Argan oil is a fat extracted from the nut of the argan tree, native to the desert-bordering forests of South-West Morocco. This natural oil has been used by Moroccan and Berber locals to protect their skin against the harsh sun for centuries.
Alongside the traditional beauty treatment rhassoul clay, many Moroccan women use argan oil daily for keeping their skin soft and smooth. Argan oil was even used by locals as a daily remedy for brittle fingernails, and for chicken pox scars.
After learning that information, you might wonder whether argan oil is an acne miracle as well…
…and according to the World Wide Web, that’s exactly what argan oil is. Argan oil is wildly popular on skincare and beauty forums. It’s one of several natural oils that have achieved fame as people slowly wake up to the perilous dangers of accutane and antibiotics.
The truth, right now, is that argan oil is excellent for acne. What you might not understand is why, and even though the praise for argan oil is mostly justified, there’s a still a few false rumours to put to bed.
Why argan oil is so excellent for acne
In acne lore, the tale is that argan oil is dripping with vitamin E. For once, the reality matches this perfectly: argan oil is one of the richest vitamin E sources of all skincare oils.
It beats olive oil and even beats grapeseed oil with ease. Grapeseed oil contains 27mg of vitamin E per 100 grams, already an excellent total for acne. Cold pressed argan oil contains 60mg. Argan oil naturally contains high levels; there’s no synthetic vitamin E added in the factory like with sunflower oil.
By applying argan oil to your face you will receive a hyper concentrated dose of all the standard vitamin E benefits: increased resistance to free radicals, increased resistance to clogged pores, and increased resistance to acne full stop.
Ideally, most vitamin E should be obtained from your diet, but topical treatments like argan oil blast your skin with extra efficiency. Vitamin E has several roles in skin health, but its main one for acne is preventing a component of sebum called squalene from oxidising.
You be wondering why I don’t simply recommend a vitamin E oil, a product designed solely to supply vitamin E. Firstly, many products use tocopheryl acetate as the specific vitamin E form. That’s a synthetic version which works to some extent, but lacks the natural co-factors and sub-compounds of real vitamin E. Argan oil’s vitamin E is 75% gamma tocopherol, but contains the seven other natural vitamin E forms as well.
Secondly, these products are often nothing but a thick, sticky solution of vitamin E itself. With natural oils you get an assortment of other compounds, like antioxidants and plant sterols.
Sea buckthorn oil is another vitamin E rich oil, and its plant sterols beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol can down-regulate sebum production. Argan oil itself has two plant sterols called schottenol and spinasterol, which are rare in oils. By choosing basic vitamin E oil, you lose these bonus powers even if it is organic.
Finally, these products lack beneficial fatty acids such as linoleic acid. Pure vitamin E oil has its roles, like as an ultra-concentrated source, but natural oils come first. The one exception is natural oils such as argan oil which are enriched with vitamin E forms that are also natural, making an already strong product stronger.
Grapeseed oil used to be the king of affordable vitamin E on this website, but argan oil has dethroned it.
How do the two compare otherwise?
Argan oil one-ups grapeseed oil again with its comedogenic score of 0, meaning that there’s “no chance” that argan oil will clog your skin pores and allow p.acnes bacteria to multiply. Grapeseed oil is also low, but nevertheless higher at 2 out of 5. In reality, argan oil almost certainly can clog skin pores in rare cases, but it’s still a clear victory.
Argan oil also matches grapeseed oil with its moisturising ability, something no good skincare oil should be without. This study found that argan oil increased skin hydration significantly in healthy human beings.
The one area where grapeseed oil reigns supreme is its fatty acid profile. With variation among different brands, grapeseed oil contains an average of 70% linoleic acid and 16% oleic acid. Argan oil contains 33% and 46%.
With a topical skincare oil, the optimum is more linoleic acid and less oleic acid. Oleic acid weakens the human skin barrier in excess, while linoleic acid builds UV light resistance and prevents p.acnes bacteria overgrowth. Grapeseed oil contains enough linoleic acid to make a massive difference; that’s one of its main powers.
Argan oil is stuck in no man’s land. Neither oleic nor linoleic acids are high enough to make a massive difference. However, the linoleic acid will replenish skin that is very deficient in it. Argan oil is also free from the little known side effects of topical olive oil, which is 70% oleic acid.
As a topical source of vitamin E, argan oil easily matches and even surpasses grapeseed oil. That alone would make it a recommended remedy for acne. The only oil covered here which beats argan oil for vitamin E is sea buckthorn berry oil.
