One person's condiment is another person's miracle beauty aid. Argan oil is used for both – it just depends where you live. In Morocco, where the vast majority of the world's argan oil is produced, the oil is a delicacy used to spruce up a variety of native dishes. But the very health benefits that make argan oil a wonderful ingredient in Moroccan cuisine has also make it a desirable skin treatment around the world.
Often called "liquid gold," argan oil is derived from the kernels found within the fruit of argan trees – known as the "tree of life" – that grow almost exclusively in southwest Morocco, as well as specific regions of Algeria and Israel. Primarily produced on small, female-run cooperatives, argan oil is jam-packed with vitamin E, essential fatty acids and antioxidants. Many experts believe it can help with a host of skin conditions, from dry skin and wrinkles to psoriasis, eczema and acne [source Larocca].
These purported restorative and anti-aging benefits, naturally, have led to a high demand for this difficult-to-produce oil, though the scientific proof that it actually slows the signs of aging is thin [source: Johannes]. That, however, hasn't stopped a sharp spike in argan oil's popularity. According to the Wall Street Journal, the oil "is named as an ingredient in 111 personal-care products introduced in the U.S. last year (2011), compared with only two in 2007" [source: Johannes].
It's easy to understand why. The golden oil is light and non-greasy, readily absorbed, and can be applied directly to skin, hair and nails [source Larocca]. Rare and relatively expensive (be wary of cheap imitations, such as Moroccan oil blends), argan oil is found in varying concentrations in numerous lotions and cleansing bars, though many prefer using the oil in its pure form (with an accompanying high price tag) because of its reputation in healing and protecting the skin. It's even been known to work wonders for treating stretch marks.
While most experts agree on the benefits of using argan oil to revitalize, soften, and hydrate dry skin, they also suggest it isn't the only natural product that will provide this relief. Other less-expensive oils, such as olive, safflower, walnut, avocado and evening primrose oil, can provide similar benefits, helping to trap moisture into the skin and providing many of the same antioxidants and nutrients [source Wright].
There is also a growing body of research that indicates argan oil may also be healthy for your heart by boosting vitamin E and reducing cholesterol [source: Johannes]. The oil contains a unique combination of plant sterols that can help facilitate digestion, reduce inflammation, and even have some anti-cancer properties [source: East]. As a result, the oil is becoming a must-have ingredient in some high-end gourmet kitchens. Though not as pricey as its cosmetic counterpart, culinary argan oil still isn't cheap (Zamouri Spices sells a 5.1-ounce bottle for roughly $35).
To find out more about what natural beauty products and skin care practices could do for your skin, check out the links on the next page.