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Eur. J. Lipid Sci. Technol.

2011, 113, 403–408 403

Review Article
Argan oil and other argan products: Use in

Dominique Guillaume1 and Zoubida Charrouf2

CNRS-UFR Médecine-Pharmacie, Department of Medicinal Chemistry, Reims, France
Université MohammedV-Agdal, Rabat, Morocco

Argan oil is of food or cosmetic (INCI name: Argania spinosa kernel oil) grade. During the past 15 years
cosmetic argan oil, as beauty oil or cosmetic ingredient, has become one of the major actors in the
dermocosmetic field. Beauty argan oil is produced by cold-pressing argan-fruit kernels. As a cosmetic
ingredient, argan oil is produced by solvent-assisted extraction of the finely crushed kernels. Enriched-
argan oil which is produced by distillation of cosmetic argan oil can be supplemented with antioxidants.
Hence, it presents an even better cosmetic potential. Argan fruit pulp and argan leaves also contain
proteins, peptides, saponins and other chemicals presenting highly interesting dermocosmetics.
Therefore, the argan tree (A. spinosa) is sometimes nicknamed A. cosmetosa. We comprehensively
review the current knowledge (literature and patent) related to argan oil and argan tree products in
the dermocosmetic domain.

Keywords: Argan metabolites / Argania spinosa kernel oil / Beauty argan oil / Cosmetic argan oil

Received: July 22, 2010 / Revised: August 23, 2010 / Accepted: October 8, 2010
DOI: 10.1002/ejlt.201000417

1 Introduction argan kernels with a lipophilic solvent. Additionally, whereas

edible and beauty argan oils principally locally produced in
In most people’s mind, argan oil is associated with Morocco. Morocco, cosmetic argan oil has been to date mainly pro-
This is a direct consequence of the recent tremendous duced in Western-Europe. Cosmetic argan oil exclusively
commercial and media success of edible argan oil that is enters as an ingredient in cosmetic preparations and is not
almost exclusively produced in Morocco. However, three aimed at being used for dietary purposes or directly applied
main types of argan oil co-exist on the market: edible, beauty on the skin. Cosmetic argan oil has been ranked the number
and cosmetic argan oil (INCI name: Argania spinosa kernel one in the top 10 beauty ingredient list for 2009 by a major
oil). US agency (
Edible argan oil is a cold-pressed oil [1] obtained from beautydivision/2008/12/beauty-forecast-pierce-mattei.html
roasted argan kernels [2]. Cold-pressing is an method that (access August 2010)).
preserves oil qualities [3]. Traditionally, edible argan oil can Edible argan oil is by far the most ancient type of argan oil
be eaten on bread or used for cooking since it improves the and can be prepared following an ancestral process [2].
taste of ethnic dishes [2]. More generally, edible argan oil is Thanks to a series of technological improvements [5, 6],
now frequently introduced in gourmet food or high energy nowadays, large quantity of edible argan oil of high quality
food compositions [4]. is produced in semi-mechanized Moroccan cooperatives.
Beauty argan oil is cold-pressed argan oil obtained from The resulting oil has a high content of unsaturated fatty acids
non-roasted argan kernels [2]. It is meant to be directly (UFAs) that explains why edible argan oil is endowed with
applied on the skin or hair. cardio- and hepato-protective properties [7]. In vitro studies
Unlike edible and beauty argan oils, cosmetic argan oil is have attributed to edible argan oil several other pharmaco-
not a cold-pressed oil. It is prepared by extraction of ground logical properties [8] likely resulting from the presence of
several minor but valuable components [9]. Regular con-
sumption of argan oil is a highly recommended diet referred
Correspondence: Professor Dominique Guillaume, UMR6229, URCA-
to as the ‘Amazigh diet’ [10].
CNRS, Department of Medicinal Chemistry, 51 rue Cognacq Jay, 51100
Reims, France
Beauty argan oil has a golden colour and is odourless.
E-mail: Interestingly, ‘beauty grade’ argan oil can also be introduced
Fax: þ33 326 918 029 in lipid emulsions for parenteral nutrition [11].

