The awesome argan oil

Until recently, the super benefits of the argan oil were available only to the Berber women of Morocco

Argan oil is only found in one part of the world—in the southwest desert region of Morocco. It is exclusively produced by co-operatives of Berber women between Marrakesh and Essaouira. The Berbers, who have been enjoying the health and beauty benefits of argan oil for centuries, have only recently begun to export it worldwide. And thanks to mass marketing, argan oil is now a key ingredient in a vast number of personal care products.

What is so special about argan oil?

Argan oil is unique because the Argania spinosa tree only grows in this region of Morocco. Many enthusiasts who knew of the benefits of argan oil have tried to grow the trees elsewhere in similar climates but have not been successful.

The process of harvesting the kernels and producing this precious oil is amazingly labour intensive. Local Berber women spend up to 10 hours at a time shelling, crushing, and roasting [for culinary grade oil] the kernels from the Argan tree. It requires the fruit of eight argan trees to produce merely a litre of argan oil. It’s no wonder then that argan oil demands such high prices in today’s market.

It has been linked to many health benefits when consumed with food as a dressing or condiment, although it should not be used for cooking because it degrades when exposed to high temperatures.

Argan oil comprises 80 per cent unsaturated fatty acids, oleic and linoleic fat. What’s more, it is extremely rich in vitamin E and has properties that lower LDL or bad cholesterol, stimulate circulation of the blood, aid digestion and strengthen the body’s immunity. Argan oil is also believed to regulate blood glucose levels and help prevent certain types of cancer [such as prostate cancer]. It relieves symptoms of arthritis and rheumatic diseases such as pain and inflammation and is a powerful antioxidant too, helping reduce free radical damage in the body.

The cosmetic advantage

Though the health benefits of argan oil are significant, it is most sought after for what it can do to your skin, hair and nails. Here is a list of some of its cosmetic benefits:

  • Its hydrating qualities protect the elasticity and suppleness of the skin
  • The oil is non-greasy and non-comedogenic and thus suitable for all skin types including oily and sensitive skin
  • Its soothing and anti-bacterial properties help heal skin problems such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis
  • It improves sebum production and balances the skin’s natural pH level
  • It helps soften wrinkles and fine lines in the skin and reduces scarring and damage
  • When used during and after pregnancy, regular argan oil massages may help reduce stretch marks
  • Studies show that argan oil may help promote hair growth as well as improve the strength and thickness of hair
  • It increases strength and flexibility of nails and cuticles
  • May help prevent damage from sun exposure.

Where is argan oil available?

Argan oil products are available anywhere from a local farmer’s market or in department stores to high-end specialty retailers, spas and even online. Due to these differences, the price range is also quite wide [although most consider it to be very expensive at any price point]. You can get organic products containing argan oil available for less than `1000… and then there are tiny bottles of pure argan oil that cost well over `5000. All of the marketing hype and price discrepancies for seemingly similar products can be quite confusing for a shopper.

How do I know I’m buying the real thing?

Since argan oil is so expensive, you want to make sure you are buying the real thing. You have to be very careful, because some products that claim to contain 100 per cent argan oil actually contain certain levels of olive oil as well. There’s nothing wrong with olive oil, but it’s not argan oil.

While certain agencies have awarded organic certification to argan oil, there really is only one argan oil since the trees only grow in one area. As long as you know you are buying pure argan oil from a reputable source [like directly from one of the Berber women’s cooperatives or from a supplier who fully discloses the constituents of the oil], you can rest assured that it was grown organically and sustainably.

Many manufacturers only use the bare minimum amounts of argan oil to be able to list it as an ingredient in their packaging and advertising. This means that these products actually do not contain enough of the ingredient to produce its required benefits. Furthermore, many of the products contain chemicals that can affect the properties of the argan and render it ineffective. You must especially avoid products containing silicones, dyes, fragrances or alcohols.

A good rule of thumb is to look for the words “Argania spinosa” to be listed in the top five ingredients on the product. That way you know there is enough of it that it comprises a good amount of the product. I personally recommend only looking for 100 per cent pure argan oil with no other ingredients on the list. This is, of course, the most expensive—but it is very concentrated so only small amounts are needed at a time. It lasts.

This article was first published in the June 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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