The Benefits of Black Cumin Seed Oil for Skin and Hair

Black cumin seed oil benefits skin and hair

It’s been around since antiquity, but the allure of black cumin seed oil is as magnetic as ever, especially for natural formulators who are rediscovering its benefits for skin and hair.

And for good reason – it’s an affordable oil with impressive benefits, and has earned a spot as one of our top 10 ingredients for 2024.

Black cumin seeds have been found in the tomb of Tutankhamen and praised as the “herb of blessing” by the Prophet Muhammad who reportedly said it could cure everything other than death.

While current cosmetic regulators would have a field day with that claim, it does inspire us to look deeper into this “miracle” oil for skincare and haircare.

In this article, we cover:

Black cumin seed: genus and origins

Black cumin seed oil (INCI: Nigella sativa (Black cumin) seed oil) is extracted from the seeds of a member of the Ranunculaceae family of flowering plants – commonly called the buttercup family.

It grows in several parts of the world, but most abundantly in the Middle East, Western Asia and Eastern Europe. The plant produces fruit that contains the seeds, which harbour its renowned cosmetic properties.

Across centuries and cultures, black cumin seed has collected many names: habba al-sauda or habba al-barakah in Arabic, kalonji in Hindi and nigelle or cheveux de Vénus in French to name a few.

In English, it’s known as fennel flower, black seed, black caraway or nigella (though it has no relation to fennel, common cumin or caraway).

You may even see it referred to as love-in-a-mist, which is the same botanical family as Nigella sativa. However, this species is Nigella damascena, and it does have benefits, but the active compound thymoquinone, prized in Nigella sativa, is in a significantly smaller amount.

In fact, there’s a lot of confusion around the name of black cumin seed in general. Plants that are botanically unrelated to Nigella sativa are similarly called black cumin and black seed (which could be onion seed). Though it’s unlikely you’ll come across these when purchasing from cosmetic suppliers, it’s still worth checking the INCI name to be sure.

The Benefits of Black Cumin Seed Oil for Skin and Hair

The benefits of black cumin seed oil

As you might expect from a plant dating back nearly 4,000 years, black cumin seed oil is steeped in folklore revering its mystical effects. We now know that it’s rich in constituents that make it a coveted part of any beauty ritual.

Cold-pressed black cumin seed oil is predominantly polyunsaturated with up to 60% linoleic acid, followed by about 20% oleic acid, 3% eicosadienoic acid, and a few saturated fatty acids such as arachidic, palmitic, stearic and myristic acids.

It also contains tocopherols (vitamin E), beta-sitosterol – a soothing and moisturising phytosterol that could help the skin barrier – and thymoquinone, usually less than 1%. It also has tiny amounts of thymol and carvacrol, but of the active compounds, thymoquinone is the main source of its cosmetic benefits.

Thymoquinone brings antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and skin-regenerative effects. A CO2 extracted carrier oil is also available, with a higher level of thymoquinone, but the little bit present in the cold-pressed oil is a classic example of less is more.

As if that’s not enough, black cumin seed oil has a proven natural SPF of 2 (Kale et al., 2010) but botanical oils should never be relied upon to provide sun protection. Furthermore, your formulations must always be lab tested before you can make any SPF claims.

Black cumin seed oil and hair regrowth

You might also have seen social media posts online that suggest that black cumin seed oil can help with hair regrowth.

The scientific research on black cumin seed oil for hair regrowth is still in its early stages. While there are some small-scale studies suggesting potential benefits, these studies often involve combinations of black seed oil with other ingredients which makes it challenging to determine the specific effects of black cumin seed oil on hair growth.

One such study was undertaken in Rome in 2013 (Rossi et al, 2013), where 10 patients with a scalp disorder characterised by the thinning or shedding of hair were treated for 3 months with a scalp lotion that contained 0.5% black cumin seed essential oil. Another 10 were treated with a placebo. After treatment, 70% of the patients treated with black cumin essential oil saw improvement in hair density and hair thickness.

However, this is just one study with a small sample size, which used a formulation that contained a tiny amount of black cumin seed essential oil. In other words, we can certainly try to use black cumin seed essential oil for hair regrowth, but the jury is still out on whether it fully works!

