Argan oil has long been embedded in Middle Eastern culture – and is now catching the eye of the world
The strip of land between Morocco’s Atlantic coast and the Atlas Mountains is home to the argan tree. Its fruit is harvested by more than two million people, the majority being Amazigh women, who rely on it as an important source of income. Peeled open, the fruit reveals an almond-shaped nut. This is then cracked open with much skill, and force to open up its ultimate secret: one to three small seeds. Inside lies argan oil, a thick golden liquid with a subtle nutty aroma – and one of beauty’s most potent ingredients.
The oil is embedded in Moroccan culture and has been used for centuries for culinary and cosmetic purposes. “This oil is so rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, including vitamins A, C, and E, fatty acids, and omega 6,” says Asma El Mernissi, founder of luxury beauty spa Maison d’Asa in Casablanca. A native of Tunisia, El Mernissi moved to Casablanca in 1986 and discovered the wonders of argan oil on a trip to the Amazight city Tafraoute. “The women had traditional face tattoos and no sign of irritation despite the extremely hot weather. I wanted to know how this was possible and was told about argan oil as a cosmetic product,” she shares.
“It is magic,” says Lebanese image consultant Maya Eltal, who began using it at a young age. “I use it for my hair and my skin too. I instantly felt the change.” El Mernissi incorporates it in facial treatments, hair masks, massage oils, and nail cures. In the early 2000s, she opened her own spa with argan oil as the star ingredient, right around the same time the international market started taking note. As the demand for argan oil rose, so did corruption, with exports being diluted to the disadvantage of local farmers.
Moroccan-British May Hamid created the skincare label Argan Liquid Gold to combat this. As a facialist and makeup artist, she used argan oil on her clients. There was a high demand for it but it was almost impossible to find pure argan oil outside of Morocco. “When it’s diluted, it loses all of its benefits,” she explains. Having used the ingredient her whole life, she understood the importance of not only finding the right supplier but also safe transport and storage. After shipping the fair trade argan oil to the UK, it’s bottled in dark glass. “Argan oil that is packaged in a clear or light bottle begins to oxidize,” Hamid explains.
There are many ways to adopt argan oil into your routine. Hamid advises applying a few drops to slightly damp skin after cleansing and toning. Massage it in and then apply moisturizer, SPF, and makeup. You can also use argan oil as a hair mask or a styling product. Anyone can use argan oil, Hamid says. “It’s anti-inflammatory, it’s anti-aging, and it’s great for people with acne-prone skin. It’s an all-rounder for everything.”
Originally published in the February 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia
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