From snail mucin to batana oil, it seems like a hot-shot ingredient pops up every other day. But not many of them have staying power. Argan oil, however, has been around for centuries. And it turns out, it has many practical applications in the beauty realm. Here, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide, chatting with a trichologist, cosmetic chemist and two dermatologists about the pros and cons of using this ingredient in your skin and hair care routines. From giving your hair a glossy shine to (slightly) apocryphal anti-aging claims and soothing dry winter skin, here’s what you need to know about argan oil.
A Comprehensive Argan Oil Guide: Benefits and More According to a Dermatologist, Trichologist and Cosmetic Chemist
Is it really “liquid gold”?
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Meet the Experts
- Alex Padgett is a cosmetic chemist and co-founder of Educated Mess, a skincare brand that focuses on bringing consumers scientific information about the ingredients in their products that empowers them to make better informed decisions. Padgett, who also runs a popular skincare TikTok account, holds a Master of Science in cosmetic science from Fairleigh Dickinson University and a Bachelor of Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Shann Christen is a trichologist, founder of BioMethod and owner of Shann Christen Studio Salon in Los Angeles. Christen has over 20 years of experience in the hair care industry, including 12 of which he spent on advanced studies in Italy. At his salon, Christen provides hair analysis and advanced hair treatments.
- Dr. Ryan Turner is the founder of TRNR Skin and a board-certified, New York City-based dermatologist specializing in cosmetic dermatology, general dermatology, surgical dermatology and laser surgery. He is an Assistant Professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the former Director of Dermatologic and Laser Surgery at Montefiore Medical Center. Dr. Turner received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School.
- Dr. Loretta Ciraldo is a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist with over 40 years' experience and the founder of Dr. Loretta skincare. She previously served as the director of cosmetic dermatology at the University of Miami. Her skincare line has been the recipient of numerous awards, including Allure’s Best of Beauty, Harper’s Bazaar’s Anti-Aging Award and the Refinery29’s Beauty Innovator Award.
What Is Argan Oil?
Argan oil comes from the nut of the Argan tree, which only grows in Southwestern Morocco. Local women harvest the oil entirely by hand in fair trade co-ops—from cracking the nuts between two stones to extracting the raw kernels to grinding and kneading them for hours. It’s a technique that dates back centuries and requires three days to make just one liter of oil.
It’s full of great stuff (think antioxidants, vitamin E and fatty acids), so it’s a super-hydrating and soothing moisturizer for your hair and skin. It also has anti-inflammatory qualities that help control oil production, making it a great option for blemish-prone skin types.
Benefits of Argan Oil for Skin
“The overwhelming majority of [argan oil’s] contents are fatty acids—oleic acid, linoleic acid, palmitic acid—and then a minor component is antioxidants like vitamin E,” Dr. Turner explains. “[It also has] phenolic compounds, which are antioxidants. Most of the properties that we're going to discuss [below] have to do with either the antioxidant properties or the fatty acid component of the argan oil.”
Soothes Dry Skin
Because fatty acids make up a majority of argan oil’s composition, it’s not surprising that it soothes dry skin. Dr. Turner explains that argan oil can help restore the skin barrier.
“[There are a] couple of studies on the books that looked at postmenopausal skin, and [they] show that argan oil helped the body’s ability to hold on to water and restore its barrier function,” he reports. “While there’s no exact randomized controlled [study] that we would love to see, we definitely have some evidence that argan oil is good for dry skin.”
Burns, inflammation, dermatitis, sunburns, oh my. When it comes to argan oil treating these painful conditions, it’s the antioxidants that do the heavy lifting to facilitate healing.
“Antioxidants work to soothe skin and calm inflammation,” Dr. Turner explains. "[The] antioxidant properties of argan oil are probably what [signal the] differentiation of fibroblasts, which help our body make collagen and repair a wound.” The fatty acids then play a role in addressing the inflammation because, as noted above, they work to repair the skin barrier. “Anything that restores the skin barrier is also anti-inflammatory, because if you get any little cracks in the skin barrier [they can become] a point of inflammation,” he elaborates. “If we get fatty acids from the argan oil [onto] the skin barrier [to] paste up those little nicks, inflammation will resolve.”
While there are claims that argan oil can treat eczema, Dr. Turner cautions that it’s a multi-faceted condition that often requires a multi-pronged approach.
