What is argan oil?
Non-fragrant plant oil expressed from the kernels of rarified argan trees. Argan trees are extremely capable of adapting to severe environmental conditions, including droughts. Argan oil contains several beneficial lipids and fatty acids for skin, including oleic acid, palmitic acid, and especially linoleic acid. It is also a good source of vitamin E (Tocopherol) and, like several other plant oils, is a source of antioxidant compounds. Argan oil is a natural source of the antioxidant ferulic acid.
As it turns out, the research on argan oil has found that it has benefits, just not to the extent cosmetics companies claim. Much of the folklore surrounding the ingredient heralds argan oil as a restorative wonder, used by Moroccan women for years to tend to their hair, skin, and nails. Of course, this isn't truly relevant as not all Moroccan women have great skin, hair, and nails, or use argan oil (not to mention different cultures in the middle east use different oils, like olive oil, with mixed results). While argan oil isn’t a miraculous ingredient by any stretch of the imagination, it is absolutely a good, emollient plant oil.
Argan oil in skin care
The research on argan oil has shown that, like sunflower and olive oils, its fatty acid and antioxidant content has health benefits (such as lowering cholesterol) when consumed orally. As for topical use, there is limited information about argan oil’s unique benefits. One study examined a cream containing argan oil, saw palmetto, and sesame seeds to 20 subjects with combination to oily skin. Subjective and qualitative analysis showed that the oil was reduced by 20-42% depending on the inherent oiliness of various parts of the face. The study did not demonstrate that argan oil played a specific role in the results—all we know is that the random formula itself showed the benefit and it wasn’t compared to any other product so the results are irrelevant. Moreover, the cream was only used for four weeks, so we don’t know if ongoing use may have caused breakouts (and given the fatty acids present in argan oil, there is a possibility it can cause breakouts).
Argan oil is a good plant oil to consider if skin or hair is dry to very dry, but is not better than many other non-fragrant plant oils used in cosmetics. (Sources: Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, June 2007, pages 113-118; Clinical Nutrition, October 2004, pages 1,159-1,166; European Journal of Cancer Prevention, February 2003, pages 67-75; and Journal of Ethnopharmacology, October 1999, pages 7-14).
What we know to be true at this point is that argan oil isn't the only oil to look for, nor is it the best, just a good option among many! (Source: Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, December 2010, pages 1,669-1,675).