Argan Oil: Morocco’s ‘Liquid Gold’

argan oil and argan fruits

Story at-a-glance -

  • Argan oil is made from the seeds of the small fruit of the argan tree (Argania spinosa). It is one of the natural, plant-based oils that can be beneficial for your skin
  • Get to know more about this oil’s nourishing and rejuvenating benefits, and why having a bottle at home may be a wise health decision

Did you know that pure argan oil, called “liquid gold”1 or “the Gold of Morocco” because of its outstanding health benefits, was once made with the help of tree goats — particularly their droppings? The fruit of the argan tree is a favorite food of tree-climbing goats. The undigested seeds, where the oil comes from, are carefully picked by locals out of the animals’ poop (more on this later).2

But that was a long time ago, and you’ll be relieved to know that most of the Moroccan argan nuts today are painstakingly picked from the trees and the oil handmade by all-female, local cooperatives.3 Although a bottle of high-quality argan oil can fetch a high price, the benefits that it offers surely make it worth every cent. Here’s everything you need to know about argan oil.

What Is Argan Oil?

Argan oil is made from the seeds of the small fruit of Argania spinosa, a slow-growing tree that’s native to Southwestern Morocco and in the Algerian province Tindouf, located in the Western Mediterranean area.4 The argan fruit appears like a shriveled golden apple, with a thick peel and a fleshy and bitter pulp. The seeds are almond-shaped, resembling a dried olive. Each seed contains one to three oil-rich kernels.5

As mentioned above, tree goats were essential in argan oil production in the past. The fruit, which accounts for as much as 84 percent of their diet,6 is eaten whole by the goats. However, the nuts are not digested, and are instead excreted in the goat’s feces. The droppings are then gathered by locals and opened to get the seeds inside. The seeds are then cracked, roasted and ground to produce the oil.7

However, local co-ops no longer rely on this method, as they seek to deliver only high-quality argan oil, good enough for export. Instead, they now collect the fruit from trees and manufacture the oil by hand, peeling the fruit to extract the seed. This method, albeit much more difficult, yields a higher quality oil for export.8

To make argan oil, locals hand-crack the nuts in between two stones, to get the raw kernels out from within the hard shell. These kernels are then hand-ground using a stone grinder, hand-kneaded for hours and then cold-pressed into oil. Because of this tedious process, each worker takes as much as three days to make a single liter of argan oil — no wonder it can fetch a very high price,9 selling for around $300 or more per liter.10

The increase in demand for argan oil has led to a surge in oil-making co-ops. In 1999, there were only three argan oil co-ops; in 2010, the number had risen to 150.11 Nevertheless, this has definitely helped the economic landscape of Morocco. According to one analysis, the “argan boom” has helped increase the number of Moroccan girls attending secondary school.12

To ensure the sustainability of the oil, and to protect the eco-region on which more than 1,200 other plant and animal species thrive, UNESCO designated the argan forest in Southwestern Morocco as a biosphere reserve in 1998.13

Argan Oil’s Benefits and Uses Come From Its Many Constituents

The benefits of this amber-colored oil14 have been well-known for many centuries, going back as far as 600 BC. The Phoenicians used it not just for enhancing their appearance, but for healing as well. Today, argan oil is widely used in both cosmetic and culinary applications.15

The composition of organic argan oil is what makes it extremely beneficial. Not only is it rich in vitamins A, C and E, but it boasts of beneficial fatty acids too, including oleic, linolenic, linoleic, stearic and palmitic, to name a few. It also contains antioxidants and other constituents like tocopherols, carotenes and triterpene alcohols. All of these components work together to provide the moisturizing and rejuvenating effects that argan oil is now known for.16,17

Argan Oil’s Skin Health Benefits Are Impressive

Argan oil is one of the natural, plant-based oils that can be beneficial for your skin, as it can potentially help repair the natural skin-barrier function.18 Topical application of this oil may help boost cell production, making your skin healthier and providing ample moisture.

This oil may also protect against premature aging. Published in the Menopausal Review journal, a study conducted on postmenopausal women found that argan oil helped maintained hydration in the women’s skin by upholding its barrier function and water-holding capacity.19 You can add argan oil to your lotion or body cream to experience its restorative properties. Here are some benefits it can offer for your skin:20

Helps minimize the appearance of stretch marks. One 2016 study21 observed the effects of a water-in-oil cream, which contained argan oil and emollient ingredients, against stretch marks. They found that it helped minimized the appearance of these marks by promoting skin elasticity.

Alleviates and heals razor bumps. Massaging this oil onto frequently-shaved problem areas can give a soothing feeling to painful, uncomfortable and unsightly razor bumps. Argan oil can be used on the legs, bikini line or, for men, on the beard area. When applied, it may minimize ingrown hairs as well.

Softens the cuticle and heels. If you struggle with cracked heels, nourish them by slathering on a good amount of argan oil all over your toes and feet. Leave the oil on overnight for best results. Massaging a few drops onto your cuticles will also soften and moisturize them, as well as encourage nail growth.