Black cumin seed oil cosmetic benefits

Formulating with black cumin seed oil

In recent years black cumin seed oil has gained popularity on social media for its varied benefits, either as a stand-alone ingredient or in formulations.

This beautiful oil is known for its distinctive aroma which can range from spicy cumin-like to milder scents. The oil’s colour is often a light orange, reminiscent but not as intense as sea buckthorn oil. Black cumin seed oil also has a traditional use in the formulation of certain soaps, a testament to its cultural and historical significance in skincare and haircare.

So, how can you use this miracle oil in your formulations? As mentioned, there are two main options for use in cosmetics:

Cold-pressed oil: High linoleic acid gives this oil a high iodine value. This means that it’s heat-sensitive and must be added at the cool-down phase (under 40 degrees C).

It can be used up to 100% but is often recommended lower due to its peppery aroma and the fact that it can contain up to 0.5% naturally occurring essential oil.

Tip: Check the Certificate of Analysis (COA) for volatiles present. The amount of thymoquinone is often listed with the fatty acid profile.

CO2 Extracted Carrier Oil: The CO2 extract is the super-powered version of the cold-pressed oil. It has a similar fatty acid profile, but a stronger aroma since its concentration of volatile actives can be up to 5% (or more), with thymoquinone among them.

Some extracts are standardised to a particular percentage of thymoquinone (3% is typical), which is crucial to know when you’re formulating. Again, the Certificate of Analysis (COA) is your best friend, along with supplier usage guidelines. Be sure to check these levels as the extract may not be suitable in high doses or for sensitive skin.

Note: Thymoquinone is contraindicated for those who are pregnant or nursing so be aware of the limits when choosing to work with the CO2 extract. You might also want to make a note on your product label.

 

The Benefits of Black Cumin Seed Oil for Skin and Hair

8 Easy formulas to adapt with black cumin seed oil

Black cumin seed oil is most beneficial in formulas or products for mature or blemish-prone skin. It’s also perfect for hair and scalp oils and botanical skincare for hands or feet.

We’ve summarised 8 of our favourite formulations on the blog for you to try. You can replace any of the oils or CO2 extracts in these formulations with black cumin seed oil.

Facial oils and serums

Due to its high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits alongside its soothing and moisturising beta-sitosterol content, this oil is well suited to serums aimed at mature skin, barrier support, and dry or inflamed skin. Plus, black cumin seed oil’s antibacterial action also makes it ideal for blemish-prone skin.

The formulas below are easily customised by substituting one of the oils with black cumin seed oil.

African Facial Oil

The first formulation we recommend you try is our simple African face oil, which incorporates beautiful oils from across the continent of Africa.

You can replace either the argan, desert date or rice bran oil with black cumin seed oil to create a variation of this gorgeous oil-based serum.

 

The Benefits of Black Cumin Seed Oil for Skin and Hair

This beautiful vitamin E face serum already contains many gorgeous botanical oils.

Replace the evening primrose seed CO2 extract with black cumin seed CO2 extract to give the serum an additional spicy kick.

 

Hair and scalp treatments

Due to its robust antimicrobial activity, blending black cumin seed oil into a scalp oil or hair conditioner is an excellent addition.

Also, as you read earlier in this article, the science isn’t yet fully there to demonstrate that black cumin seed oil can lead to hair regrowth but that doesn’t mean we can’t add it to our hair formulations!

The Benefits of Black Cumin Seed Oil for Skin and Hair

Rosemary is another firm favourite in the haircare formulation community, making it the perfect accompaniment for black cumin seed oil.

When you make this rosemary hair and scalp oil, we recommend substituting either the apricot, avocado, jojoba oil or pumpkin seed oil with black cumin seed oil.

 

The Benefits of Black Cumin Seed Oil for Skin and Hair

Imagine formulating your very own antioxidant rich hair mask, packed full of ingredients that can benefit the hair and scalp – including black cumin seed oil!

We recommend replacing the jojoba oil in this formulation with black cumin seed oil.

 

Solid hair conditioner formulation

Our final haircare formulation for you to try is our solid hair conditioner bar, which currently contains jojoba oil that you could replace with black cumin seed oil.

Picture yourself making a solid haircare conditioner that has a slight spicy aroma of cumin. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?!

