Gleams & Notions

Spanning the Globe For Natural Ingredients

By Harvey Fishman, Consultant | April 2, 2012

Interest in natural ingredients continues to grow and in recent years, suppliers have scoured the earth in search of effective, exotic materials. Two ingredients that are becoming more popular with formulators are argan oil and monoi. Both materials impart unique properties to a range of personal care products.

Argan oil is derived from the argania spinosal tree, which grows exclusively in southwest Morocco where there are about 21 million trees.

Some of these trees can live as long as 200 years. The root system is very deep and helps to protect against soil erosion and hold back the relentless advance of the Sahara Desert. In May or June, the trees produce flowers, followed by the oval berries. The berries are the size and shape of large olives and hold a nut with one or two seeds.

Berber women have been extracting argan oil for centuries. Between June and August, they collect the ripe fruit that falls to the ground. The fruit is dried in the sun before the women crack the nut between two rocks to extract the oil-rich seeds. It is strenuous work as the nut is very hard. In one day, a woman can produce 1-1.5kgs of seeds. Three kilograms of seeds will provide about one liter of oil after cold pressing. A manual process extracts 70% of the oil from the seeds.

The Berbers use this oil for:
  • Massaging babies and infants;
  • Soothing chicken pox;
  • Treating eczema and acne;
  • Preventing pregnancy stretch marks;
  • Treating rheumatism; and
  • Cooking traditional Moroccan dishes.

During the past few years, the oil has become popular in Europe and, more recently, in the US.
Sally Beauty Supply sells a product called Argan Oil; a treatment for hair that is said to provide “instant shine, softness, frizz control, color protection, and is alcohol free.” The INCI ingredient listing is: Dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, dimethiconol, C12-15 alkyl benzoate, fragrance, argania spinosa kernel oil and color. It is obvious that this product consists of almost all silicone derivatives. What’s more, there is less argan oil than fragrance. When compared to 100% argan oil on the skin, the commercial product has good slip and a heavier feel. The straight argan oil is thinner and much shinier. Both spread well and are not tacky.

In addition to hair products, argan oil is a good addition to skin care products. It has high levels of essential fatty acids, including linoleic acid, which help to counter drying and loss of elasticity—and could prevent or delay the appearance of wrinkles. It is also claimed that argan oil has very high levels of gamma tocopherols, which are biological antioxidants that neutralize free radicals and protect cell membranes from lipid oxidation, thus slowing the skin’s aging process. It is also stated that argan oil contains triterpenic alcohols including 7.1% lupeol, which has anti-inflammatory properties.

One source of argan oil is Marogania, which is located in Morocco. The company’s website is: Another argan supplier is Mibelle AG Biochemistry in Switzerland. Its website is

Heading South
Another exotic product from a different corner of the world is Monoi de Tahiti, a skin and hair moisturizing oil. This product (INCI: Coconut (cocos nucifera) oil (and) tiare (gardenia taitensis) flower) also contains tocopherol. It is a pale yellow color, has a distinctive sweet odor and solidifies below 24°C. Ocular and cutaneous tests were negative; it was non-toxic with ingestion, and was non-allergenic.

Monoi means “scented oil” in Tahitian. It is manufactured by soaking at least 10 Tiare flowers for a minimum of 10 days in one liter of coconut oil. The moisturizing ability was compared to shea butter, jojoba, coconut and petrolatum oils. All the oils performed well, but it was found that the competitive oils worked primarily through partial surface occlusion of the skin. The occlusive effect with Monoi de Tahiti was minimal and it did not impact transpidermal water loss.

It is recommended in cosmetics for skin moisturizing, protection, firmness and tonicity. On hair, it is suggested to condition and repair dry or damaged hair. More information and samples are available from Monoi USA, Sumner, WA.

Harvey Fishman has a consulting firm in Wanaque, NJ, specializing in cosmetic formulations and new product ideas, offering tested finished products. He has more than 30 years of experience and has been director of research at Bonat, Nestlé LeMur and Turner Hall. He welcomes descriptive literature from suppliers and bench chemists and others in the field.