As far as nuts go, walnuts have a particularly bad rep when it comes to skincare. Used primarily as a physical exfoliant (some products use tiny fragments of walnut shells to scrape off dead skin, among other things), the ingredient has long faced criticism from skin experts due to its harsh, abrasive texture. It even sparked a 2016 lawsuit over claims that the nut caused irritation and inflammation, and accelerated the aging process.
But don’t write off walnuts just yet. While walnut shells have little to no business in skincare, walnut oil is actually somewhat of an unsung skin-loving hero. Indeed, walnut oil has been used to fight wrinkles and hydrate skin since around the 17th century. Even earlier, the medicinal virtues of walnut oils were lauded in many Greek and Roman writings.
While it hasn’t picked up the notoriety of, say, argan or almond oil, walnut oil is slowly emerging as a top-notch ingredient thanks to its soothing and antimicrobial effects on the skin. To help explain why, we turned to board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Atolla, Dr. Ranella Hirsch and Dr. Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about walnut oil, including what it is, how to use it, and the best products to try.
What is Walnut Oil?
Walnut oil (more formally known as juglans regia seed oil) is—surprise, surprise—an oil derived from the meats of walnuts. Walnuts are widely recognized as one of the healthiest nuts, and some studies suggest that even just ingesting walnut oil can promote better skin health. When applied topically, walnut oil’s skin benefits are even greater.
Walnut oil is an emollient, skin-conditioning agent first and foremost, meaning it has a softening, soothing effect on the skin. Studies suggest that it promotes better skin health, helping heal wounds faster and treat some skin conditions, like eczema.
TYPE OF INGREDIENT: Non-fragrant plant oil
MAIN BENEFITS: Hydrates and strengthens the skin’s surface, prevents water loss, defends against environmental stress, reduces signs of aging, and eliminates flaky, dehydrated skin.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: Thanks to its versatility, most people seeking skin hydration can use walnut oil. While it’s always best to confirm with your doctor, Dr. Hirsch suggests avoiding walnut oil if you have a known history of nut allergy. Meanwhile, Dr. Zeichner suggests those with oily or acne-prone skin proceed with caution.
HOW OFTEN CAN YOU USE IT: In general, walnut oil is safe to use on a daily basis, though Hirsch stresses that frequency of use is dependent on product formula, as well as what else you might be using.
WORKS WELL WITH: Other hydrators.
DON’T USE WITH: In general, walnut oil can be used with all ingredients safely.
According to Hirsch, walnut oil is rich in antioxidants (thanks to a hefty dose of vitamin E) and omega-3 fatty acids (namely linoleic acid, which, according to research, effectively restores and softens skin). Walnuts also have a significant amount of vitamin B5 (more commonly known in the skincare community as panthenol), which offers anti-inflammatory, moisturizing, and restorative benefits. It also contains high levels of linolenic (which, yes, is different from linoleic) and oleic acid, and therefore provides excellent moisturizing and skin barrier-repairing benefits, Zeichner adds.
Because walnut oil contains high levels of oleic acid, which can cause clogged pores and promote breakouts, Zeichner warns against using it on oily and acne prone skin.
Two types of pure walnut oil are commercially available: cold-pressed and refined. Cold-pressed walnut oil tends to be more expensive, since it keeps more nutrients intact. As a result, it seems to be used for cooking purposes more than skincare. And while you can use pure walnut oil on the skin, it’s usually found as an ingredient in a preformulated oil or cream—more on that later.
Benefits of Walnut Oil for Skin
High in both vitamins and minerals, walnut oil offers benefits for nearly all skin types. Benefits of the nutrient-dense ingredient include:
Moisturizes skin: Zeichner notes that walnut oil is rich in emollients, making it an ideal moisturizer that softens skin and improves barrier function.
Prevents water loss: Walnut oil is a supple, lubricating agent that helps prevent water loss, thanks to its emollient properties.
Defends against environmental stressors: Walnut oil is rich in vitamin E, which means it has some serious antioxidant properties, according to Hirsch. Most notably, walnut oil helps shield the skin’s surface against environmental stressors like pollution and sun exposure.
Reduces signs of aging: As with all antioxidants, protection against environmental stressors tends to correlate with reduced signs of aging. Increased hydration and moisture also lend themselves to a more youthful glow.
Improves dryness and itchiness: Zeichner points to several studies that suggest walnut oil helps with dry, irritated skin.
Increases skin hydration: Hirsch suggests walnut oil to anyone (and everyone!) seeking hydration.
Repairs skin barrier: Thanks to a heaping dose of emollients and omega fatty acids, walnut oil is incredibly effective at repairing the skin barrier, thus improving moisture and elasticity.
Side Effects of Walnut Oil
According to Zeichner and Hirsch, walnut oil is a safe and effective ingredient that should work for most skin types. In fact, the EWG, or the Environmental Working Group, rates the ingredient as very low-risk. That being said, Zeichner suggests that those with oily and/or acne-prone skin proceed with caution, as the oleic acid found in walnut oil can clog pores and cause breakouts. And both doctors warn that those with tree nut allergies should be cautious when using walnut oil, as unrefined oil fractions may elicit an allergic reaction.
One other concern when it comes to walnut oil is its tendency to oxidize. Luckily, the right packaging can counteract that. Look for airless (or at least air-restrictive) cases, as well as opaque packaging.
How to Use It
While Hirsch notes that when and how to apply a product depends on formulation, you should generally apply oils after moisturizer, as the final step at night (or pre-SPF in the morning). We suggest checking a product’s directions to be sure.
The Best Products with Walnut Oil
Thank You Farmer’s Water Sun Cream is a Byrdie favorite, thanks to its super smooth texture and zero white cast. A blend of hydrating walnut oil and bamboo extract with calming aloe vera and hollyhock root makes this SPF ideal for nearly every skin type (yes, even sensitive skin). And, if you like something with a little more glow to it, check out the brand’s Shimmer Sun Essence.
A blend of walnut, jojoba, squalane, sunflower seed, and sweet almond oils, the Danessa Myricks Beauty Oil leaves skin with a radiant, healthy-looking glow. Add a drop or two to heavier products to get a lightweight, luminous finish.
This concentrated oil formula replenishes a dull, dehydrated complexion while giving the skin barrier an extra boost to defend against environmental stressors. The walnut oil in this product works to soothe and rebalance, calming redness and irritation to restore skin’s optimal state.
This hybrid micellar-structured cleansing oil is perfect for anyone who finds traditional cleansing oils to feel a bit heavy, but a micellar water to be not enough. While walnut oil (among others) cleanses and replenishes skin, the centella asiatica, tea tree, and azulene work to soothe irritation and sensitivity.
Formulated with fermented centella and walnut oil, this cream simultaneously reduces redness, evens tone, and moisturizes the skin. It promotes cell turnover while hydrating and revitalizing rough texture, making it ideal for mature or irritable skin.