The apricot, Prunus armeniaca, comes from a small tree that has a relatively short lifespan, around 30 years. It gives rise to the sweet, yet tangy, fruit known as the apricot. Apricot trees grow best in areas that don't get a spring frost since they flower early in the spring and an early frost destroys their flowers. The apricot fruit itself is fairly hardy. It has a firm flesh that encases a single, hard seed that's often referred to as a stone. In North America, apricots are in season between the months of May and August. They're closely related to two other popular fruits, peaches and plums.
Apricots have a variety of health benefits. They're a rich source of antioxidant vitamins and have significant amounts of vitamin A and vitamin C. They're also a good source of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds called carotenoids. One type of carotenoid in apricots called beta-carotene is important for healthy vision. The beta-carotene in apricots helps to protect against two common causes of visual loss with aging, age-related macular degeneration of the eye and cataracts. In addition, the beta-carotenes in apricots provide natural protection against heart disease and may reduce the risk of some types of cancer. Apricots are a dieter's dream. They're low in calories, only 17 calories in a small apricot, and relatively low in natural sugar. Plus, their fiber content makes them relatively filling.
The dried seeds of Prunus armeniaca can be cold-pressed to produce a lightly colored oil that can be used in cooking and is an ingredient in some cosmetic and skin care products. This oil with a slightly nutty flavor can be used for cooking, frying and to make salad dressings. Apricot kernel oil is rich in vitamin A and E as well as the essential fatty acids, linoleic and oleic acid. It also contains small amounts of palmitic acid and linolenic acid. Apricot kernels contain a compound called amygdalin or laetrile that can be extracted. Laetrile was once promoted as a treatment for cancer, but use of laetrile to treat cancer was banned by the FDA after they found that it can be converted to cyanide in the body. Apricot kernel oil doesn't contain significant amounts of amygdalin.
Apricot kernel oil has a variety of benefits for the skin. The essential fatty acids make for a good emollient or moisturizer. Emollients coat the skin, holding onto moisture so skin stays hydrated. Apricot kernel oil also contains natural antioxidants including vitamins A and C that reduce free radical damage to the skin. When skin is exposed to sunlight, free radicals form that activate enzymes that break down collagen. This breakdown in collagen leads to loss of skin firmness and the formation of lines and wrinkles.
Apricot kernel oil is an ingredient in a variety of cosmetic and personal care products including facial moisturizers, body lotion, anti-aging treatments, shampoos, hair conditioners and soaps. It's also popular as a massage oil since it is quickly absorbed and doesn't leave a greasy residue. It also has a long shelf-life because of the vitamin E contained within. Vitamin E helps to preserve cosmetic products. It's often used as a substitute for sweet almond oil for people who are allergic to nuts.
Is it safe? Unlike raw almond kernels that contain amygdalin, apricot kernel oil is safe when used for food preparation and in cosmetic and personal care products. The United States Food and Drug Administration classifies apricot kernel oil as "generally recognized as safe" in food products. The Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database deems apricot kernel oil to be a low-hazard cosmetic ingredient. It's unlikely to cause skin irritation or other side effects when used topically. Its anti-inflammatory properties may help to ease minor skin irritation.
All in all, apricots and apricot kernel oil are rich in vitamins and essential fatty acids that make it a good cooking oil as well as a soothing and nourishing oil for the skin. It's safe in the amounts found in cosmetic and personal care products.