Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Argan Oil


A bit of History

From the argania spinosa tree which grows in south western Morocco. The oil extracted from the seeds of its fruits has become quite popular in recent years. In 1998 it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list for it's considered one of the rarest trees in the world as well as one of the oldest.

The tree itself, considered pious and holy, can grow up to 10 metres high and withstand temperatures up to 50 degrees Celsius. It can live up to 200 years and if it dies, remain dormant and revive again 7 years later. With it's strong root system it prevents erosion and helps preserve the fertility of the soil by stopping the advance of the desert.

Traditionally, Moroccos' Berbers would pick the undigested pits from the waste of goats who climb argan trees to eat their fruits. I wonder where they got that idea! Today, I'm glad to say that these days, the fruits are harvested directly from the trees. Although we know of it mostly for skin and hair, argan oil is used by many Moroccans in their daily diets. For this, the seeds are roasted before being pressed giving the oil a dark brown color and a deeper nutty flavor.

     Goats up an argan tree                                                                                                                 Argan fruits  




                                 





Why the high price?

Argan oil is a product of the kernels. The fruits have to be harvested, the flesh removed and the hard shelled nut has to be cracked open by hand to remove the 3 kernels lodged inside, hence the high price of the oil. It takes about 30 kg of argan fruits to produce 1 liter of oil which is about the total produce of one argan tree for one season.

The production of argan oil as traditionally been a Berber women affair. Due to it's increased popularity, European cosmetics companies have been moving in, looking for large profits. They started production on a larger scale reducing the original argan oil producers as mere seed suppliers while advertising that it was hand-made by Berber women when in fact they had nothing to do with their product.

Cooperatives of women where formed in the 1990's to help preserve the traditional ways of production and protect the fast vanishing argan trees. They also help insure that only the best seeds are used and that they are processed as soon as they are extracted which diminishes oxidation risks. Some of the oil they produce can be extracted by hand but also mechanically. These cooperatives help women get fair wages, better working conditions and education.

So, if you see argan oil at a ridiculously low price, there's little chance Berber women where involved even if it states to have been processed by them.

The claims

Restorative with age-defying effects. It's high vitamin E content can help all sorts of skin problems like dry skin, acne, eczema, psoriasis and wrinkles. Soothing and anti-inflammatory, Moroccans use it on their hair, nails and skin. It's a rich and very nutritious oil. From time to time a member on MUA pops up claiming argan oil as "erased" her wrinkles. It's more likely her skin was dehydrated before she started using it, responsible for the wrinkled appearance. Don't expect this type or result, expect healthier looking skin, comfortable looking skin. If you do plan on trying it on your face, make sure to patch test first. Everyone is different and even if some swear by it, it can be disastrous for others. Clogs, cystic acne, not desirable at all.

How I use it

Facial skin. Sadly I can't use it every day. It's clogging for me and that is even if it rates 0/5 on the comedogenic scale of cosDNA but, a few nights a week, in winter when I feel my skin needs a little more, it feels soothing when I apply it. I do my usual routine and 30 minutes or so after my nightly moisturizer has sunk in, I dab on a bit of argan oil for extra moisture and it takes about 10 minutes or so to sink in.

Eye area. Although I prefer unrefined shea butter for the eye area, I sometimes use argan oil. It's gentle and effective if the skin is dry and little is needed since you wouldn't want it to travel into your eyes.

Hands and nails. If on a particular night I find my hands are dryer than usual, I wash them, use a few drops of argan oil, massage a bit and follow with a rich hand cream making sure I don't forget my cuticles. Doing this just before bed, I wake up with super soft hands. You could wear cotton gloves if you wish but personally, I can't fall asleep wearing them.

Hair. Nice pre-treatment, I apply it to the lenght of the hair about 30 minutes or so before shampooing. I must admit that I've done this only a few times since I rarely take the time. I have long thick hair and find that it does give it an extra silkiness. You can even heat it for a luxurious "hot oil treatment". On dry hair, I use it to get rid of fly-aways and also use on the ends to prevent breakage. I must admit that I don't use argan oil exclusively for this. Sometimes I want to put on a bit of fragrance so I go fro either my Nuxe or Lierac body oils reviewed in a previous post.

Where to buy and at what price?

One company that's been partly responsible for the popularity of argan oil is Josie Maran, available at Sephora. Her whole cosmetic line is based on this golden liquid. Her line does include pure argan oil but it's outrageously overpriced. It's in fact double the price of what you can get in health food stores and some larger drugstores. The one I use is from Melvita but there are other options just make sure the one you choose is 100% argan oil.

Josie Maran's Argan Oil, 1.7 oz, $48.00
Melvita's Huile d'argan, 50 ml, $24.00

Same product! You could even find 100% pure argan oil for less on the Internet if you chose to go that route. Here are 2 other options.
Garden of Wisdom ($9.65 US 1 oz)
Lotion Crafter ($15.95 US 2 oz)                                                              

From Melvita's US website:

Fair Trade:
Oil is cold-pressed extracted from raw hand-crushed kernals. Processing is done through an Aunarha women's co-operative in Essaouira. Melvita complies with all ethical criteria for fair trade: fair prices when purchasing raw materials, preservation of biodeversity in the environment, as well as responsible farming.
Melvita guarantee:
First cold-pressed organic oil.
Colorant and preservative-free.
ecocert



Argan Oil Society is one of several websites I consulted for this entry. Wikipedia also provides a bit of information as well as many others. Again, be careful about the claims many sites will make in order to sell you their products. It's a very nice, rich oil but it's not miraculous as some would want you to believe.

Artwork: decorative tile pattern from Mosque of Hassan II

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