Occasionally I come across a plant raw material for use in personal care that seems too good to be true. Argan Oil (Argania Spinosa) is one of those. From a functional, environmental and social aspect, argan oil is truly amazing. This is probably why in 1999, UNESCO added the argan tree to the World Heritage List.
The argan tree (Argania Spinosa (L.) Skeels), is endemic to a particular area of Morocco (South- Western) where it grows over about 800,000 hectares. It is not unusual for Moroccans living outside of this region not to be familiar with this tree as it is only in this specific region of the world that it can be found. This fact actually makes argan oil one of the rarest plant oils in the world.
For centuries now the argan tree has played an essential ecological function in this part of Morocco. Its roots grow deep in search of water and thus help retain the soil, preventing erosion and limiting the ever-increasing advance of the desert. Its ability to survive in this otherwise harsh environment is nothing short of miraculous.
Not only does the argan tree plays a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance, but it also provides a source of income for the local Berber women who have few other means to support themselves.
It is estimated that the argan forest can provide subsistence for as many as three million people.
Almost all of the argan production is and has for centuries been run by women (women’s cooperatives).
These women working today come from the villages nearby and are offered to work half days (so they can still tend to their families) in exchange for fair wages and good working conditions.
These cooperatives have two objectives:
1- to preserve the argan forest by finding sustainable economic use for its products
2- to improve the social and economic status of rural women.
It was traditional Moroccan medicine that gave us a clue as to argan oils benefits for the skin. Traditionally it has been used to treat all kinds of skin ailments including acne (particularly juvenile acne) chicken pox, pustules, dry skin, wrinkles, and even rheumatic conditions
Modern science has determined that argan oil contains exceptionally high levels of natural tocopherols (vitamin E), actually almost twice as rich as olive oil and is also high in phenols and phenolic acid, carotenes, squalane, essential fatty acids, and unsaturated fatty acids (80%). The tocopherols (vitamin E) and saponins in argan oil help to restore the skin’s water lipid layer while also soothing inflammation. We now believe that the unique combination of phytosterols, containing the rare D-7 stigmasterol is one of the main factors in the highly effective treatment of skin diseases, wound care, burns and compromised skin tissue.
Anyone who develops personal care products can truly see the bonus of working with argan oil in that it is relatively stable when compared to other oils with high essential fatty acids profiles. Argan oil is more resistant to oxidation than olive oil which gives a good indicator of its preservation properties.
The propensity for rancidity has always been a challenge for companies that use ingredients like borage, hemp or evening primrose oil. It is all too often that I will see a tester in a store with these oils that have obviously gone rancid. The smell and consistency are immediately apparent.
Today the argan tree is threatened: in less than a century, more than a third of the argan forest has disappeared, reducing the tree count to approximately 20 million. The reduction is largely due to the locals allowing foraging goats to damage the tree as well as using the tree for wood. Another factor to a lesser extent is that the climate has become increasingly arid over the years.