Argan oil may help soothe eczema in the same way it does burns and inflammation. “It has a bit of squalene in it, which [is] one of the natural kinds of lipids that we find in the skin,” Dr. Turner says. “There is some evidence to show that [some] botanical plant oils can help reduce the amount of trans-epidermal water loss, [which can help restore] the skin barrier, but there are no solid studies on eczema as it relates to argan oil specifically.”
Acne pops up when your pores get clogged with dead skin cells and sebum. So can putting argan oil on an already oily patch of your face actually do anything to help? When it comes to straight oil, Dr. Turner says he finds them congesting.
“Interestingly, argan oil is rich but high in this fatty acid called oleic acid.” He describes oleic acid as a “double-edged sword.” It has the power to control some sebum production, which exists in high amounts when people struggle with acne. However, too much oleic acid can cause breakouts.
“I fall on the side of not using argan oil in its pure form for the treatment of acne, and if someone does want to try it, it should be diluted in a serum or cream, so that the percentage being used is on the lower side,” Dr. Turner advises. “We could get some of the benefit of the oleic acid controlling the sebum production, but not get some of the negative aspects of the congestion or clogging of the pores.”
Does Argan Oil Actually Have Anti-Aging Properties?
Unfortunately, the experts say “nay” here.
“I think the way brands can make the case that it can ‘reduce signs of aging’ is mostly just because moisturized skin tends to show fine lines/wrinkles less than dry skin does,” Padgett notes. “You're going to see similar benefits with other oils or fatty acid-rich ingredients. And it's not going to be "anti-aging" in the same way that [vitamin A] is.”
Dr. Turner concurs, saying he wouldn’t classify argan oil as an anti-aging ingredient, either. “Antioxidants can ultimately help stimulate collagen, but we don't really think of antioxidants as big collagen producers like retinols,” he notes. “One of the better antioxidants for collagen production would be vitamin C. [However, argan oil’s star is Vitamin E.].”
Benefits of Argan Oil for Hair
When it comes to using argan oil in your hair, Christen says it’s suitable for all hair types. The key is to use the correct amount, as oily, fine or thin hair can easily be weighed down and end up looking greasy.
“It can be used in conjunction with or mixed with other oils to amplify their properties and benefits,” Christen shares. “It must be a light, quality and easy-to-apply product that gives an immediate and clearly visible effect such as adding shine and body to the hair.”
While he states that there aren’t any cons to using argan oil in your hair, he does advise being cautious if you have allergies—Dr. Turner specifically warns those with nut allergies to avoid the products. As previously stated, you may need to play around with the amount of product you use, as Dr. Ciraldo notes that many of her patients developed acne near their hairline after using too much of the ingredient.
Dandruff is one of those dreaded things we all hope to avoid, but is sometimes inevitable. Thankfully, the fatty acids in argan oil can serve as a great moisturizer for the scalp, Christen says.
Aside from sleeping on a silk pillowcase, you can also do frizz control with argan oil. “Applying argan oil helps to bring hairs under control, while promoting shine and gloss in your hair,” Christen notes.
Protects Hair from Damage
Yeah, we love our Dyson Airwrap, too, but heat takes a toll on your strands. “From styling tools to everyday pollution, there are so many factors that can damage our hair,” Christen says. “Thanks to its rich antioxidant properties, argan oil helps to neutralize hair damage, as well as provide the moisture it needs to help prevent future damage, splitting and breakage. When hair is particularly damaged, I suggest using argan oil two to three times a week.”
Naturally, one of argan oil’s many noteworthy properties is its shine. According to Christen, argan oil can help increase elasticity to dry, damaged ends and restore your hair to a glistening state.
How to Choose the Best Argan Oil for Your Skin and Hair
As with any new product, you should patch test before applying argan oil to a large swath of your body. Dr. Turner advises that those who are acne-prone or allergic to nuts should avoid the ingredient altogether. Used in its purest form, those with mature and/or dry skin will benefit most. “Mature skin isn’t very acne prone, as we lose some of our sebaceous glands as we age,” he explains.
He also proffers the reminder that oils should be the last thing you layer in your skin care routine because it acts as a barrier. If you put it on first, none of your other products will be able to penetrate your skin.
As for hair products with argan oil, Christen recommends using a restructuring cream or conditioner as the most effective treatment. However, you can also opt for a styling product with argan oil if you’re looking to add more definition to your hair.
OK, now who’s ready to get their glow on?