Argan oil for oily skin – the truth
For once with a popular acne remedy, the popular conception of argan oil’s main benefit is spot on. But there’s one belief which is murkier: the belief that argan oil can decrease your skin’s sebum production massively.
The origin seems to be this human study from 2007. 20 human patients were gathered, all with oily skin. They were treated twice daily with a skincare cream consisting of saw palmetto extract, sesame seed, and argan oil. After 4 weeks, their total skin oiliness fell by 20%. Certain areas of oily skin improved by 42%. 95% of patients experienced improvements.
This study has entered the realm of legend, but there’s an immediate problem. With two accompanying ingredients, it’s impossible to tell whether argan oil was really the miracle substance.
Furthermore, saw palmetto is a monstrously powerful 5-alpha reductase inhibitor. Saw palmetto inhibits the enzyme which creates DHT, the most potent hormone at increasing sebum production in the human body. Saw palmetto powder is the most potent herbal supplement you can take for oily skin, and it works topically as well.
This study is therefore much less amazing than it looks. The benefits could have been, and probably were, completely unrelated to argan oil. It’s hard to rely on these combined ointments normally, unless you know for a fact that the other ingredients won’t achieve anything, but with the saw palmetto we’re completely derailed.
There’s still promise in this theory though, and it lies with two natural plant sterols found in argan oil. Plant sterols or phytosteroids are natural steroid compounds found across the plant kingdom. Two of the most common ones are stigmasterol and beta-sitosterol, both of which have strong anti-androgenic properties. Like saw palmetto, they inhibit the 5-alpha reductase enzyme that creates DHT; in fact, beta-sitosterol is why saw palmetto works in the first place.
On the skin’s surface, beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol can prevent DHT from binding to and stimulating sebaceous glands. Thus we know why sea buckthorn oil is excellent for oily skin: it’s loaded with both of these sterols, in addition to vitamin A. Turmeric is also rich in beta-sitosterol, and although they don’t know it, that’s why home remedy fans love it so much.
Argan oil lacks these widespread plant sterols and instead contains two very rare ones: schottenol, 48% of its total sterols, and spinasterol, at 40%.
It’s possible that these far less researched sterols have the same antiandrogen powers as beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol. Spinasterol has some strong evidence already, since it slashed levels of DHT in prostate tissue in this study.
All we need is a study on schottenol and argan oil might finally be confirmed as an oily skin weapon. For now, it’s unproven but possible that argan oil can end oily skin.
Argan oil inhibits two out of three melanin enzymes
One of most widespread traditional usages of argan oil is as a skin whitener, to keep the skin of Moroccan and Berber women light and fair. The good news is that argan oil can also keep YOUR skin light, fair, and even, and free from acne scars, for argan oil is an excellent hyperpigmentation remedy.
Skincare scientists were very interested in whether there was real science behind the old wisdom, and they confirmed it with this 2013 study. Human cell lines were treated with Moroccan argan oil, which importantly, was whole argan oil rather than isolated compounds extracted from it. Levels of melanin accumulation were examined in the cells, after up to 72 hours of incubation in the oil.
It was found that argan oil inhibited two out of the three biggest players in hyperpigmentation: tyrosinase and dopachrome tautomerase. Total levels of melanin fell, dose dependently, and with it the pigmentation.
We’ve already discussed the role of tyrosinase in hyperpigmentation. All melanin in your skin is manufactured from the essential amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosinase kick-starts this conversion, by converting tyrosine to a melanin precursor called DOPA, and then DOPA to the next precursor, called DOPAquinone.
Essentially, tyrosinase regulates the first two steps in melanin synthesis. Put an end to tyrosinase, and you put an end to hyperpigmentation. Dopachrome tautomerase (DCT) is an enzyme which enters the picture later, controlling more conversions until the final birth of melanin.
72 hours of argan oil incubation was able to decrease tyrosinase and DCT by 60% and 80% respectively. A 0.1% dilution of argan oil inhibited tyrosine substantially; even a 0.01% concentration inhibited tyrosine.
As for the all-important end result: a 1% concentration of argan oil decreased the melanin levels of cells, and thus the pigment, by approximately 33% after 48 hours and 64% after 72 hours.
The third big player, tyrosine related protein 1 (TRP1), fell by a disappointing 10%, but that’s two out of the three big hyperpigmentation enzymes.
The study didn’t confirm the specific miracle compound in argan oil, but two explanations were suggested: 1) vitamin E, which has a known skin-whitening effect, or 2) a combination of all the compounds in argan oil. So in other words, anything could be responsible, including compounds which we don’t know about yet.
