscous liquid with a mild nutty, marzipan scent. It is listed as non-corrosive, non-phototoxic and non-toxic for topical use 17.
The cosmetic uses of almond oil have more anecdotal evidence than concrete scientific proof. Nevertheless, the following properties have been associated with the oil-
- Reduction in photo-ageing: A study on UV- irradiated rats has demonstrated the protective effect of sweet almond oil from the adverse effects of radiation. Analysis of the skin showed an increased level of antioxidants and suggests restructuring of skin that has been damaged by photo-ageing 18.
- Wound healing: Clinical experiences have also vouched for the reduction of post-operative hypertrophic scarring. Sweet almond oil has been found to smoothen and rejuvenate the skin 7.
- Anti-inflammatory effect: Again, the traditional use of sweet almond oil and contemporary anecdotal evidence has established its demulcent action 7.
- Moisturising effect: Due to the presence of triglycerides and fatty acids, sweet almond oil has superior cutaneous penetration. This makes it an effective emollient with sclerosant properties that rejuvenates ageing and damaged skin 19.
- High penetration and nutrient delivery: The oleic and linoleic acids in sweet almond oil are best suited for the delivery of specific molecules for skin improvement 15 16.
Other than its use in formulations, sweet almond oil is effective in the removal of make-up without drying the skin 19.
As a massage oil, it has been recommended with a blend of lavender, salvia and rose oil to relieve menstrual cramps 20. Similarly, massaging the chest and neck with almond oil arrests a cough and encourages the removal of mucous 19.
The administration of almond oil has seen more scientific studies than topical application. The reduced symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and incidence of colon cancer have been confirmed. Cardiovascular benefits of reduction of circulating LDL and increase in HDL has also been established 7.
Botany and grow it yourself
Taxonomically, the almond tree, Prunus amygdalus var. dulcis, belongs to the Amygdalus subgenus of the genus Prunus, family Rosaceae and order Rosales 1.
These deciduous trees grow to a height of about 30 feet and resemble the peach tree. Leaves are placed alternately with serrated edges. Buds emerge from the folded leaf. Flowers are pink in colour (which distinguishes the tree from the white flowers of the bitter almond) and emerge singly or in pairs. Although the flowers are bisexual, fertilisation is dependent on insect pollination. Flowering is usually in the months of March and April and often precedes the growth of new leaves at spring time. A short -stalked fuzzy drupe forms from the flower and ripens in October. The flesh of the ‘fruit’ is dry and inedible for humans. It may be used as feed for livestock. The seed when split open contains the edible kernel.
Almond trees grow well in sandy or loamy soils that are well drained. It is a hardy tree and although it prefers moist soil, it can withstand drought conditions. Propagation of trees is done from seedlings which may take up to 18 months to germinate 9.
Laetrile: The scientific name for laetrile is amygdalin B. This is a glycoside that is present in the stones/seeds of the genus Prunus.
Demulcent: A demulcent reduces inflammation. Redness and swelling of skin is reduced by the demulcent action of almond oil.
Sclerosant: An agent that reduces the anomalies in the tiny blood vessels in the skin is a sclerosant.
griffin+row starter kitEach griffin+row product has a particular role and prepares the skin for the next skincare step. Products work best when used together. The griffin+row starter kit includes the complete system, with everything you need packed in a convenient bonus bag.
References and sources
- Courteau J. (2012). Prunus amygdalus or sweet almond. Retrieved from https://eol.org/pages/231567/overview 29th September 2017).
- Gangi R. (2006). Sicilian almonds. Retrieved from https://www.bestofsicily.com/mag/art198.htm (29th September 2017).
- (2017). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/almond (29th September 2017).
- History of almonds. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.nationalalmondday.com/history-of-almonds.html (26th September 2017).
- The history of almonds. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.waterfordnut.com/history.html (26th September 2017).
- Osbaldeston TA.(2000). In “Introduction- The teachings” from The Herbal of Dioscorides the Greek; Dioscorides de Materia Medica. Ibidis Press, Johannesberg, South Africa. p XXIII and p XXV.
- Ahmad Z. (2010). The uses and properties of almond oil. Complementary therapies in clinical practice. 16(1): 10-12.
- Krishnamurthy MS. (Undated). 7 Badam (Almond) remedies for hair, skin, neuritis, sexual vigor. Retrieved from https://easyayurveda.com/2017/03/13/badam-almond-remedies/ (26th September 2017).
- Webb DA. Prunus dulcis. (Undated). Retrieved from https://www.pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?LatinName=Prunus+dulcis (26th September 2017).
- Nahand MK, Doust-Nobar RS, Maheri-Sis N and Mahmoudi S.(2012). Determination of feed value in ruminants of cherry, apricot and almond tree leaves in ruminants using in situ Open veterinary journal 2: 83-87.
- Roncero J, Álvarez-Ortí M, Pardo-Giménez A, Gómez, R, Rabadán A and Pardo J. (2016). Virgin almond oil: Extraction methods and composition. Grasas y Aceites, 67(3), e143. doi:https://dx.doi.org/10.3989/gya.0993152
- Almond oil. (Undated). Retrieved from https://www.centerchem.com/Products/DownloadFile.aspx?FileID=6849 (27th September 2017).
- Trioleyl triglyceride structural formula. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.chemblink.com/products/122-32-7.htm (27th September 2017).
- Jimenez-Acosta F, Planas L, Penneys NS. (1990). Lipase expression in human skin. Journal of dermatological sciences 1(3):195-200.
- Butcher EO. (1953).The penetration of fat and fatty acid into the skin of rat. The journal of investigative dermatology 21(1): 43-48.
- Kezutyte T, Desbenoit N, Brunelle A and Breidas V. (2013). Studying the penetration of fatty acids into human skin by ex vivo TOF-SIMS imaging. Biointerphases 8: 3. https://doi.org/10.1186/1559-4106-8-3
- MSDS Almond oil cosmetic grade. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.essentialoilsdirect.co.uk/aromatherapy/msds/sweet_almond_carrier.pdf (29th September 2017).
- Sultana Y, Kohli K, Athar M, Khar RK and Aqil M. (2007). Effect of pre-treatment of almond oil on ultraviolet B–induced cutaneous photoaging in mice. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology 6: 14–19. doi:10.1111/j.1473-2165.2007.00293.x
- Sumner L. (2015). Is almond oil a carrier oil? The sweet, the bitter and the 10 facts. Retrieved from https://www.essentialbazaar.com/is-almond-oil-a-carrier-oil-sweet-bitter-and-10-facts/ (29th September 2017).
- Harris B. (2010). In “Phytotherapeutic uses of essential oils” in “Handbook of essential oils: science, technology and applications. Edited by K. Hüsnü Can Baser and Gerhard Buchbauer, CRC Press, p 330.
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