When it comes to beauty products, you're likely to come across myriad different brandsmany of which are touting the very same ingredients, like aloe vera, coconut oil, and rosehip oil. Another one you might be familiar with? Argan oil: a fairly affordable oil that looks, smells, and feels luxurious on the skin and hair, thanks to its golden hue, nutty aroma, and pleasantly light texture. Because argan oil is so rich in beneficial nutrientssuch as vitamin E, fatty acids, squalene, and antioxidantsit can do wonders for your skin and hair. Here, experts explain what argan oil is, how to add it to your beauty routine, and what to look for in a legit bottle of the stuff.
What is argan oil, exactly?
Argan oil is expressed from the seeds of the argan tree, native to an area in southwestern Morocco. The long-standing practice involves removing the thick peel and fleshy pulp of the argan fruit and then cracking the nut by hand to obtain the oil-rich kernels inside, says Hadley King, MD, a dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. The kernels are then ground and pressed to express pure, unfiltered argan oil, and then decanted and filtered to produce an even clearer oil.
The end result is an extremely nourishing oil that easily penetrates the skin to boost moisture and activate the creation of natural lipids (aka fats) to protect the skin barrier, explains Erum Ilyas, MD, a dermatologist at Montgomery Dermatology in Pennsylvania. Since argan oil is relatively light, it can be used on most skin types and across the board when it comes to hair textures.
Argan oil provides a major boost of hydration to the skin, thanks to its high quantities of vitamin E. Vitamin E also helps strengthen the skin's barrier so it's able retain more hydration, says West Hollywood-based celebrity esthetician and founder of SkinLab, Joshua Ross. To help seal in hydration, he recommends applying a few drops of 100 percent pure argan oil to your daily moisturizer.
Because it's so nourishing, argan oil may also help your skin appear more youthful. When we talk about thinning of the skin as we get older, we lose both collagen (the building blocks of skin) and the elasticity (the skin's ability to snap back after being stretched), which leads to tissue paper-like wrinkling of the skin, explains Dr. Ilyas. When used topically, argan oil has been found to improve elasticity of the skin in postmenopausal women.
Brighten skin and fade dark spots
If you suffer from hyperpigmentation, or brown spots on the skin caused by hormones, aging, or years of sun exposure, argan oil may help improve and brighten your skin tone. Argan oil contains tocopherols (vitamin E compounds) that can inhibit the production of excess pigment from melasma or scars, says Dr. Ilyas. Animal studies also suggest that it may even help speed would healing from burn scars, she adds.
If you're battling oily, acne-prone skin, adding even more oil is probably not your first plan of action. However, it may help more than you think. A small study showed that topical application of argan oil twice daily for four weeks was associated with reduced sebum (aka oil) and a less shiny complexion, says Dr. King. This means that it could potentially help to reduce clogged pores and acne.
Jennifer Segal, MD, dermatologist at Metropolitan Dermatology Institute in Houston, says you can even apply argan oil to a clean cotton pad, wipe it over your face, and then follow with a gentle cleanser.
Since argan oil is so moisturizing, it serves as a great conditioner or mask for your hair. Argan oil's molecules are smaller than other oils, so it's easier to penetrate the hair cuticles, which will make hair softer and more manageable with less tangles and dryness, says Stephanie Brown, NYC-based master hair colorist.
You can use pure argan oil, or opt for an argan oil-infused hair mask, like this cult-favorite from Briogeo. Brown suggests applying to wet, cleansed hair and leaving on for at least 20 minutes. For best results, put a shower cap on while it sits to lock in the moisture. Rinse thoroughly.
Soothe an itchy scalp
For those who suffer from flakes and dandruff, argan oil provides anti- inflammatory benefits and will not clog pores, which can lead to damaged hair follicles, says Gina Rivera, hair stylist and founder of Phenix Salon Suites. To use argan oil as more of a treatment, she suggests taking a few drops and gently massaging into the scalp, stimulating the blood circulation. Ideally, leave on overnight before rinsing out in the morning.
Prevent heat damage
The vitamin E and fatty acids in argan oil actually protect the hair and scalp from heat damage caused by styling tools. To protect your hair while blow drying, straightening, or curling, Rivera recommends applying a couple of drops of plain argan oil to wet or dry hair before and after styling.
Unlike other oils, like coconut and olive oil, argan oil is easily absorbed into the hair strand, so it doesn't leave a greasy residue unless you overdo it, explains Rivera. Thanks to the fact that it is rich in fatty acids, it helps bring shine and luster back into the hair without weighing it down and causing buildup, she says. To use, apply a few drops to wet hair before styling. On dry hair, apply a small amount, focusing on the ends.
Rivera likes to use a few drops of argan oil on wet strands prior to styling to hydrate and prep hair. If there is still a bit of frizz, take a drop and rub well into hands, then work into dry hair, starting and focusing at the ends, she adds. As an added bonus, using a little oil on the ends of your hair may help reduce the appearance of split ends (your cue to book a trim!).
Add sun protection
Argan oil works like a high-quality sunscreen for your hair, neutralizing free radicals (unstable molecules that tend to wreak havoc in your body) enhanced by the natural environment and sun. The antioxidants found in argan oil are especially beneficial for color-treated hair to prevent loss of pigment and extend the life of your color, says Ross. An easy way to introduce using argan oil as a sun protectant it is by adding one to two drops and lightly running your fingers through your hair after styling or just adding it to the ends.
Encourage hair growth
Because of the phenols found in argan oil, which are very stimulating to the scalp, it can help to promote new hair growth, says Rivera. The best way to reap these benefits is in tandem with a hair loss treatment. She recommends massaging the oil into your scalp for several minutes a day to stimulate blood flow and open the pores.
How to choose the best argan oil for your skin and hair
When purchasing argan oil, reach for 100 percent pure argan oil. To obtain its maximal effectiveness it is best to be pure, as any other added ingredients may make it less effective, says Dr. Ilyas.
A good argan oil has a nice amber hue, applies smoothly (it should not feel gritty), and absorbs easily. There can be a slight nutty scent because some processes of extracting the oil involves roasting the argan kernels, she adds. Additionally, when choosing argan oil for skin and hair, she suggests choosing one that specifies this use, so pay attention to the label. Argan oil for cooking will have gone through a roasting or heating process that may destroy its fatty acids that assist in hydration.