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The ‘Beauty’ of Argan Oil


by Eric Sebbag

Argan oil, although commonly used in culinary creations, off the plate offers many beauty benefits. For centuries, the Berbers (indigenous people of Morocco) would collect undigested argan pits from the waste of goats that climbed the trees to eat its fruit. The pits were ground and pressed to make the nutty oil. The oil was sold in Moroccan markets even before the Phoenicians arrived. The argan tree is a relic of the earth's Tertiary Period, which ended about 1.6 million years ago, and it grows in only a few other places in the world. It is tenacious, withering and fruitless during extended droughts; and it lives as long as 200 years. Yet, the hardy argan tree has been slowly disappearing. Overgrazing by goats and a growing, wood-hungry local population have whittled the number of surviving trees down to less than half of what it was 50 years ago. There has been some alarm that the Argania spinosa was headed for extinction, along with its precious goat-related oil.

The United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and people excited by the oil's reputed anti-aging qualities have helped by creating a global market for the exotic oil. The unlikely alliance hopes to raise awareness about the inherent value of the trees, encouraging more careful grazing and stopping the local population from chopping the trees down for firewood. The people now understand the value of the tree and are working to protect it.

UNESCO declared a 25,900-sq. km. of land between the Atlantic and the Atlas Mountains, and provided money to manage the trees' preservation. Chefs and society matrons took up the cause, praising the culinary qualities of the oil and its anti-aging effect on the skin. There is also a ban against grazing in the trees from May to August, when the fruit ripens to a bright yellow and eventually the goats climb the trees, eat the fruit and expel the pits, which locals continue to collect.

At the Cooperative in Tiout, Berber women sit on the floor with rough rectangular stones between their knees cracking pits with rounded rocks. Each smooth pit contains one to three kernels, which look like sliced almonds and are rich in oil. The kernels are then removed and gently roasted. This roasting accounts for part of the oil's distinctive, nutty flavor. It takes several days and about 32 kg of fruit—roughly one season's produce from a single tree—to make only one liter of oil. The cosmetic oil, rich in vitamin E and essential fatty acids, is used for massage, facials and as an ingredient in anti-aging creams. However, the oil used in cosmetic products available for sale today has most likely been harvested and processed with machines in a verifiably clean and sanitary way.

Oils in Application

Argan oil isn’t the only oil good for skin and anti-aging. Its blended offerings of fatty acids (70 percent oleic and linoleic acids.) and richness in vitamin E, phenols and carotene made it excellent for hair and skin treatment; but other oils are also rich in skin-touting nutrients.

Extra virgin olive oil is a concentrated source of monosaturated fats and vitamin E. It also contains polyphenolic phytonutrients that have antioxidant activity, and it too is excellent for hair and skin. Avocado oil is also high in sterolins, aka plant steroids, which are reputed to reduce age spots, help heal sun damage and scars. It is the sterolins in the oil that helps to soften the skin and imparts a superior moisturizing effect on hair and skin. Neroli orange blossom is an essential oil that tones and rejuvenates the complexion, especially dry, mature or undernourished skin, and helps with scar tissues.

Companies such as Sebbag Essentials Hair & Body Serum use a blend of these essential oils in order to reversing the aging process of over-dry, over-style and over-colored hair, and rejuvenate the skin by reducing scars and stretch marks.

In today's market of natural beauty products, it’s hard to find the real deal in essential oils. Most products contain chemicals that not only damage the hair, but also promote sebum on the skin. It is much cheaper for big companies to buy less expensive ingredients to mass produce; however, going all-organic and natural is best for treating hair and skin; it should be health enough to eat. Most products contain 4 percent to 5 percent of argan oil and mix it with other oils and silicons, but it’s very important to get 100 percent of these essential oils in your product to fully reap the benefits of an everyday beauty regimen.

Eric Sebbag developed an all-natural/vegan hair and body serum called Sebbag Essentials. He grew up assisting his father at his Montreal salon, Charles de Westmount. At 15, he was signed on as the youngest stylist to work at the shop. He has worked for several famous hairstylists, including Oribe; and has established his own celebrity clientele, including Grace Jones, Lenny Kravitz and daughter Zoe Kravitz, Daisy Fuentes, Antonio Sabato Jr. and others; and worked the New York runway designing hair for Emmanuelle Ungaro, Cynthia Rowley, Catherine Malandrino, Betsey Johnson and more. Currently, he is cutting and styling Carrie Ann Inaba of "Dancing with the Stars."

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