What is apricot kernel oil and how does it work?

Apricot kernel oil is a secret beauty gem with great moisturizing properties

Peaches on a blue background
(Image credit: Getty)

Apricot kernel oil is something of an unsung hero of the beauty world. Rarely talked about, most people would be forgiven if they didn't even know apricots had kernels, let alone oil. 

Apricots are relatives of peaches and almonds, and both also have oil extracted from their pit or kernel. These oils share a lot of the same properties as apricot kernel oil, which has been used in beauty and cosmetics for a long time. 

Apricot kernel oil also offers some unique benefits, being rich in multiple vitamins and omegas. Below, we'll break down what you need to know about apricot kernel oil, and why it might be a great addition to your skincare routine.

What is apricot kernel oil?

The apricot has a long history in cosmetics, skincare, and medicine. According to Chinese tradition, the ancient doctor Dong Feng, who lived in the 3rd century, was an early proponent of their benefit to health and beauty. Instead of payment for his services, he required that all his patients must plant one single apricot kernel, or in case of serious ailments, up to five. In time, his patients grew a great grove of apricots for use in his medicine.

Apricot kernel oil is harvested from the apricot seed, which is almost 50% oil. It has similar properties as almond oil and peach oil, and it is often used as a substitute in both cosmetics and food applications. 

Apricot kernel oil benefits

Due to its fragrant smell, viscosity, and moisturizing properties, apricot kernel oil has long been used in massage oils in India. Cultures of the Himalayas have traditionally used the oil to moisturize their hair and skin and protect them in the dry arid conditions of the mountains.

  • Apricot kernel oil is an extremely lightweight oil and absorbs easily into hair and skin, so it doesn't leave any greasy residue. 
  • Like most oils, it has moisturizing and protective applications. It can deliver long-lasting moisture to damaged and sensitive skin, as well as protect skin and seal in other skin treatments to increase their effects. 
  • Like the very closely related almond oil, apricot oil can provide quick relief to sensitive and aging skin, like that under your eyes.
  • Apricot kernel oil is often included in a large range of hair products. As one of the best carrier oils for essential oils (opens in new tab), it often mixes well and achieves high levels of synergy with other hair treatments.
  • Apricot kernel oil adds a noticeable shine to hair that persists long after application. 
  • Apricot kernel oil has been shown to effectively treat psoriasis, which many people commonly experience on their scalp. 

All these qualities add up to apricot kernel oil being one of the most versatile and safe ingredients in hair and skincare products.

Are there side effects to using apricot kernel oil?

Apricot kernel oil is far more comedogenic than some other oils available and could lead to clogged pores. Those who regularly experience acne breakouts should avoid this oil in favor of one that doesn't have comedogenic properties.

The oil has no significant side effects otherwise, other than isolated allergic reactions. Allergies to apricots are exceedingly rare, however, and the fruit has a long history of agriculture and use in human diets.

When to use apricot kernel oil (and when not to)

For dehydrated, aging, or even cracked skin, pure apricot kernel oil can help provide quick relief without all the added ingredients of lotions and moisturizers. A little bit goes a long way, and its beautiful, subtle, perfumey scent is like soft aromatherapy. 

Apricot kernel oil can be applied as a treatment for hair damaged by dry and cold conditions, as well as heat treatments. A few tiny dabs of oil on your fingers should be enough to go through even longer hair lengths to start healing damaged strands and follicles.

Many beauty, skincare, and hair care products contain apricot kernel oil as an active ingredient. With pure oil, always use a very small amount. But with any pre-made product that utilizes the benefits of apricot kernel oil, simply follow the directions for use on the product for a much easier and reliably safe application.

With the exception of those with highly oily skin or those prone to breakouts, apricot kernel oil should be safe for use.

How to apply apricot kernel oil

For large areas of skin, like your arms, hands, or legs, apply a few drops directly on the area, then gently massage the oil into your skin. The oil should absorb quickly without any greasy residue.

For application on smaller areas like your face, dab a few drops on your fingers and apply evenly. After distributing the oil across the area, gently massage the oil to help it penetrate deep into pores for maximum effect. 

To apply to your hair, add a few drops to your fingertips and brush through. Let the oil sit for 30 minutes, and then wash and condition.

A lifelong creative writer and beautyphile, Eunice Lucero-Lee graduated from De La Salle University in 2002 and was hired a year later to front all beauty coverage for Pink Magazine. A beauty, astrology, and pop culture obsessive and insider for over 18 years, Eunice is an internationally published editor (and now certified astrologer) whose work has been featured in publications such as Cosmopolitan, Esquire, and The Numinous, among many others.