I basically called my mom for help. Except when I say mom, I mean an esthetician.
The ever-increasing prevalence of "exotic" oils in Western beauty products is not original. It’s not even remotely new. Am I happy it’s taking off? Yes. But it must be noted that this inspiration comes from somewhere, and in the case of black seed oil, we have another ancient beauty product on our hands. (Let's just go ahead and plan on covering every single oil ever made, shall we?)
Black seed oil is the pressed oil of the seeds of the fennel flower, Nigella Sativa, which isn’t the same as the green bulbous vegetable called fennel. It’s often called black cumin, but it also isn’t cumin. Another nickname is Roman caraway, but it also isn’t caraway seed. It’s one of the more confusing plants I have ever researched, clearly.
It has origins in the Middle East and was popular in both Ancient Egyptian and Levantine cultures as a cooking spice and as a medicine, as it is chiefly used today. Traditional Arabic and Indian practices use the oil as an internal supplement and as an external beauty aid. It comes as plain oil, mixed with honey or other oils, or in store-bought products.
The reason this oil is widely revered and creeping its way into the west is due to its unique composition. It’s got two of the most important constituents for an "it" oil: phytochemicals and specialized fatty acids. Its most unique component is thymoquinone, which is a phytochemical similar to thymol, the germ-fighting compound found in thyme plants and in smaller concentrations in similar plants. This gives the seed a peppery, onion-y and herbal taste, which makes it a wonderful culinary spice. The pressed oil has that spicy scent and flavor along with a large quantity of CLA, conjugated linoleic acid.
Black seed oil is making a scene in beauty lately because of its skin-healing properties due in part to the high thymoquinone content.
Once again, Nubian Heritage shows its chops at working with buzzy ingredients before they get picked up by everyone else. Their soaps, body washes and body lotions never disappoint. This line, Honey & Black Seed, has the sweet and creamy scent of most of the others, but underlaid by a soft hint of herbal pepper.
As always with Nubian Heritage, you get foamy soaps, a body wash that makes a really rich bubble bath, and soft, penetrating creams that have all of the best body butters blended in. Mango, cocoa, shea, and jojoba, castor, and olive oils are all going to work with the honey and black seed oil to give you really soft skin.
The Body Shop is one of the first brands to get black seed oil onto western faces. Their Oils of Life line is awesome, but my favorite is the Revitalizing Gel Cream. The peppery scent of the black seed oil comes through in these products, and they don’t have added fragrance, so they smell really natural, which I think is awesome.
The Gel Cream got me through some of those last hot days at the start of fall when the thought of putting something thick and occlusive on my face was no better than death. I love dashing that toner on after my yeasty essences; it’s really softening and penetrates well.
The real treat is in the harmonious mixture of oils found in the Facial Oil, an expertly matched blend of black seed oil, rosehip seed oil and camellia oil. It's a perfect harmony of omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 oils, which you don’t often see. Even the driest non-acneic skin needs more omega-3, and nigella sativa provides it.
Black seed oil may seem like just any other oil, but I would put it in its own category. It’s more rich in phytochemicals than other pressed plant oils—more like neem or tea tree with a built in carrier oil. It's got fatty acids for every skin type, so try it straight or in a DIY blend!
Photos: Darnell Scott