Prickly Pear Seed Oil

As I take Duke out for a walk in the arroyo behind our house, I have to steer him around the small squat prickly pear cacti that blanket the ground. He doesn’t seem to see them coming. Here in New Mexico, the prickly pear cactus is everywhere. You can often find prickly pear jam at the local farmers market which is quite delicious. The fruit is a known superfood packed with vitamins and antioxidants. While the oil is new to Desert Wild, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas have been using the indigenous prickly pear cactus as an agricultural resource for generations. We even have a fall festival devoted to this food source!

Prickly pear seed oil is extremely expensive at around $40 an ounce wholesale. The reason for this is that it takes nearly a ton of seeds to extract one ounce of oil. According to the fluff marketing language associated with the oil, it contains nearly 3x the vitamin E of argan oil. You know it’s fluff marketing language when five websites display the exact same wording. One study of the seed oil showed that prickly pear seed oil contained 40.3 mg/100 g of vitamin E vs .654 mg/100g in argan oil, which is much more than 3x.[1] However, contrary to some fluff marketing claims that it has the highest concentration of vitamin E of any oils, that award goes to pomegranate, wheat germ and raspberry seed oils.[2] Sea buckthorn seed oil is also very high in vitamin E but I can’t seem to find a study with the exact amount at the moment.

In addition, prickly pear oil is rich in polyphenols and phytosterols which provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. The lipid profile is appx 60% linoleic acid, 20% oleic, 13% palmitic, and 3% stearic.[3] Linoleic acid easily absorbs into the skin improving elasticity and barrier functions. It is a great oil for oily and acne-prone skin as it leave a dry non-greasy feeling. Oleic acid is very moisturizing and the stearic and palmitic acids help to improve moisture retention and form a protective layer on the skin, respectively. The interesting thing is that most other oils with high linoleic acid, such as evening primose (11%) and borage seed oils (18%), aren’t as high in oleic acid, which leads me to believe prickly pear would actually be suitable for all skin types. By way of comparison, argan oil contains more than 60% oleic acid which is more suitable for dry skin.[4] Lastly, marketers claim that is has a comedogenic rating of 0, but I have not found a study to corroborate that. I get stuck behind a pay wall at the Journal of Cosmetic Science.

Nevertheless, prickly pear seed oil is a dry oil that absorbs quickly, likely won’t clog pores, and is also very hydrating and protective for the skin, making it suitable for all skin types. As a result, we're going to incorporate it into a facial oil and eye gel that we will be testing over the course of the year. Keep an eye out for updates!


  1. Marfil, R., Giménez, R., Martínez, O., Bouzas, P.R., Rufián‐Henares, J.A., Mesías, M. and Cabrera‐Vique, C. (2011), Determination of polyphenols, tocopherols, and antioxidant capacity in virgin argan oil (Argania spinosa, Skeels). Eur. J. Lipid Sci. Technol., 113: 886-893.
  2. Trela, Agnieszka; Szymańska, Renata. 2021. “Less widespread plant oils as a good source of vitamin E” Food Chemistry, vol. 296: 160-166.
  3. Silva, Mafalda A.; Albuquerque, Tânia G.; Pereira, Paula; Ramalho, Renata; Vicente, Filipa; Oliveira, Maria B.P.P.; Costa, Helena S. 2021. "Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill.: A Multi-Benefit Potential to Be Exploited" Molecules 26, no. 4: 951.
  4. Marfil, et al.
Photo Credit: Photo by Frankie Lopez on Unsplash.

    1 comment

    You did some very interesting and thorough research on prickly pear oil. I like the idea that you are thinking of testing out some eye gel and facial products with prickly pear oil, especially since it’s such a prevalent natural resource in the desert! Also, I am quite interested in the fact that there is a fall festival devoted to prickly pear as a food source and skin nourishing oil! Will keep that in mind! Thanks, Christine!

    Trish July 27, 2021

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