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404 D. Guillaume and Z. Charrouf Eur. J. Lipid Sci. Technol. 2011, 113, 403–408

2 The argan tree solvent is refluxed for a few hours. Then the suspension is
filtered and the filtrate concentrated in vacuo affords cosmetic
Beauty argan oil is often labelled as a natural organic oil. It argan oil in 45–50% yield. Extraction can also be performed
comes from the kernels trapped in the stones of the fruit of the using a soxhlet apparatus and lipophilic solvents of low boiling
argan tree. Argan tree (A. spinosa (L.) Skeels) of the family point as (cyclo)hexane or petroleum ether. Halogenated sol-
Sapotaceae, is not a domesticated tree. It grows naturally in vents as chloroform or dichloromethane present a similar
Southwestern Morocco, the only location where it is efficiency in terms of extractive efficiency [17]. The use of
endemic. Argan tree is well adapted to marginal soils with stainless steel material is highly recommended to avoid met-
very low nutrient content and it can stand long period of allic traces that could catalyse fatty acid oxidation [18].
drought [12]. Dramatically, the superficy of the argan forest Lipophilic antioxidants as ascorbyl 6-palmitate, tocopherols,
has been halved during the 20th century mainly due to an isopropyl gallate or butylhydroxytoluene are frequently added
accumulation of mismanagements including human overuse at the concentration of 0.02–0.1% to prevent fatty acid oxi-
and lack of long-term vision. Therefore, the sustainable dation [19].
development of the argan forest is currently being particularly Cosmetic argan oil contains about 1% of unsaponifiable
actively investigated [5, 13, 14]. matters (see below) that have antioxidant properties
and hence participate in oil preservation. It is therefore
3 Argan oil tempting to increase the level of antioxidants to improve
argan oil preservation. The resulting oil that possesses high
Argan oil has been known in Southwestern Morocco since the levels of antioxidants and UFA-containing triacylglycerides
Phoenicians. Not surprisingly, argan oil continues to strongly presents hydration and skin-protective properties. It also
impact the culture of the population traditionally living in the helps in restoring the hydro-lipidic film of the skin and
argan forest where, argan oil is still traditionally prepared. strengthening its barrier function. Therefore, such oil is
The semi-mechanized press process now used has led to the highly valued in the cosmetic domain, where it is named
preparation of two distinct types of argan oil: edible and enriched-argan oil. This oil is prepared by molecular distil-
beauty oil. lation of cosmetic argan oil. Heating argan oil at 2708C and
under 0.14 Pa of pressure for a few seconds yields a distillate
3.1 Argan oil preparation composed of argan oil almost fourfold enriched in unsapo-
nified matters (see composition of argan oil below) and fatty
3.1.1 Edible argan oil acids. High vacuum is required to ensure the use of as low as
possible temperatures. Since argan oil is heated for a very
The traditional method used for the preparation of edible short time, the risk of oxidative damage of UFAs is almost
argan oil and its successive improvements implemented in the null [20]. However, enrichment in fatty acids is detrimental
woman cooperatives have already been depicted in details for cosmetic argan oil. Indeed, high levels of fatty acids lead to
several times [2, 15] and therefore will not be reported here. an odourant oil that can also be irritant to the skin and,
Its numerous claimed or established pharmacological proper- consequently, preventing its use as raw material in cosmetol-
ties have also been recently extensively reviewed [16]. ogy. Free fatty acids can be removed by steam distillation
of enriched argan oil at 150–2008C and under 1.5–8.5 Pa of
3.1.2 Beauty argan oil pressure [19].
Argan oil unsaponifiable matters include a large amount
Beauty argan oil preparative process used in woman cooper- of sterols and polyphenols. Polyphenols from other plants
atives is slightly shorter than that of edible oil since argan possessing valuable cosmetic properties, as epigallocatechin:
kernels are not roasted. Four steps are necessary: fruit pick- the green tea gallocatechin, can be added into argan oil.
ing, fruit peeling, nut breaking and kernel pressing using However, polyphenol hydrosolubility raises a technical prob-
endless screws. An additional filtration step is sometime lem that can be overcome if finely ground and well-dried
added. Compared to pressing the roasted kernels used in polyphenols are first dissolved in a 1:1 v/v glycerol/water
edible oil, the beauty oil with unroasted kernels can lead to solution. Ascorbyl 6-palmitate that acts as antioxidant and
technical problems like press jamming, since roasted kernels solubilizing adjuvant can also be added. The mixture is then
are more brittle and easier to crunch than non-roasted. added to argan oil together with 0.3% of monoglycerides.
Mechanical pressing of non-roasted argan kernels delivers Stirring and/or sonication under an inert atmosphere afford a
beauty oil in 40–45% yield. limpid and stable product highly enriched in antioxidants and
whose level in polyphenols is up to 300 mg/L of oil [20]. As
3.1.3 Cosmetic oil well as polyphenols, sterols or sterol precursors can be added
to cosmetic argan oil. For example, squalene is a sterol
Cosmetic argan oil is prepared by solvent-extraction. Most of precursor sometimes added to cosmetic argan oil to increase
the time, a suspension of finely grounded argan kernels in the its cosmetic properties [21].

