Choosing a high quality argan oil for your skin or hair is a surprisingly simple process, provided that you're clear about what you're looking for.
Go to any salon, chemist or supermarket and you'll find an almost bewildering array of cosmetic products that contain argan oil in some form or another. In some cases - such as facial masks - argan oil can add real benefits in terms of softening, hydrating and rejuvenating the skin. In others, though, it can be present in such small quantities that, in truth, it can have very little real effect at all. It's probably fair to say that when just small traces of argan oil are added to shampoos and body lotions, they're included more for the sake of boosting sales and profits than for achieving any measurable effect.
Argan oil is included in many different formulations because it has developed a reputation as a natural and effective way of improving the appearance of both skin and hair. As with any other form of chemically engineered product, these creams and lotions come in a wide variety of forms - some useful, some ineffectual and some potentially damaging - and only personal experience will prove whether they're worth the expense.
Importantly, however, argan oil itself is not a chemically engineered product. It's entirely natural and it delivers its most impressive and lasting results when it is used in its pure, raw, unrefined form.
Organic argan oil is, by any definition, a luxury product and its traditional, labour-intensive production process certainly makes it an expensive commodity. On the other hand, millions would attest to its effectiveness and, since a few drops go a long way, a good quality oil can deliver excellent value for money.
So, to be clear, we are talking here not about products containing argan oil but about choosing the oil itself. Instead of an endless array of soaps, gels, shampoos, butters, creams and more, we are considering which form(s) of the oil to select. The way to make that choice is relatively straightforward.
Look for argan oil that is:
The argan tree is endemic to Morocco and the native Berber people have been using the fruit, its seeds and their oils for centuries. Today, given the rising international demand for the oil, Berber women have formed workers' co-operatives that help to ensure that the oil is produced using traditional, sustainable methods. These co-operatives recognise that the pure, organic form of the oil commands the highest prices and so - understandably keen to protect their livelihoods and reputation - they only use certified-organic methods and they sell the oil in its pure, unmixed form.
The traditional methods they employ include using a cold-press technique to release the oils from the seeds. This simple application of pressure liberates the argan oil without the use of heat or chemicals, so all the important constituents of the oil - the vitamins, the essential fatty acids and omega oils - are preserved.
Buying oil from these ethical co-operatives has other advantages. Firstly, they work on fair trade principles that help to provide better living conditions for workers and their families. Moreover, the growing demand for their sustainably produced oils is now helping to regenerate argan forests that, over the last hundred years, have been depleted by over-grazing, intensive farming and other human activity.
The key to choosing the best organic argan oil is therefore to pay careful attention to the labelling. Some products will attempt to suggest an air of purity or authenticity without being all that specific about the contents. 'Moroccan oils' for example may sometimes contain argan oil mixed with cheaper vegetable oils that bulk it out but reduce its effectiveness.
In short, look for labels that declare the contents to be 100% pure, organic, cold-pressed argan oil. (Alternatively, it may appear described as 100% Argania spinosa kernel oil.) If the packaging doesn't make that explicit declaration, the chances are that there's an inferior product inside.
On the question of packaging, it's also important to choose products supplied in dark glass bottles - cobalt blue and amber being two of the most common colours. Unlike clear plastic containers, these cut out the UV light that can otherwise cause argan oil to degrade. Dark or opaque bottles will help your oil to last longer and to preserve its effectiveness.