If you’ve taken a shine to using coconut oil in your hair, you know that natural oils like this can nourish and nurture your locks. But over the last few years, hair pros have noticed that Mother Nature has provided us with another oil that doesn’t just replenish moisture and boost shine – it actually can help protect your hair from UV and heat damage.
Argan oil has long been a go-to ingredient for conditioners and hair treatments, but the experts have now discovered why this amber fluid is pure liquid gold when it comes to hair care. We looked into the alchemy that starts with the humble seeds of a Moroccan tree and results in shiny, strong locks. Here’s what we learned about Argan oil:
The Lowdown: Pure Moroccan Argan oil is expensive, but with good reason. To acquire the luscious goodness, argan tree seeds are cracked by hand. The kernels go through a pressing, and the oil produced is then filtered until it’s amber with maybe a touch of sediment. Because the trees grow so slowly, and processing the product is painstaking, Argan oil can cost a little more than other hair oil options. Oh, and word to the wise: the oil is also found in the cooking section of your store. But steer clear of culinary Argan oil for your hair. The seeds are roasted to provide a nutty flavor, and this destroys some of the valuable, hair-friendly nutrients that give this ingredient its superpowers.
The Upside: Although it’s an investment, a vial of pure argan oil will last you a long time; just a few drops go a long way. If you decide to purchase 100% argan oil instead of hair care products that contain it as an ingredient, look for bottles made from dark plastic or glass. Storing this precious stuff in clear containers will expose it to light and cause it to degrade. You can always decant the oil into a dark container, too – that’ll help you get your money’s worth.
Turning up the Heat
The Lowdown: Argan oil isn’t a miracle elixir. It can’t undo the damage that heat styling has already inflicted on your hair. The fact is, blowdrying, straightening, and curling can injure delicate hair cuticles with just one careless session. Temps above 450 degrees are especially destructive to fine hair that’s already weak, as is prolonged exposure to high heat. If you’ve noticed a change in your hair’s texture (curls don’t bounce like they used to, for example), look closer, and you may see signs of heat damage: lackluster strands and broken ends.
The Upside: Hey, we’re not suggesting you never have a blowout or curling and straightening session again. We are, however, nudging you in the direction of the heat protectant shelf in the haircare aisle. Look for heat-styling products that contain a healthy dose of argan oil, because it will help shield your hair shafts from high temps. Argan oil also lubricates your locks so that your straightening or curling iron slide along tangle- and snag-free to help avoid breakage. We’re partial to spray products; they’re easy to apply, and you can get complete coverage without running the risk of overapplication, but creams are great for super-dry and thick or coarse hair. You can also use straight argan oil, but the thermal-activated ingredients in commercial formulations provide extra protection, so why not go a step further?
Get your fix
The Lowdown: Again, Argan oil isn’t guaranteed to cure all your hair woes. If there were an elixir that could do that, we’d be the first to tell you! This amber fluid won’t take you from woe-is-me to wow-is-me overnight. But Argan oil can effectively address many of our most common hair hangups, and with regular use, you’ll see a big improvement.
The Upside: Argan oil is versatile – both in when it can be used, and the issues it can tackle. That’s why you’ll find it on the ingredient list of hair care products, ranging from shampoo and conditioner to heat serums, texture sprays, and frizz fighters. It’s a great all-around conditioning option that also tames unruly tresses and keeps flyaways at bay.
If you splurge on a bottle of 100-percent Argan oil, you can add it to your favorite formulas, or use it alone. It’s great for your scalp as well as your hair, so try it pre-shampoo: put a few drops in your hands and rub it into scalp and along the length of your hair. Add a few more drops to address particularly dry ends or completely cover long, thick locks. Use a few drops before blowdrying for smoother results.
If you’re struggling with extremely dry winter hair, apply a generous portion to your hair before bedtime (we put a towel over the pillowcase or use a shower cap) and let the amber potion act as a deep conditioner while you sleep. (Pro tip: this stuff also is great for your skin, so try a drop or two on your face to reap the all-natural benefits.) Curly girls will love the way that Argan oil and Argan-oil-rich products work to define and hold curl shape, too. A couple of drops on damp hair will work wonders as a detangler.
How it works
So what makes Argan oil such a powerhouse when it comes to nourishing and strengthening your hair? We checked out the science behind this stuff, and it turns out that the results on your head aren’t all in your head – there’s a reason Argan oil has such positive effects on hair health. It contains a wealth of nutrients that address your tresses’ needs.
Fatty acids – The primary fats that give Argan oil its slipperiness are oleic and linoleic acids, which both provide moisture and help your hair strands hang onto it. (Linoleic acid also is great for your scalp, and some studies suggest it may promote hair growth.) They’re both found in the oil your scalp produces naturally, so the results mimic what your hair would look like if it was living its best life.
Vitamin E: Another uber-moisturizing compound, this essential vitamin supports keratin production (that’s the protein that makes up your hair strands). It also packs a punch when it’s time for your hair to shine.
Antioxidants: It’s a buzzword that we hear all the time, but personally, we never stopped to ask why we should be so against oxidants (whatever they are). It turns out that oxidation damages molecules in cells throughout your body, which can lead to everything from premature aging to inflammation. No, thanks. Antioxidants work to decrease and even prevent these effects, and it’s probably no surprise that these helpful substances are found in healthy foods like green leafy veg and brightly colored fruits. But you can also reap the benefits of antioxidants by using Argan oil in your hair; it nurtures your scalp with nutrients that fight inflammation and oxidative stress.
While many products for hair and skin contain these essential building blocks, Argan oil has an extra advantage when it comes to delivering maximum benefits. Scientists have discovered that oils have different-sized molecules, and that can make all the difference when it comes to penetrating the hair shaft.
Some large-molecule oils only sit on the outside of the cuticle, and work well as “sealers.” Others can go below the cuticle to treat and nourish from within. Argan oil is somewhere in the middle; its molecules are small enough to penetrate, but the substance also provides an effective seal on the surface of your hair. This gives you the best of both worlds. You get serious deep conditioning, along with shine.
When you’re shopping for Argan oil or products that contain this “liquid gold,” there are a few things to keep in mind. Manufacturers often mix it with other, less expensive oils such as coconut, and as long as they’re not trying to pass off the concoction as 100-percent pure Argan oil, that’s fine. Oil blends can be way more affordable, and the mixture may agree with your hair just fine. But if the product claims to be pure Argan oil, it should originate from Morocco, should be amber-colored, and may have a little sediment at the bottom of the bottle.
Aim for brands that have a ton of four- or five-star reviews, and you’ll likely get a quality product. If you’re searching for products that contain Argan oil, look for it to appear fairly early in the ingredient list. The higher up it’s mentioned, the larger proportion it gets in the formula. The beauty of Argan oil is that it delivers beautiful results to any hair type, so don’t let the price tag dissuade you from giving it a try!