Argan oil was almost unheard of outside of Morocco before 2001, but since then it has become one of the most expensive oils in the world, commanding about $300 per liter. Is argan oil the true miracle it is claimed to be and is the exhorbitant price charged by some companies justified? I’ve laid down my makeup brushes for a bit to find out.
Unless you have been literally hiding under a rock, it is almost impossible nowadays to not have heard of argan or Moroccan oil. Walking down the aisle of any supermarket or drugstore, dozens of products now proclaim to contain it, and claims abound as to its miraculous properties. And, indeed, the oil of the argan tree, which is endemic to Morocco, has traditionally been used by the native Berbers for food and healing, including the treatment of burns, bruises and wounds. However, no reliable research exists to substantiate the claims being made.
Unfortunately, no reliable clinical studies have been done on topical application of argan oil and all claims as to its effectiveness are strictly anecdotal–all studies done to date are on consumption of the oil. However, we can look at the composition of the oil to try to see whether the anecdotal claims may have a basis in truth.
For starters, argan oil is high in tocopherols (vitamin E). According to the Linus Pauling Institute, topical application of vitamin E is effective for protecting the skin against UV damage as well as combating and preventing inflammation. Furthermore, argan oil is also high in fatty acids such as linoleic and linolenic acids (Omega 6) which, as indicated on my post about rosehip oil, are proven to attenuate aging and regenerate human skin, diminishing expression lines, eliminating grooves and improving the appearance of scars as well as also playing a key role in the inflammatory response of the skin. So, on this basis alone, argan oil should indeed possess many of the qualities that people anecdotally claim it to have and should prove an excellent addition to any skincare regimen.
Benefits are more than skin deep
Argan oil is not only beautiful from a skincare perspective but also from a humanitarian and environmental one as well. Argan oil is a traditional oil of Morocco where for centuries Berber women have used it for food and healing. The recent popularity and rise in prices has given these women a new source of income that has helped them become more independent and better provide for their families and the education of their children.
From an environmental perspective, argan oil has helped protect the endangered argan tree from the encroachment of civilization. These trees prevent desertification and sustain a complex ecosystem. Fortunately, in 1998, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) designated almost 10,000 square miles of argan forests in southwest Morocco a UNESCO biosphere reserve, helping ensure continual reforestation and production of oil.
Should you spend more on argan oil?
From my research the answer would be no–as long as you are buying a 100% pure , fair-trade argan oil, of course (dilution with cheaper vegetable oils is common practice even for extra-virgin olive oil).
Most of the reputable companies I looked at claim that the oil they use is more costly as it comes from women cooperatives, is organic, and/or is extracted only from unbroken nuts. From my research, these claims seem to be true…. but both for the cheaper ($12 per ounce) and more expensive ($36 per ounce) brands alike!
Here’s what I found:
- All companies I looked at (reputable, organic ones) source their oil from women cooperatives in Morocco where the nuts are cracked open by hand. The oil is then extracted either using stone grinders or mechanized methods (it seems many cooperatives now have mechanical systems as this is the most laborious part of the process and requires 10-12 hours of work to produce just one liter of oil). Both methods seem to be equally effective with the mechanized one producing a cleaner and more stable oil.
- Production of argan oil is all sustainable and follows traditional practices which renders the oil 100% natural whether certified organic or not (although organic certifications are your only confirmation or guarantee that the oil comes from where they claim it does).
- Traditionally, the collection of the fruits from the trees was done by the goats who would consume the fruit and later excrete the indigestible nut intact. It seems this practice, however, is no longer common as the goats harm the trees. Collection is now mostly done after the fruit falls to the ground with the pulp being used for goat feed after processing.
I personally would buy oil from a reputable company (preferably certified organic) but would not necessarily go for the most expensive brand based on these claims alone. I have been using the Acure argan oil myself (in fact I just finished the bottle) and have found it to be very light, moisturizing, and easily absorbed. In fact, it is one of the few oils that really works well for my frizzy, curly hair as it imparts a lot of moisture without weighting it down or making it greasy like other types of oil do.
I also tested the Josie Maran argan oil (which at about $28 per ounce is quite more expensive) and did not find it as nice as the one from Acure. The consistency of the oil was much heavier, slimier, and left both my skin and hair feeling greasy. I will soon also be testing two other brands: SheaTerra Organics and Kahina and review those once I am done.
Will this replace my other oils? Not really. Given the results of clinical tests and the composition of the oil, I think rosehip oil is a much more potent and beneficial oil to use for the skin. However, studies show that vitamin E and vitamin C combined are more effective than either alone to protect skin against UV damage so I would consider and recommend using argan oil in the daytime together with a vitamin C serum (which I personally find is excellent at increasing and maintaining skin’s firmness) while leaving the rosehip oil for night time use since vitamin A and sun exposure don’t mix well in any case (you can read more about this on my prior post on sunscreen).
You can buy Acure’s argan oil from their website or your local Whole Foods in the US. Vitacost.com and iHerb.com both carry it as well and ship internationally.
Consumption of argan oil (Morocco) with its unique profile of fatty acids, tocopherols, squalene, sterols and phenolic compounds should confer valuable cancer chemopreventive effects, Khallouki, F and coll . Eur J Cancer Prev ,12(1):67-75. 2003
Vitamin E, Linus Pauling Institute newsletter, University of Oregon
Argania Spinosa, A guide to medicinal plants in North Africa, Center for Mediterranean Cooperation
Liquid gold in Morocco, The New York Times Magazine, November 18, 2007
Tree going goats threaten oil supply, Discovery News online, September 22, 2011
Huile d’argan – Maroc, TV5 Monde (video in French)
Processus de fabrication de d’huile d’argan au Maroc, Coeur de Foret and Forest People (video in French)