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Eur. J. Lipid Sci. Technol. 2011, 113, 403–408 Argan oil and cosmetic products 405

3.2 Argan oil composition suggested to explain this difference of preservation time [23].
Enriched argan oil contain artificially high antioxidant levels,
Beauty, cosmetic and enriched-argan oil composition and therefore, its preservation time is high.
physicochemical typical parameters are listed Table 1.
Physicochemical parameters determined for the three types 3.4 Argan oil in dermocosmetology
of oil are quite similar, and expectedly unsaponifiable matters
are in a much high level in enriched-argan oil. The lowest Argan oil has been traditionally used in Morocco for centuries
level in tocopherols is found in cosmetic argan oil, likely due and is generally referred to as the beauty secret of Moroccan
to the poor solubility of tocopherols in lipohilic solvents. women. Traditionally, beauty argan oil is claimed to elimin-
Beauty oil tocopherol level is 3-fold higher than that of ate skin pimples as well as juvenile acne and chicken pox
cosmetic argan oil but 2.5-fold lower than that of pustule scars [2]. It is also recommended to cure brittle
enriched-argan oil. The high tocopherol level and fatty acid fingernails and to reduce dry skin matters and wrinkles [2].
composition are responsible for the cosmetic value of argan Moroccan women use it also to bring shine to hair.
oil. The three types of oil present a highly similar fatty acid Nowadays, beauty oil is still indicated for those disorders
composition. They both contain 80% of unsaturated EFA: and it is a good and organic anti-aging skin care oil.
oleic and linoleic acid, and only traces of linolenic acid. A permanently increasing number of argan oil-containing
Therefore, the fatty acid contribution to the cosmetic proper- cosmetic preparations or shampoos are marketed. In the
ties of argan oil is identical for the three types of oil. following section, we will specifically focus on compositions
in which argan oil is clearly the responsible for the preparation
3.3 Argan oil preservation cosmetic properties. Cosmetic preparations containing seed-
oils whose one is possibly argan oil will not be considered
Despite its low linolenic acid content, argan oil is still fre- herein.
quently perceived as an oil presenting a very short shelf life Cosmetic and enriched argan oils are now currently
and low preservation characteristics. This discouraging state- included in serums or creams for their moisturizing properties
ment results from old sayings concerning traditionally pre- and their capacity to prevent early signs of aging. Based on a
pared edible argan oil whose preparative process often traditional use, preparations containing argan oil are also fre-
included sanitary unsafe water that negatively impacted the quently claimed to hydrate the skin [24], neutralize free
oil preservation time. Because beauty and edible argan oils radicals, heal acne blemishes, help reduce scars, revitalize
are now prepared by press-extraction, the preservation and improve skin elasticity. Some of these properties have been
capacity of argan oil has favourably changed and edible argan confirmed by scientific observations and, for example, the
oil can be stored up to two years [22]. However, beauty argan proliferative and growth-stimulating activity of enriched-argan
oil can only be preserved for a few weeks [23]. After this delay, oil has been clearly evidenced using L 929 fibroblasts [25].
the oil develops an aroma that was judged ‘unpleasant’ by a Most of these properties have triggered an interest to market
trained panel and ‘very unpleasant’ after 12 weeks [23]. Since cosmetic products [26, 27]. It is also known that UV radiation
edible and beauty argan oil differs only by the roasting of the can lead to MMP mediated collagen destruction resulting to
kernels, formation of Maillard reaction products has been skin wrinkling. It is highly likely that argan oil skin-protective

Table 1. Typical physicochemical parameters and chemical characteristics of beauty, cosmetic and enriched-argan oils

Beauty [16, 21] Cosmetic [18] Enriched [17]

Physicochemical parametres
Acid value (mg KOH/g oil) <1 1 <4
Iodine value (g I2/100 g oil) 102 98.1 100
Peroxide value (Meq O2/kg oil) 1.2 0.8 <10
Saponification value (mg KOH/g oil) 196 195 195
Unsaponifiable matters (%) 0.8 1 3.8
Tocopherol level
Total tocopherol (mg/kg) 771 250 1834
Fatty acid composition (%)
Palmitic acid 13 13.5 13.5
Stearic acid 5.5 5.5 5.5
Oleic acid 46 47 48
Linoleic acid 35 33 34
Linolenic acid <0.5 <0.5 <0.5

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406 D. Guillaume and Z. Charrouf Eur. J. Lipid Sci. Technol. 2011, 113, 403–408

