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Plants and the chemicals they make. What’s special about argan oil….and what isn’t.

Argan oil is extracted from the seeds of the fruit of the argan tree (Argania spinosa). The fruit takes a long time to mature and is not really edible, it is used as animal feed. Everything in the fruit is used: the peel and pulp of the fruit for animal feed, and the same for the paste that remains of the kernel after the oil is extracted by pressing.

The nut inside the fruit contains one (occasionally two or three) small, oil-rich seeds; the oil is pressed from these seeds. The method used to extract the oil depends on what is available. Using stones is the most basic method.
The tree is endemic (originally found only in) to Morocco but it is now cultivated in other countries including Italy and Israel.

Argan oil is good for our skin because it is rich in unsaturated fatty acids. Humans are not good at making these fatty acids that are, nonetheless, essential for our cells. This is why we have to obtain them from our food or, in this case, from skin care products we apply topically. Argan seeds is not unique in containing these great fatty acids, we also use rosehip seed oil,
pomegranate seed oil and several more.

Maybe argan oil can be used on the hair, but hair is protein and is not going to benefit much besides the cosmetic aspect (and the label value added: the name looks good on the label!). More importantly, our scalp, where the cells that make hair are located, need essential fatty acids to be healthy. This is why it is important that if you use argan oil or other sources of essential fatty acids on the hair so that some of it reaches the scalp.

At Skin Actives we use argan oil as a carrier for antioxidants like astaxanthin, tocotrienols and vitamin E. Argan is also  included in our Every Lipid Serum (ELS), one of our most useful products. The lipids we supply to our skin and scalp are used by our skin to make ceramides, and these ceramides are very important to prevent water loss through the skin.

Important: think of everything that goes wrong when the skin barrier fails to prevent water loss. When it malfunctions you get eczema, irritation, even pain (nerve terminals in the skin become “exposed” to whatever reaches the skin). The skin not only “feels” bad but also looks bad. It is important that we don’t keep causing trouble by removing the epidermis using
exfoliants of all kinds. And providing our skin with necessary lipids will keep the skin functioning healthy and doing its job.
I prefer refined argan oil, because what we need are the essential fatty acids are in the oil, not whatever else may be left from the seed after oil extraction.

Ecological, environmental, sociological: by buying products with argan oil we are helping to maintain the natural environment where these trees grow. We also help support the women who make a living out of caring for the trees, gathering the fruit and extracting the oil.

Cooking: Argan oil is used to drizzle foods, and for pan frying. It is not suitable for high temperature frying.

A recipe:

From my book:
Fatty acids

A fatty acid (example: palmitic acid) has a carboxylic acid attached to a long hydrocarbon chain. Fatty acids are used as a major source of energy during metabolism and as a starting point for the synthesis of phospholipids, the main category of lipid molecules used to construct biological membranes (generally composed of two fatty acids linked through glycerol phosphate to one of a variety of polar groups).
The chemical structure makes the function possible. Stearic acid cannot do what linoleic acid can.
Fatty acids can differ in:
1. Number of carbon in the chain.
2. Number and carbon position of the double (unsaturated) bond (the ω refers to the position of the double bond relative to the #1 carbon in the chain).
3. Configuration of the unsaturated bond (cis vs. trans). A “cis” bond bends the chain in space and is very important for the fluidity of cell membranes.

Note: “trans” bonds are not usually found in nature but in synthetic, hydrogenated fats. Whose idea was it to hydrogenate vegetable oils to make margarine? And who decided that they were healthier than butter?

An essential fatty acid is one that humans and other animals must obtain from food because the body requires them for good health. We cannot synthesize them because we don’t have the enzymes (desaturases 12 and 15) required to synthesize them from the saturated fatty acid stearic acid.

Only two fatty acids are known to be essential for humans: alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid).
Some other fatty acids are sometimes classified as “conditionally essential”, meaning that they can become essential under some developmental or disease conditions; examples include docosahexaenoic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and gamma-linolenic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid).

At SAS we use a variety of plant and algae fatty acids to ensure that our skin has a good supply of both essential and conditional essential fatty acids.

Figure: linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid abundant in pitaya oil. Note the position of the double bonds relative to the omega Carbon 1).

Cell membranes are crucial to health. Deficiency in essential fatty acids shows as dermatitis.
Fatty acids in general are central to the use of energy in the skin, required to make new skin and maintain function and health.

Argan oil fatty acid composition. A representative sample of argan oil contains: 46% Oleic acid (18:1 cis-9.), 32% Linoleic acid (18-carbon chain with two double bonds in cis configuration), 12% Palmitic acid (16:0.), 6% Stearidonic acid (omega 3 fatty acid)