Abyssinian oil is a vegetable oil expelled from the Crambe seed, which is an oilseed crop. The oil is very rich in erucic acid, just like mustard oil and rapeseed oil. Abyssinian oil was mainly used to obtain erucic acid commercially, which was further used as a chemical in industrial applications after the second world war. It is only recently that some cosmetics makers are marketing it as being remarkably good for skin and hair conditioning. However, because of a severe shortage of modern studies conducted on this oil in cosmetic applications, much of what we know is based on its chemical composition. Some of the claims are mere conjecture.
It is mainly helpful for skin cleansing, moisturizing and anti-ageing applications. Since it is light inconsistency, it is used to style hair and give them a light shine.
Crambe seeds come from a vegetable known as Crambe abyssinica. It belongs to the same biological family as mustard and cabbage. Abyssinica in its name denotes its origin; it is native to the Ethiopian highlands. This flat-topped plateau with its deep gorges was known as Abyssinia in colonial times. Hence Crambe seed oil is known more popularly in the cosmetic industry as Abyssinian oil.
Colour and Aroma
It is pale yellow. When it is unrefined, it has a mild, pleasant aroma to it, unlike other oils from plants in the same family. A sharp contrast to its aroma is mustard oil, with a sharp, pungent smell that can tear our eyes up. However, the Abyssinian oil on the market is a refined and deodorized product. This does not have any scent and is a much lighter consistency than cold-pressed Abyssinian oil.
The therapeutic effects of Abyssinian oil can be estimated by studying its chemical composition.
- Emollient – Moderate amount of oleic acid makes for an excellent emollient. It aids in moisturization.
- Regenerative – Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid that is present in Abyssinian oil. Linoleic acid is the predominant fat in our skin cells, wherein it plays numerous roles. It most notably forms the lipid barrier that saves our skin cells from losing moisture to the environment due to evaporation. And it keeps the skin hydrated. 
- Cleansing – Small amounts of saturated fats like palmitic and stearic acid are useful in cleansing the skin. These fats act as surfactants and dissolve out oily dirt and makeup products difficult to remove with water.
- Mild anti-inflammatory – Even a smaller but significant amount of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) would make it helpful in reducing inflammation. ALA is a kind of omega-3 that helps in inflammatory conditions. 
Health Benefits and Uses
Abyssinian Oil for Skincare
Firms in anti-ageing products generally use it. How effective it is at this task is yet to be known. Some companies may be trying to sell this oil off as an exotic oil. But Crambe oil is not so exotic as it used to be. Crambe is now a common oilseed crop cultivated on hectares upon hectares in Europe and even in the United States and Canada.
Abyssinian oil can be used to effectively remove oily (hydrophobic) makeup at night. Water-soluble makeup can be easily washed off with water, but oily products can be tough to cleanse off. A few drops (3 – 4 drops) of cleansing essential oil (most preferably rose essential oil) can be added to about 30 ml of Abyssinian oil. A few drops of this oil mixture should be poured on a cotton ball and wiped across the face to clean off products.  This should not be used for removing eye makeup. For that, one can substitute rose essential oil with rose water. Many people have naturally dry skin, and soap-based makeup removers leave their skin even more dehydrated. For such a skin type, oil-based makeup removal is much more suitable.
Abyssinian oil provides substantial amounts of vitamin E to the skin. It contains the gamma-tocopherol form of vitamin E, similar in antioxidant capacity to the more commonly used alpha-tocopherol condition. Oils rich in vitamin E are anti-ageing as they scavenge the free radicals lurking around to damage our skin cells.
Abyssinian oil for Acne
It has a low comedogenicity rating of 1, which means it has a common tendency to clog pores.  It is light in consistency compared to heavy oils like almond or Argan but is more severe than characteristic thin oils like grapeseed and jojoba. Its usage is less prone to make our pores clog, and thus it can be used for maintaining skin health in Acne. However, there is no evidence of Abyssinian oil having solid antibacterial characteristics that can help fight off the bacterial infection that causes Acne. At best, it can provide skin rejuvenation which can be attributed to natural vitamin E.
