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.
You might therefore wonder whether argan oil is an acne miracle as well…
…and according to skincare and beauty forums, that’s exactly what argan oil is. It’s one of several natural oils that have achieved fame as people slowly wake up to the perilous dangers of accutane and antibiotics.
From Polynesia we have tamanu oil; from Ghana we have shea butter. Now we have argan oil, straight out of Morocco. The truth, right now, is that argan oil is excellent for acne. What you might not understand is why, and there’s several false rumours to put to bed.
Why argan oil is so excellent for acne
The tale is that argan oil is dripping with vitamin E, and for once, the reality matches this perfectly.
It beats olive oil and even 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 contains high levels naturally; there’s no synthetic vitamin E added in the factory like with sunflower oil.
By applying argan oil you receive a hyper concentrated dose of vitamin E’s oral benefits: increased resistance to free radicals, clogged pores, and 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.
You might be wondering why you can’t simply use an actual vitamin E oil formulation. 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 bonus antioxidants and plant sterols.
Sea buckthorn oil is another vitamin E rich oil, and its plant sterols beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol can end oily skin. Argan oil itself has two rare plant sterols called schottenol and spinasterol. By choosing basic vitamin E oil, you lose these bonus powers even if it’s 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 natural vitamin E, making an already strong product stronger.
Grapeseed oil used to be the king of affordable vitamin E, 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, giving argan oil “no chance” of clogging your skin pores and allowing p.acnes bacteria to multiply. Grapeseed oil is also low, but nevertheless higher at 2 out of 5. Argan oil can almost certainly clog skin pores in rare cases, but it’s a clear victory.
Argan oil also matches grapeseed oil with its moisturising properties, 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, being one of its main powers.
Meanwhile, argan oil is in no man’s land. Neither the oleic nor linoleic acids are high enough to make a difference. The linoleic acid will only replenish skin that is extremely deficient in it. Likewise, the oleic acid will wreck havoc if you have an extreme sensitivity.
For vitamin E, argan oil easily surpasses grapeseed oil. That alone makes 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
The origin was this human study from 2007. 20 human patients were gathered and treated twice daily with a cream consisting of saw palmetto extract, sesame seed, and argan oil. After 4 weeks, their total skin oiliness fell by 20%. Certain areas improved by 42%. 95% of patients experienced improvements.
This study quickly became legendary, but with two accompanying ingredients, it’s impossible to tell whether argan oil was really the miracle substance.
Furthermore, saw palmetto is among the most powerful herbal supplements around for oily skin, and it also works topically. Saw palmetto inhibits 5-alpha reductase, the enzyme which creates DHT, the most potent hormone at increasing sebum production.
The benefits could have been completely unrelated to argan oil. It’s hard to rely on these combined ointments normally, but with the saw palmetto, we’re completely derailed.
There’s still potential though, and it lies with two natural plant sterols. Plant sterols or phytosteroids are natural steroid compounds found across the plant kingdom. Two common ones are stigmasterol and beta-sitosterol, both of which inhibit the 5-alpha reductase enzyme that creates DHT; in fact, beta-sitosterol is why saw palmetto is so powerful.
When applied topically, beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol can penetrate the skin and massively decrease sebaceous gland activity. That’s why sea buckthorn oil is excellent for oily skin: it’s loaded with 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 more mysterious 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, argan oil is unproven but interesting…
…and there is one pathway which is proven – the vitamin E. Vitamin E prevents squalene peroxide from forming, and thus prevents more local stimulation of the sebaceous glands.
Argan oil inhibits two out of three melanin enzymes
One traditional usage of argan oil is as a skin whitener, to keep the skin of Moroccan women light and fair. The good news is that argan oil can keep YOUR skin light, fair, even, and free from acne scars, for argan oil is an excellent hyperpigmentation remedy.
Intrigued by the ancient Moroccan wisdom, scientists finally confirmed the power with this 2013 study. Human cell lines were treated with whole Moroccan argan oil, rather than isolated compounds extracted from it. Levels of melanin accumulation were examined, after up to 72 hours of incubation in the oil.
Argan oil inhibited two 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 discussed the role of tyrosinase in hyperpigmentation. All melanin in your skin is manufactured from the essential amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosinase kick-starts the conversion, by converting tyrosine to a melanin precursor called DOPA, and then DOPA to the next precursor, called DOPAquinone.
Put an end to tyrosinase, and you put an end to hyperpigmentation. Meanwhile, 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 decreased tyrosinase and DCT by 60% and 80% respectively. A 0.1% dilution of argan oil inhibited tyrosine substantially; even a 0.01% concentration succeeded.
As for the all-important end result: 1% concentration 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. In other words, anything could be responsible, including compounds which we haven’t discovered yet.
How do you apply argan oil?
Using full argan oil concentration is not necessary. There’s no problem with full concentration, but if you can easily mix with some grapeseed oil or tamanu oil and still reduce hyperpigmentation, since a 1% concentration reduced melanin excellently.
You should apply argan oil for a medium timespan. Reductions in melanin enzymes occurred after 4 hours, but they accelerated massively by the 48 hour mark and after 72 hours they peaked.
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, or nightly for a week.
You might look like you’ve discovered the joys of eating McDonalds for every meal, but hyperpigmentation is a one-time operation. You remove the darkened patch, the concentration of melanin, and enhance your skin tone; once the job is done, you don’t need the argan oil anymore. It’s different to acne where you constantly have to prevent it.
Eliminating acne is also convenient: applying the argan oil at night, over an eight hour sleep, will allow the vitamin E to soak in.
We also have the mysterious matter of sebum reduction. Compared to anti-inflammatory or antibacterial topical treatments, which can work in mere hours, oily skin treatments are by far the longest acting; they usually take weeks to work. This rule applies to green tea, sea buckthorn oil and turmeric.
Argan oil will likely share this characteristic, but again, the powers aren’t proven to exist. The long and gruelling application is therefore another reason to brush this theory under the carpet until more evidence arrives.
The best argan oil product
Odourless is a sure sign that your argan oil is overly processed, deodorised and useless. Foul smelling is identical: the processing has made it rancid and the opposite of beneficial for acne. A delicious nutty smell suggests that it’s a culinary argan oil, where 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 aromatic and distinct. Some 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 less nutritious than an unprocessed, cloudy, murky oil, so the latter 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 an epidemic), 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. No treatment on earth will clear every acne patient universally. Even zinc and selenium fail occasionally, for reasons as simple as the user already consuming enough, or more complicated reasons.
That’s why it’s great to have so many natural options. There’s enough plants and oils in nature that if your acne holds out against one remedy, it will doubtlessly fail against another.
People who particularly stand to benefit from argan oil are…
- People with old acne scars or an uneven skin tone, from years of acne.
- People with oily skin. Argan oil’s vitamin E will make it tolerable.
- People who need a natural, chemical-free moisturiser.
If your enemy is oily skin, 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 for accelerating wound healing and preventing acne scars from forming in the first place, aloe vera or tamanu oil are your allies.
Overall, there’s a strong chance that if you apply argan oil for three or four weeks, your acne will improve more than you can possibly imagine. Anyone with acne stands to benefit.
Thanks for reading!