Eases symptoms of dermatitis. By hydrating the skin, argan oil can help minimize the appearance of rashes and curb itchiness, which are common symptoms of dermatitis flare-ups like eczema. One reason for this may be the oil’s vitamin E component. One study found that dermatitis patients who were given vitamin E had a significant reduction in symptoms.22

Argan Oil for Your Face: How to Add It to Your Beauty Regimen

Argan oil is a popular addition to many beauty regimens today because of its moisturizing ability. This is mainly due to its smaller molecular size, which allows it to sink into the skin quicker. It hydrates your face but without causing any acne breakouts.23 What’s more, a study24 has found that it may even reduce sebum levels in people with oily skin – meaning it can potentially help minimize the appearance of acne. MindBodyGreen offers several tips on how to use argan oil for your face:25

Use as a face moisturizer. Massage a few drops of pure argan oil all over your neck and face. It’s best to do this after cleansing in the morning and at night. You can also use it as a serum, applying your night cream after the oil has been absorbed in your skin.

Make a rejuvenating argan oil face mask. Mix 3 teaspoons of Greek yogurt, a tablespoon each of raw honey and lemon, and three drops of argan oil and then apply all over your face. After 10 minutes, rinse it off with warm water.

Exfoliate and moisturize your lips. Massage a mixture of brown sugar, pure vanilla extract and a few drops of argan oil all over your lips to keep them smooth and moisturized. Rinse off afterward.

Use as a toner. You can either add it to your facial toner or make your own by mixing a few drops of argan oil into rose or orange blossom water.

Give your face a beautiful glow. Mix a few drops of argan oil into your bronzer or foundation to give you a dewy and luminous glow.

Argan Oil Benefits Your Hair as Well

Moroccan argan oil is often added to different shampoo and conditioner products, and for plenty of good reasons. For one, it coats the hair shaft and protects the hair from dryness and environmental damage. It also nourishes the hair, repairs split ends, and makes the hair less prone to breakage brought on by styling and brushing, keeping it more manageable.26 Natural Living Ideas lists several ways that argan oil can help boost hair health, which include:27

Eliminating dandruff and dry scalp. The fatty acids in argan oil may help keep the scalp from drying out and reduce skin inflammation. To use, simply warm five to six drops of the oil in between your palms and then massage all over your scalp. Put on a shower cap and let soak for a few hours or overnight. Apply this argan oil hair mask treatment at least twice a week for best results. 

Take care of frizziness and split ends. You can use it as a leave-in conditioner to give you softer, shinier and more manageable hair. According to an article in Livestrong,28 argan oil may even outshine coconut oil in terms of controlling frizzy or unruly hair. This is because its molecules are small enough to penetrate the hair’s cortex, not only giving it a shinier appearance, but also promoting repair, rejuvenation and better moisturizing benefits within the hair shaft.

Provides protection from sun damage and before swimming. Applying a few drops of argan oil may protect your locks from damaged caused by prolonged sun exposure. If you’re going swimming, whether in a chlorinated pool or at the beach, applying argan oil from the roots to the tip may help retain your hair’s moisture and act as a barrier against harsh chemicals.

Promotes hair growth. Applying argan oil on your scalp not only helps stop hair loss, but may also allow new hair to grow. It does this by ensuring that you don’t lose more follicles than you’re able to grow — this is when hair loss becomes noticeable. Argan oil stimulates the scalp as well, to encourage it to grow more hair.

For men who like growing their facial hair, this oil may be helpful. In fact, argan oil is an ingredient of “beard oil” – a hydrating product that not only helps tame and soften beard hair, but works as a styling agent, too.29

Final Note: Use Argan Oil as a Great Carrier Oil

Argan oil may do wonders by itself, providing your face, body and hair with moisturizing and rejuvenating effects. However, you can also use it with your favorite essential oils, too. Many herbal oils are too concentrated to be directly applied on the skin without causing any irritation, so diluting them with a mild carrier oil like argan oil is your best course of action.

Remember, before using argan oil or any other essential oil, make sure to do a skin patch test to ensure that you have no sensitivities or allergies to this oil.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Argan Oil

Q: Where does argan oil come from?

A: Argan oil is made from the seeds of the small fruit of the argan tree (Argania spinosa). It is usually produced by local, all-female cooperatives. They hand-crack the nuts in between two stones and extract the raw kernels from the hard shell. The kernels are then hand-ground with a stone grinder, hand-kneaded for hours and then cold-pressed into oil.

Q: What is argan oil used for?

A: Argan oil is widely used in both cosmetic and culinary applications. It is often applied topically due to its moisturizing and hydrating properties.

Q: Is argan oil good for your skin?

A: Yes. Argan oil has a smaller molecular size compared to other oils, which allows it to sink into the skin quicker, providing better moisturizing and hydrating effects.

Q: Does argan oil help with acne?

A: Yes. A study has found that argan oil may help reduce sebum levels in people with naturally oily skin, meaning it may help avoid acne from forming.

Q: What does argan oil smell like?

A: Argan oil that’s made for culinary uses has a strong, earthy and smoky fragrance that's reminiscent of peanut butter.30 Cosmetic argan oil, on the other hand, has a light, delicate nutty scent.31 Avoid argan oil that has no scent at all, meaning it’s severely processed, or has a strong aroma, which could mean it’s gone rancid.32

Q: Is argan oil good for your hair?

A: Yes. Argan oil coats the hair shaft and protects the hair from dryness and damage, while providing nourishment, repairing split ends and making it more resilient to withstand styling and brushing.

Q: How can you use argan oil for hair growth?

A: You can apply it directly on your hair, add it to your favorite hair product or use it as a leave-in conditioner.