How do you apply argan oil?
If you make a leap of faith and use argan oil, then for hyperpigmentation, using full concentration is not necessary. There’s no problem with doing so, but if you love to combine different treatments, you can easily mix it with some grapeseed oil or tamanu oil and still reduce hyperpigmentation, since a 1% concentration reduced melanin excellently.
The timespan is particularly important with argan oil. Some reductions in melanin enzymes occurred after 4 hours, but they accelerated massively by the 48 hour mark and after 72 hours they peaked. The conclusion is clear: keep argan oil on for a medium timespan.
Argan oil falls between fast topical treatments like honey and slow ones like turmeric or green tea. Keep a thin layer on your face for three days.
You might look like you’ve discovered the joys of eating McDonalds for every meal, but luckily, hyperpigmentation is a one-time operation. You remove the darkened patch, the concentration of melanin, and even out your skin tone; once the job is done you don’t need the argan oil anymore. It’s not like with acne where you’re constantly having to prevent it. Alternatively, using argan oil every night for seven days should do the trick.
Using argan oil for acne is also convenient: applying the argan oil at night, over the course of an eight hour sleep, will be sufficient for the vitamin E to soak in.
We also have the mysterious matter of sebum reduction. Compared to anti-inflammatory or antibacterial topical treatments, which often work in a matter of hours, treatments for oily skin are by far the longest acting; they usually take weeks and can take months. This rule applies to green tea, sea buckthorn oil and turmeric.
Argan oil will likely share this characteristic, if the sebum-controlling powers exist. However, the powers aren’t proven to exist. The long and gruelling expedition is therefore another reason to brush this theory under the carpet until more evidence shows up.
The best argan oil product
There’s several different flavours to know. Odourless is a sure sign that your oil is overly processed, deodorised and useless. Foul smelling is another sign of factory tampering, tampering that has made it rancid and the opposite of beneficial for acne. A delicious nutty smell suggests that it’s a culinary argan oil, in which case the nuts will have been roasted beforehand with a loss of nutrition.
The perfect argan oil for acne will have a nutty smell which is less enticing, but very aromatic and distinct. Some people claim that argan oil smells pretty unpleasant, but in a natural way, without the clear foulness of a rancid oil. If your argan oil doesn’t get your mouth watering, but still smells natural, you’re probably in business.
Your ingredients label should say 100% Argania Spinosa Kernel Oil or 100% argan oil. Nothing else is required. A clear and pristine argan oil looks attractive, but is in fact highly processed, to make a uniform looking product. The result is much lower in nutrition than an unprocessed, cloudy, murky oil, so that is what you must buy.
Luckily, almost all argan oil production is controlled by local villagers in Morocco, who insist on maintaining their old traditions rather than selling out to factory chemicals. The factory machinery which they do invest in, now that business is booming, is high tech cold-pressing machinery, which is perfectly fine. Poor quality argan oil is rarer than with grapeseed oil (where it’s rampant), but it does exist occasionally.
If argan oil sounds like the topical treatment for you, you cannot go wrong with this VoilaVe Virgin Organic Argan Oil.
Argan oil joins grapeseed oil and tamanu oil as an excellent natural oil for acne, and stays away from olive oil and juniper berry oil as a failed one.
It isn’t a miracle tonic which will give you the skin of a god overnight, but it has its clear roles. No acne treatment on earth will ever clear every acne patient universally. Even zinc and selenium fail occasionally. They fail for reasons as simple as the user already containing enough in their bloodstream, or for more complicated reasons such as interactions with other minerals.
That’s why it’s great to have so many natural options, with numerous different powers. There’s so many plants and oils in nature that if your acne holds out against one topical treatment, it will doubtlessly fail against another.
Those who particularly stand to benefit from argan oil are…
- People with old acne scars or an uneven skin tone, potentially from years of acne.
- People with oily skin, due to vitamin E making it more tolerable.
- People who need a natural, chemical-free moisturiser.
If your objective is to reduce sebum production, then sea buckthorn oil is the best option. If you want to cast p.acnes bacteria into exile, choose raw honey. Argan oil can reduce existing acne scars superbly, but if you want to accelerate wound healing and prevent acne scars from forming in the first place, aloe vera or tamanu oil are your allies.
Overall, there’s a great chance that if you use argan oil for three or four weeks, your acne will improve more than you can possibly imagine. Those are the specific powers, but anyone with acne stands to benefit.
Thanks for reading!