Among the pack of skin superfoods, a clear favorite has emerged—argan oil, often referred to as 'liquid gold.' The oil comes from the kernels of the argan tree (Argania spinosa), native to the arid climate of southwestern Morocco, and the second most common tree species there. Prized for its nutritive, cosmetic and numerous medicinal properties, argan oil has been used for several centuries.
Much of the argan oil produced today is processed by the Berber women of Morocco in cooperatives that support local communities. The preparation is intensive: The nuts are cracked open between two stones, and then the kernels are roasted and ground into a paste. Women knead the chunky paste by hand to extract the oil, which is then pressed and filtered. In a typical day's work, a woman can harvest three kilograms of seeds, yielding more than one kilogram of oil.
The ultimate skin food
Exceedingly rich in nutrients, many skin care companies have picked up on the array of benefits Argan offers. “Aura Cacia became interested in this ingredient after learning about the long history of use in skin and hair care by the indigenous Berber culture in Morocco,” says Thomas Havran, branded products developer with Aura Cacia. “Given the arid environment in that region, the effects of the argan oil are remarkable.”
One look at the nutrient profile is enough to justify the excitement. “Argan oil is rich in natural fatty acids, such as linoleic acid and natural antioxidants such as tocopherols (vitamin E), carotenoids and ferulic acid,” says Los Angeles-based integrative dermatologist Susan Kallal, MD. “The fatty acids help restore the skin's integrity and natural barrier, and the antioxidants protect and reverse the effects of environmental damage on the skin. Ferulic acid in argan oil helps neutralize free radicals and protect the skin from UV damage.” Historically, argan has also been used as a hair oil, thought to keep hair shiny, conditioned and healthy.
Beauty is as beauty does
Incorporate argan oil into your skincare regimen and you become a beauty activist in one fell dab: It restores the skin, helps protect the indigenous environment and provides a lifeline of support for Moroccan women who might otherwise have no viable income.
If you have oily skin, the thought of applying oil to your face might seem counter-intuitive. But Kallal dispels that notion. “Argan oil is fast absorbing on the skin and, contrary to what many people expect, does not leave the skin feeling oily,” she says. “Argan oil is also rich in squalene, an oil that penetrates deeply into the skin and helps regulate sebum production.”
A study in the June 2007 issue of the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology showed that a cream made from argan oil and extracts from sesame seeds and saw palmetto reduced the casual sebum level by 20 percent and areas covered with oily spots by 42 percent.
Kallal recommends argan both as a moisturizer and as part of an acne treatment regimen. “Argan oil has natural anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties and can help calm and clear acne,” she says. “Argan oil is truly a versatile and valuable oil, and can be used on both young and mature skin.”
Before you rush out and buy anything labeled argan oil, caveat emptor: Look for 100 percent cold-pressed argan oil and avoid blends labeled 'Moroccan oil,' which may contain only a small amount of argan oil, says Kallal. Pure Argan oil has a light golden color and a mild nutty scent, while imposters sport a heavy, gooey texture and yellowish color.