Abyssinian oil for Hair Conditioning
Heavy oils like castor oil, pure sweet almond oil (unrefined) and Argan oil are used as hot oil treatments to nourish the scalp. Abyssinian is more suitable for hair conditioning. It can be used on damp hair after a shower. 5 to 10 drops of the oil are taken in the palm and rubbed along the fingers. Then fingers are to be run into hair shafts. Excess moisture can be dried off using a fan or blow dryer. It has a low density, which makes it spread quickly. 2 or 3 drops of oil are enough for adding shine and nutrition to hair. It also strengthens the hair shafts, so they hold the style better.
An advantage of Abyssinian oil versus a heavy crude, say Argan oil, is that while heavy oil clamps the hair down, light oils make them oily and shiny without clamping them down. The hair looks more voluminous.
Note– cold-pressed Abyssinian oil has a high viscosity and is thicker than the refined version. For hair conditioning, refined Abyssinian oil is better.
However, one should not have unreal expectations of Abyssinian oil. It may not be effective at healing split ends, maintaining curls or reducing frizz to a great extent. Its main advantage is in adding shine to hair without the much discomforting heaviness.
Nutritional and Medicinal Information
The chemical composition of Crambe seed oil reveals its high content of erucic acid.
|Fatty acid||Carbon notation and type||Percentage in oil|
|Erucic acid||C 22: 1 (MUFA, omega-9)||63.77|
|Oleic acid||C 18: 1 (MUFA, omega-9)||15.07|
|Linoleic acid||C 18: 2 (PUFA, omega-6)||13.16|
|Alpha-linolenic acid||C 18: 3 (PUFA, omega-3)||—|
|Palmitic acid||C 16: 0 (Saturated)||0.88|
|Stearic acid||C 18: 0 (Saturated)||0.53|
|Behenic acid||C 22: 0 (Saturated)||2.14|
|Eicosenoic acid||C 20:1 (MUFA, omega-9)||2.4|
|Nervonic acid||C 24:1 (MUFA, omega-9)||0.99|
|Lignoceric acid||C 24:0 (Saturated)||0.44|
Omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids that our body cannot make from other fats. We need to eat foods that contain these fats. The topical application of oils containing omega-3 or omega-6 is also practical at replenishing them because our body absorbs them from the skin into the blood. As a result, oils rich in omega-3 and omega-6 are nutritional. Without these fats, we would suffer from a deficiency disease seen on the outside as dermatitis.
The benefits of erucic acid on our skin or hair are not known. As we can see from the table, Crambe oil is exceptionally rich in erucic acid. It is also found in oils of rapeseed varieties, mustard varieties and seed oils of some cruciferous vegetables belonging to this family, like the taramira oil.
Mustard oil has potent antibacterial and chemopreventive properties because of organosulfur compounds like allyl isothiocyanate. There is no data on whether Crambe oil contains any such sulfur-rich compounds. If such compounds are found in further research, we will begin to see many more therapeutical applications of Abyssinian oil.
Vitamin E present in Abyssinian oil is mainly in the form of gamma-tocopherol. A complete breakdown of vitamin E in this oil is as shown in the table below.
|Vitamin E form||Amount in oil (mg per kg)|
It also contains phytosterol compounds that are plant-derived compounds similar in structure to cholesterol. It contains beta-sitosterol, campestanol and, more importantly, brassicasterol. Phytosterols are mostly found in vegetable oils and oily nuts, and they provide health benefits like lowering cholesterol, reducing inflammation, improving cardiovascular health and many more.  Unfortunately, Crambe seed oil is not safe to ingest. Therefore, we cannot avail of these benefits of phytosterols. Like vitamin E and fatty acids, other nutrients can be absorbed via the skin, but not the phytosterols.
