When celebrities including Catherine Zeta-Jones and Charlize Theron are asked how they keep their skin youthful and their hair glossy, they all seem to rave about one product above all others: Argan oil.
Charlize claims the oil rescued her hair when she used it as a conditioner after too much dye caused it to split and break. Catherine has said she ‘saturates’ her face with it to nourish her skin as she sleeps and prevent it feeling ‘like a Walker’s crisp’. And they’re far from alone. Argan oil, which has been used for centuries by Moroccan tribespeople to treat dry skin and joint pains, has become the beauty elixir du jour.
‘Argan oil contains carotenoids, vitamin E and fatty acids such as Oleic acid, making it an effective antioxidant that protects the skin against damage,’ says Dr Rabia Malik, a cosmetic doctor based at Grace Belgravia in Knightsbridge, London.
‘But there’s no such thing as a miracle product. And with argan oil, there are a lot of factors to consider when talking about its benefits.’
The argan tree is grown almost exclusively in the barren lands of south-west Morocco. Traditionally, Berber women would collect the Argan fruit and extract its oil by drying it, extracting the nuts, cracking them to reveal the kernels and pressing them to release the oil.
The process used to be done by hand and producing one litre of oil took around five stone of fruit and 15 hours of labour.
Now, the nuts are still cracked manually, but electric cold presses are often used on the kernels, speeding up the process considerably but leaving the oil undiluted. The problem is that since being discovered by major cosmetic brands, the chances of getting this unadulterated Argan oil in the majority of products available on the High Street are slender.
‘Many of the products that use the words ‘Argan oil’ as a marketing claim will have only a very small percentage of the actual oil in them,’ says Dr Malik. ‘A drop of Argan oil in a product isn’t going to offer many benefits.’
Dr Malik warns that there are some products on the market that have Morocco and oil in their names, but don’t actually contain any Argan oil. ‘They could be any sort of oil, so don’t make the assumption that it’s Argan oil just because it claims to be from Morocco,’ she says.
Indeed, the amount of ‘Argan oil’ exported from Morocco every year is believed to be double the amount that the trees could produce. Perhaps the biggest drawback of Argan oil is its scarcity – the very attribute that has fuelled its popularity.
‘The high price of Argan oil and burgeoning demand are raising concerns over its sustainability,’ says Amarjit Sahota, director of Organic Monitor. ‘There are concerns that the Argan nuts are not collected properly.’
And there are fears that as demand for the oil increases, producers will be tempted to harvest directly from the trees to try to keep up, instead of gathering fruit from the ground.
There are also fears that some producers may be adulterating the oil. Studies have found it’s often tainted with sunflower, vegetable or olive oil.
The trees, which take 50 years to reach maturity, act as a natural barrier against the advance of the desert, preventing soil erosion and protecting water resources.
To prevent deforestation, co-operatives have been created to involve local people, particularly women, in the Argan industry. These co-operatives provide the women with an income and, in some cases, an education and access to healthcare.
There is little doubt that in its pure form, Argan oil does offer many benefits. For the face and body, it’s a rich moisturiser that’s unlikely to clog pores. For the hair, it’s an effective conditioner that can reduce frizz and improve manageability.
As for whether it’s a wonder beauty product, Dr Malik remains skeptical. She says that even 100 per cent pure Argan oil is not the best anti-ageing product available. ‘I believe in taking the best of what nature has to offer, but a natural product alone won’t necessarily give the best results,’ she says.
‘For that, you need the benefit of technological advancements.’
Her advice for those who want to sample the Moroccan magic?
‘Look for reputable brands with products containing few ingredients – the fewer the better – and a good concentration of the actual oil,’ she says. ‘Good skin is about protecting it from the elements, not smoking and drinking too much, and being healthy internally.
‘No one miracle product will transform your appearance – whatever celebrities claim.’
Except from an article by Sue Dunbar for the Daily Mail.
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