properties result from its high level in polyphenols, a class of 4.3 Argan sterols
compounds known to prevent UV-B-induced wrinkle for-
mation and photoaging caused by collagen destruction and Finally, the unsaponifiable fraction of an extract prepared by
inflammatory responses [28]. Cosmetic argan oil also possesses solvent (preferably hexane) or supercritical carbon dioxide
sebum control properties [29]. This has led to the preparation extraction of the pulp of argan fruit presents the ability to
of argan oil-containing compositions aimed at correcting or reduce the damage to cell membrane caused by UV-A/-B
preventing disorders associated with greasiness by reducing the radiation. It can also prevent skin disorders associated with
sebum secretion [30]. Cosmetic/beauty argan oil can be intro- ageing by modulating the decrease in the induction of
duced crude or after trans-esterification with polyglycerin-6 in HSP72 [36] a protein responsible of the protection of cells
shampoos or hairconditioners [31], since it nourishes and against cellular stress, and able to stimulate the production of
revitalizes the scalp, it also restores hair natural softness and TGFb1 [36], a polypeptide controlling cell proliferation. It
silky [8]. Cosmetic properties of argan oil can also be exalted by also acts as antioxidant or free radical scavenger and has anti-
synergistic associations with other vegetable oils [32, 33] or inflammatory properties. This unsaponifiable fraction that is
non-lipidic ingredients [34]. principally composed of lupeol, a- and b-amyrine, taraxas-
terol, erythrodiol, schottenol and spinasterol also inhibits
elastase and plasmine, two enzymes that catalyse the destruc-
4 Other argan products used in tion of proteoglycan, collagen and elastin leading to skin
dermocosmetology aging [44].

Beauty and cosmetic argan oils are not the only argan-derived 4.4 Argan crude extracts
products used in cosmetology. Early efforts carried out to
ensure the argan forest sustainable development and stimu- From the leaves of A. spinosa, a fraction containing flavone
late its socio-economic development [13, 14] have led to the derivatives, saponins, procyanolidines and sterols can be
discovery of new and cosmetically relevant argan products; extracted. This crude extract also possesses looked-after der-
namely, proteins, peptides, saponins and sterols. mopharmaceutical effects including an antiinflammatory
effect, a protective effect against UV-A and -B radiation,
4.1 Argan proteins and peptides an anti-ageing activity, an antioxidant and radical scavenger
activity and a matrix metalloprotease inhibitory activity [45].
The press-cake as well as argan tree leaves contain highly As a consequence, this crude fraction has an activity against
valuable compounds. From the press-cake, a fraction rich in the damage to fibroblasts. It can also be used as self-tanning
high molecular weight proteins (>200 000 Da) has been agent [45]. Finally, A. spinosa fruit pulp crude essential oil
shown to possess anti-wrinkle properties [35]. A dose- extract has recently been shown to contain camphor as major
dependent stimulation of fibroblaste and keratinocyte pro- chemical [46], however, use of this latter extract seems lim-
liferation observed in vitro has been proposed to explain those ited as insect repellent and no use in cosmetology has been
anti-wrinkle properties [36]. An oil-free serum containing reported, so far.
this group of proteins is now marketed [36]. Enzyme- Noteworthily, to date no adverse or toxic effects have
hydrolysis of the crude press-cake proteins also affords a been reported for beauty or cosmetic argan oils or for
mixture of peptides and proteins of molecular weight below any of the argan derivatives used in cosmetology.
20 000 Da. Those peptides possess anti-ageing properties Nevertheless, one case of allergy has been reported for edible
and appear particularly active to treat menopause-associated argan oil [47].
skin problems [25]. They can be synergistically associated
with argan oil.
5 Conclusions

4.2 Argan saponins Twenty years ago, edible argan oil was, for the best, a tourist
curiosity, beauty argan oil was unknown, and a single labora-
A large number of saponins has been isolated from tory was introducing cosmetic argan oil in its product line as
A. spinosa [37–40]. A crude saponin extract prepared by hand treatment for devitalized skin. The skin moisturing
selective alcohol-assisted extraction of argan seeds displays activity of beauty argan oil and its skin and hair protective
dermopharmaceutical properties. It improves hair combabil- properties [2] are such that it is now one of the major cosmetic
ity and softness, has an anticellulite activity, has revitalizing ingredients. Even though it is a new product, argan oil was
properties, and reduced UVB-induced skin damage [41]. identified the number one cosmetic ingredient by Pierce
Usefulness of this crude extract in cosmetology was further Mattei Public Relation in 2009 (http://www.piercemattie-
confirmed by the discovery of its anti 5a-reductase activity,
demonstrating its potential to treat alopecia or acne [42, 43]. cast -pierce-mattei.html (access August 2010)) and several

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Eur. J. Lipid Sci. Technol. 2011, 113, 403–408 Argan oil and cosmetic products 407

cosmetic companies, including three major ones, offer now a the argan grove economy and biodiversity, so far. Oléag. Corps
large number of argan oil-containing patented dermophar- Gras Lipides 2008, 15, 269–271.
maceutical products. Such a fast success is unprecedented [6] Kisaalita, W. S., Shealy, M., Neu, M. J., Jones, P., Dunn, J.,
Argan nut cracker for southwestern moroccan women. Agric.
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almost three-quarter of which being presently exported [15]. compounds should confer valuable cancer chemopreventive
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