Physico-chemical properties of Crambe seed oil are as mentioned below.
|Viscosity||175 mPa-second (centipoise)|
|Saponification Value||175 mg of KOH per gm of oil|
|Iodine Value||88 gm of iodine per 100 gm of oil|
|Peroxide value||0.806 milliequivalents per kg of oil|
Side Effects and Toxicity Issues
It is not suitable for ingestion. Many countries have banned the internal use of oils rich in erucic acid because many years back, erucic acid was found to aggravate heart disease in animals when given in large amounts. However, there are entire communities using oils rich in erucic acid as their primary cooking oil daily.
Buying and Storage
Currently, it is very costly. Prices should come down as it is not an exotic oil coming from the world’s remote areas, say eastern Siberia or the Amazon or Congo rainforests. Nor is there a low supply of the Crambe vegetable to justify such a high price. It tolerates heat well and can be kept without refrigeration except in countries where summers are too hot. Shelf life is around one year.
Aromatherapy Benefits of Abyssinian Oil Vs Argan Oil
Both Abyssinian oil and Argan oil are used in the hair because of their similar properties. However, they are two different oils that have completely different features from each other. This is one reason why it is essential that you know which one to use. The properties found in these oils are enough reason why you need to make an informed decision. The following are some characteristics that might convince you to choose one over the other.
Argan oil has high levels of essential fatty acids. It is known to contain linoleic, stearic, and palmitic acids. These acids are essential for the stimulation of the scalp and the maintenance of good hair health. Since both argan oil and Abyssinian oil contain these acids, you may expect to see a noticeable difference in your hair’s condition once you use them.
However, both oils have another characteristic that you will not find in Abyssinian oil. Unlike argan oil, it does not have to be warmed before application. You can simply rub the product on your hair and then allow it to sink into your scalp. This is why this product is preferred by many people who do not want to exert effort in applying it. If you are wondering why this product is preferred over the others, it is because it is easy to apply. All you need is a glass jar or a small spray bottle to be able to use this product and there’s no need for you to heat the oils.
According to dermatologists, Abyssinian oil contains high amounts of essential fatty acids. This means that it is more effective than the other products in treating damaged hair. Because of this, many people are now using it in order to achieve beautiful and shiny locks.
Another characteristic of Abyssinian oil is that it contains essential fatty acids and Vitamin E. It is therefore ideal for all types of hair care. It is also used in face care products, as it helps prevent the early onset of aging. The reason why it is used in face care is because it has the ability to moisturize the skin. In fact, experts said that it can reduce the appearance of wrinkles. This is the main reason why it is being used by more celebrities today.
When it comes to healing damaged skin, however, experts advise against using it. This is because it contains very high levels of essential fatty acids and Vitamin E. As a result, it may cause serious side effects when applied on your skin. The side effects caused by it are mild ones. However, if you were to apply it on your skin and get a rash, it can worsen your condition. If you are not sure about the benefits of Abyssinian oil mimics, you can try to find out whether the product contains essential fatty acids and Vitamin E. Check how much of each ingredient it contains. If it contains a high percentage of both of them, then it is the right one for you.
One of the benefits of using Abyssinian oil is that it is a good anti-hair loss product. Women who want to avoid the onset of baldness should use this oil. It can be used in combination with other natural oils and herbs such as henna, lavender, jojoba, and aloe vera to prevent hair loss and stimulate hair growth. It is also known to be a good heat protectant. It has been found to improve the texture and quality of the hair.
One of the downsides of using it is that it is a bit expensive. A bottle of it usually costs around $60 or so. However, you may consider buying cheap brands of the essential oils and other products that you need to make your hair look more beautiful and shiny. Since there are many types of affordable products available on the market today, you can save a lot of money if you decide to use this type of product to make your hair look better.
- Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health. Linus Pauling Institute at the Oregon State University.
- Complete Characterization of Crambe abyssinica Hochst. Seed Oil. Journal of the American Oil Chemists Society. Stavros Lalas et al.
- A review on dietary phytosterols: Their occurrence, metabolism and health benefits. Raphael J. Ogbe et al., Asian Journal of Plant Science and Research.