Argan oil comes from the argan tree, found in Morocco; “[c]ontained within the nut [of the tree] are one to three argan oil-rich kernels. Argan oil is extracted from the kernels, with yields varying from 30% to 55% depending on the extraction method used.” This oil has a shelf life of 12-18 months and is typically extracted through the press-extraction method:
“the argan fruits are first dried in the open air and then the fleshy pulp of the fruit is removed. Sometimes the flesh is removed mechanically without the need to dry the fruits. The flesh is usually used as feed for animals.
The next stage involves cracking the argan nut to obtain the argan kernels. Attempts to mechanize this process have been unsuccessful and therefore it is still carried out by hand, making it a time-consuming and labour-intensive process.
Kernels used to make argan oil for food use, culinary argan oil, are then gently roasted. After the argan kernels have cooled down, they are ground and pressed. The brown-colored mash expels pure, unfiltered argan oil. After this, unfiltered argan oil is decanted into vessels. The press cake remaining after the argan oil has been expelled is protein-rich and is frequently used as feed for cattle” (source).
The contained locale of this tree makes “the oil produced from its seeds one of the rarest in the world […] Estimates are that every liter of [a]rgan oil produced requires 10 hours of work and 100 kg of fresh fruit are needed to produce a scant two liters of this rare oil” (source). The increase in demand for argan oil is good for the Moroccan economy and provides jobs and increased GDP for that small country; “argan oil production supports approximately 2.2 million people in the main argan oil producing region” (source). Women-run co-ops have sprung up in recent years to comply with demand, which provides employment, income, education, and self-sufficience. It’s also good for the argan tree, which in turn helps prevent desert encroachment and soil erosion in Morocco.
Food grade argan oil is commonly used as a bread dipping oil or on couscous and salads. The oil is also used cosmetically, “sometimes mixed with pomegranate seed oil due to its antioxidizing benefits” (source). This oil is light and absorbs into skin easily, allowing the skin to breathe. Many cosmetics include argan oil for its acne-fighting properties. Argan is great on hair and contains quite a bit of Vitamin E and various skin-loving fatty acids. Also:
“Active in the oil is something called ‘triterpenoids’, which offer healing, protection, disinfection and anti-inflammatory properties when applied to your skin. It is more resistant to oxidation than olive oil and contain[s] sterolins which are great for moisture retention and improving skin metabolism. Because of this, the product is perfect for everything from moisturizing to anti-aging” (source)
Because argan oil tends to be more expensive than other carrier oils (due to the more time-consuming and labor-intensive extraction process described above), most soapers and lotion makers use it for superfatting and/or leave-on products only, for example lotions and creams. It’s definitely cost-prohibitive to use a lot of argan oil in a soap recipe! In a soapmaking recipe; I wouldn’t recommend using argan for more than 5% of your total oils. Because it absorbs so easily into the skin, it makes a great additive to lotions. In skin care, argan oil is recommended for “anti-aging products, […] soothing acne, eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions, [and] after-sun care products” (source).
Websites where you can purchase argan oil (I am not affiliated with these websites, and I cannot speak to their products or quality):