 

Hand and foot treatments

Black cumin seed oil is anti-fungal, making it a natural choice for foot creams, masks and scrubs as well as hand and cuticle creams. Here are a couple of formulation ideas:

The Benefits of Black Cumin Seed Oil for Skin and Hair

Our Simple Unscented Balm can be a cuticle balm with anti-fungal properties with the addition of black cumin seed oil – you could replace the buriti fruit oil. Be prepared that your balm will be a different colour to the one in our blog post!

 

The Benefits of Black Cumin Seed Oil for Skin and Hair

This whipped foot scrub with apple and spice would feel wonderful with the addition of black cumin seed oil to add an extra touch of luxury and make the fragrance extra spicy. We recommend replacing 5% of the castor oil with black cumin seed oil.

 

The Benefits of Black Cumin Seed Oil for Skin and Hair

This wonderful nourishing hand balm would benefit from the addition of black cumin seed oil. We recommend replacing the 5% of infused carrot oil with black cumin seed oil instead.

FAQ for Formulators: Black Cumin Seed Oil

How does black cumin seed oil work on the skin?

Black cumin seed oil is rich in fatty acids and antioxidants, which help nourish the skin, reduce inflammation, and combat free radicals, leading to healthier, more vibrant skin.

How does black cumin seed oil work on the hair?

The oil is thought to strengthen hair follicles, promote growth, and help the scalp due to its antimicrobial properties. However, the scientific research on black cumin seed oil for hair regrowth is still in its early stages.

Can black cumin seed oil be combined with other ingredients?

Yes, it works well with other carrier oils, essential oils, and active ingredients for enhanced benefits in skincare and hair care products.

What is the recommended concentration in formulation?

It is typically used at 1-10% in formulations, mainly due to its slightly spicy fragrance. However, the exact concentration can vary depending on the type of product being formulated. Always check with your supplier for their recommended usage.

What does black cumin seed oil smell like?

Black cumin seed oil has a slightly spicy and earthy aroma. The scent can be quite strong and distinct.

How does black cumin seed oil feel on the skin?

It’s typically absorbed well by the skin, leaving a non-greasy, moisturised feel. However, its texture can vary depending on the formulation.

Are there any special storage requirements for formulators?

Store it in a cool, dark place to prevent oxidation. Proper storage is crucial to maintain its efficacy and extend its shelf life.


References & Further Reading

(i) Sudhir P Sawarkar; Hirday Verma. Nigella sativa seed, a novel beauty care ingredient: A Review. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research, August 2016.

(ii) Ahmad M. Eid, Nagib A. Elmarzugi, et al: A Review on the Cosmeceutical and External Applications of Nigella sativa, Journal of Tropical Medicine, November 2017.

(iii) Aftab Ahmad, Asif Husain, et al: A review on therapeutic potential of Nigella sativa: A miracle herb, Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine, May 2013.

(iv) Bahare Salehi, Cristina Quispe, et al: Nigella Plants – Traditional Uses, Bioactive Phytoconstituents, Preclinical and Clinical Studies, Frontiers in Pharmacology, April 2021.

(v) Subhash Padhye, Sanjeev Banerjee, et al: From here to eternity – the secret of Pharaohs: Therapeutic potential of black cumin seeds and beyond.

(vi) Shantanu Kale, Prashant Ghoge, et al: Formulation and in-vitro determination of Sun Protection Factor of Nigella sativa Linn. Seed Oil Sunscreen Cream. International Journal of PharmTech Research, October 2010.

(vii) Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young. Essential Oil Safety, Second Edition, pp. 217-218.

(viii) A. Rossi, L. Priolo, A. Iorio, E. Vescarelli, M. Gerardi, D. Campo, D. Nunno, S. Ceccarelli, S. Calvieri, A. Angeloni and C. Marchese, Evaluation of a Therapeutic Alternative for Telogen Effluvium: A Pilot Study, Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications, Vol. 3 No. 3A, 2013, pp. 9-16.

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The Benefits of Black Cumin Seed Oil for Skin and Hair

Shauna is a copywriter and content creator at Formula Botanica. Her love of beauty began with creating a make-your-own cosmetics kit for kids. A former aesthetician, Shauna is also an active formulator and perfumer, and a member of the Formula Botanica community.

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