While visiting Essaouira, Morocco a couple years ago, I was thrilled to go to a women’s co-operative outside of town that produced argan oil. I had started using argan oil as a moisturizer the year before and was excited to see the process in person. Over the last few years more and more women have learned the secret of argan oil as a beauty product and I now see it advertised in commercials as an ingredient in cosmetics and hair products.
The argan tree (Argania spinosa) is found mainly in southern Morocco and and neighboring Algeria, although some trees are now being grown in Israel. The tree lives for somewhere between 150 – 200 years and many I came across while driving from Tafraout to Marrakesh looked easily that old with their gnarled trunks and branches. They can grow to around 30 feet but may be stunted by the continual feeding frenzies of the local goats who can’t seem to get enough of the leaves and nuts. Everywhere you see argan trees, you will find goats skillfully climbing up to the highest limbs to greedily nibble away the day. The argan tree is also threatened by the need for charcoal for cooking. It is estimated that the argan forests in Morocco have decreased by half over the past 100 years and they are now a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
A WanderShopper’s main interest in argan is for its oil which comes from dry pressing the nut. Several women’s co-operatives have formed in southern Morocco for the processing of argan oil which provides a much needed income source for them. The nut itself is hard and it is cracked between two stones which is the most labor intensive part of the process. Each nut usually contains one seed but can occasionally have two or three. After the seeds are removed, they are then roasted which adds to the nutty flavor and smell. Argan seeds and oil are edible and are used in place of olive oil for cooking. The seeds can be ground, with almonds and honey or sugar added in, to create a paste called amlou. It reminded me of peanut butter or one of the other nut butters. I had it served with bread for afternoon tea, Moroccan Mint of course, as well as at breakfast along with a pancake that was like a thicker crepe. You can dip into the amlou or drizzle it on your food. I found I could buy fresh amlou at the women’s co-operatives or in stalls of the market in Essaouira to bring home with me.
Once the nuts are roasted, they are then ground, using a stone rotary quern, as pictured below. The paste that results in then squeezed by hand to extract the argan oil. It is rich in fatty acids and is more resistant to oxidation than olive oil giving it a longer life when being stored. Used as a treatment for skin diseases in Morocco, it has attracted the attention of cosmetic companies in Europe and North America. It is a luxury item in Morocco and is expensive for purchase in the United States as well. Fortunately, a little goes a long way so that helps to take away the sting of the initial investment should you decide to try it. In the shop of the argan co-operative I visited outside of Essaouira, they offered oil, lotion, soap and amlou for sale.
Luckily, argan oil and its products are becoming easier to find in the United States. About three years ago, I started using Josie Maran’s products which I will share with you. These are all argan creations that I have used myself and can enthusiastically endorse. I easily get dry skin throughout the year both in Michigan’s tough winters and from sun exposure in the summers. I remember reacting with horror when I friend of mine told me that she uses baby oil as a moisturizer on her face. That sounded like an instant recipe for breakouts to me. So when I first heard of argan oil, I was skeptical too. I continued to hear about it as being a beauty secret of women with amazing skin so I finally broke down and tried it. Josie Maran’s Argan Oil comes in a bottle with a medicine dropper in the cap. I find that just a couple drops is more than enough for my face. And it truly works! Even when my skin is more oily, I find that argan oil as my night time moisturizer is just right for my skin. I also find use a drop of argan oil on my hair by rubbing it between my hands and then lightly running it over the strands to control flyaway. The link I am providing here is the Women for Women Cosmetic Set which includes a bottle of Argan Oil as well as Argan Lip Treatment. Proceeds from this set help women survivors of wars in a number of ways which you can read specifically about through this link.
Another product from the Josie Maran Cosmetics line I use every single day is the Tinted Moisturizer. I never travel without it, either. I love it because 1) it’s a great day time moisturizer, 2) it is tinted so most days I even skip foundation as it gives me more than enough coverage and 3) it has an spf of 30. Anytime you can find a product that covers 3 bases when you travel, it’s a great find! I keep it in two tints – one for winter and one for summer as my fair skin varies greatly in the shade it requires depending on how much sun I’ve seen.
You will also find me always traveling with the Color Stick. It is a argan, moisturizing color tint stick which can be used on your cheeks as a blush or on your lips. It comes is a variety of shades, all of which work on all skin tones. I have even used a little bit of the color smeared on my eyelids for some color when I was traveling and hadn’t packed a full compliment of cosmetics but wanted a little something for a special dinner. I find that the Color Sticks last forever so they are a really good value.
One of the things I really love about Josie Maran’s line is how she continually gives back. The tagline on her website is “luxury with conscience” and her products are responsibly harvested and provide women in Morocco with a stable source of income in a male dominated society. I started using her Bear Naked Wipes a few years ago too. They are a great face cleanser when you are on the go. They contain argan oil so again they are moisturizing but they also do a great job of removing makeup and daily grime. I like to have them with me on long flights so I can freshen up in my seat or in the plane’s bathroom. They are also great when you are traveling in countries where face clothes are not the norm in hotels – which seems like almost everywhere! A portion of the sales from each package goes to the Polar Bear SOS initiative so you are helping a good cause and your skin at the same time. The catch phrase on the package is “Erase you face, not the polar bear race!”
If you are feeling a little decadent, I would suggest the Ultimate Aromatherapy Collection. It includes three different bottles of aragn oil scented with one each of rose, ginger and lavender. You could add it to your bath or I have used them as a scented oil on my skin after a shower. The collection also includes two bars of handmade soap which are scented with either rose or chocolate mint. The retail price of this collection is $133 but it is being offered right now for $68 which makes it a really great value. I recommend that you snap it up before they run out!
Obviously, I’m a huge fan of argan oil. It is a part of my daily skin care routine and has been for a few years. I really encourage you to try the product that speaks to you. Have you ever tried argan oil for your skin or your hair? Let’s hear about it!
Photo credits: all Josie Maran product photos courtesy of Josie Maran Cosmetics