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We have all heard of the benefits of Argan Oil. Companies paint astounding pictures of how this oil is great for your hair, your skin, your nails… for anything pretty much. And I will admit, I agree with them. But again, I prefer facts to intricately worded praise. After all, seeing is believing. So what is it that allows people to boast the therapeutic value of this oil so much? Let us take a look.

Chemical Breakdown

Argan Oil has several constituents that give it its unique properties. You’ve probably heard about some of them, such as vitamin E or linoleic acids. We will go in a bit of detail about the role of these constituents and why they matter.

Composition Argan Oil

chart1

As you can see, the bulk of argan oil is composed of fatty acids. The remainder is partially composed of tocopherol, commonly known as vitamin E.
The individual effects of each constituent:

    • Oleic Acid: A common fatty acid, oleic acid belongs to the omega-9 family. It tends to be excellent for moisturizing and regenerating the skin. Oleic Acid also offers anti-inflammatory properties, as well as softening and moisturizing effects. In addition, it is also absorbed by the skin very efficiently.

 

    • Linoleic Acid: This fatty acid belongs to the omega 6 family. This fatty acid is effective for skin-barrier repair and moisture retention. It also reduces inflammation and is helpful for treatment of rashes and eczema. Lastly, it also helps maintain cell membranes and nutrient intake, resulting in healthier skin.

 

    • Palmitic and Stearic Acids: Both saturated fatty acids, palmatic and stearic acids are essential moisturizers and contribute to a smoother skin surface and softer hair. In aging skin, the levels of palmitic acid are observed to decrease by as much as 56%.

 

  • Tocopherols:Tocopherols are part of the Vitamin E family. These have strong antioxidant and free radical neutralizing properties. Free radicals are atoms or molecules that attack the body initiating chain reactions. An example of these reactions is loss of skin elasticity (resulting in aging and wrinkles) and hair thinning. The tocopherols act to “neutralize” these free radicals and prevent the skin from aging and the hair from thinning. In addition, the antioxidant property of tocopherols also reduces the amount of oxidative damage caused by sun exposure.

Lately, we have almost introduced a new word to the English language: Argan Oil. In the past we almost never heard about it. Now however, many cosmetic products claim to contain a percentage of Argan Oil and boast about its benefits. Although boasting the benefits is great and necessary (and mind you, I probably will do the same soon), as a chemist I prefer understanding where the products I use come from. What is their origin? Where are they grown? And how are they made?

A little background

Argan Oil comes from an Argan tree grown in the mountainous region of Morocco. Red fertile earth and a moderate dry climate have been an ideal growing ground for these bi-centennial trees. The people that traditionally cater for these trees are the berbers – an indigenous people who have inhabited this mountainous area for thousands of years. Their name comes from the Romans who considered them as “barbarians” since they were their hostile neighbors. The berbers however chose to call themselves differently- Amazighen or “free noblemen.” Very early on, they learned the benefits of this magical tree. They extracted the oil using a hand press and used it for cooking and for cosmetic care.

Extraction process

A common question everyone asks is: “Where does the oil actually come from?” To understand the extraction process, you must know the make-up of the fruit: A thick green peel covers a fleshy pulp, which in turn covers a hard shell. The hard shell contains the argan kernels (or nuts). Now, the extraction process could be divided into three simple steps:

  1. The fruit is collected and dried in the sun.
  2. Once dry, the peel and the pulp are removed to reveal the shell. The shell is then broken, by the berber women usually using two stones, and an oil rich kernel is then removed from the shell.
  3. The oil is then extracted from the kernel by hand (traditional), by temperature (conventional) or by hydraulics (cold pressed)