Reviewed by Jess

A few years ago, argan oil became the beauty industry’s new “it” ingredient, the trendy panacea that holds promise for nearly any skin or hair type. As with any skincare fad, my curiosity about argan oil was tempered with a healthy amount of skepticism, so I was excited to try Zinn’s version ($30 in the TIA shop) and find out if it lived up to the hype. The 2-oz bottle features a fanciful tasseled gold top that isn’t terribly practical, so if you try it you might want to transfer the oil into a dark glass dropper bottle to make it easier to use and to protect it from light.

The first thing that distinguishes Zinn’s argan oil from other oils I’ve tried is its viscosity and lack of strong scent. Pale gold in color, it spreads easily, has good slip, and is slightly thinner in texture than jojoba oil. Argan oil has a characteristic toasted, nutty aroma that some brands (e.g., Josie Maran) eliminate from their products via heat processing. When I first opened the bottle, the oil had almost no odor; after a couple of months, it developed a somewhat nuttier aroma, but was not unpleasant. According to the expiration date printed on the bottom of the box, this 2-oz bottle should last for two years.

Not long after I received my bottle, I decided in a moment of rare brilliance to remove a piece of bread from the oven with my bare hands. By the time it occurred to me to try the oil on the resulting first-degree burn, it had become an angry, puffy mess with new scar tissue forming beneath a white blister. (If you take nothing else from this review: Oven mitts exist for a reason! Use them!) I kept a bottle of the oil on my desk and another on my bathroom sink, so I rubbed a drop or two onto my wrist whenever I washed my hands or needed a brief distraction from work. Having only one scar means I have no way to know how the scar might’ve healed without the oil (or with a different one). But I can tell you that after one day, the crusty scab had sort of melted away, and the entire wound had deflated. So much so that if you ran a finger over it without looking, you wouldn’t know it was there. This piqued my curiosity immediately, so I donned my lab coat and goggles and sat down at my computer.

For me, research is an intrinsic part of being a skincare junkie. Whenever I’m curious about an active ingredient, a quick PubMed search will yield anywhere from a few to a few hundred peer-reviewed research studies. So I was surprised to find that for all the hype about argan oil’s miraculous effects on skin and hair, there exists almost no independent research on its effectiveness as a topical. A couple of studies have demonstrated argan oil’s ability to kill human tumor cells in vitro, but most of the research has focused on argan oil’s potential as a dietary supplement. (If you’re curious, evidence suggests that regular consumption of food-grade argan oil can boost the body’s antioxidant levels and improve cholesterol profile.) Since I couldn’t find any research on argan oil’s effect on skin, I decided to look for research on the oil’s individual components.

Zinn’s website lists argan oil’s impressive array of beneficial compounds (vitamin E, squalene, fatty acids, sterols, and phenolic antioxidants). I found plenty of studies that confirmed Zinn’s list, and even more studies on the topical effects of these components. Argan is similar in composition to other nut and seed oils frequently used in skincare, with a few notable exceptions:

Argan oil boasts an unusually high 5:1 ratio of gamma- to alpha-tocopherols (γ- and α- tocopherol are the two most prevalent forms of vitamin E in humans). This is a plus, because whereas high levels of α-tocopherol tend to deplete levels of γ-tocopherol, high levels of γ-tocopherol promote the accumulation of additional tocopherols. Gamma-tocopherol is also thought to have greater antioxidant and anti-cancer activity than the α- variety; this may account for some of argan’s potent antioxidant capacity. Tocopherols are thought to act synergistically with sterols, and argan oil contains a unique profile of two uncommon plant sterols that have demonstrated collagen-stimulating and potential anti-tumor effects.  Argan oil contains high concentrations of oleic and especially linoleic acids, which are both known to accelerate the inflammatory phase of wound healing.

These impressive constituents might explain the dramatic effect I observed after applying it to my brand-new burn. However, I don’t know that this benefit would be obtained if you used argan oil on scars that are already past the inflammatory stage. I used it on my face directly after cleansing for several weeks, but other than a bit of extra suppleness, I saw no difference in my acne scars or overall texture. I also tried using it on my hair as a leave-in and a shine booster (Lisa found it to be a good treatment for split ends), but my fine, dry waves were weighed down by even the tiniest amount. My favorite use for it was as a post-shower body moisturizer; applying the oil to damp, warm skin definitely increases its mileage and helps it absorb into the acid mantle of your skin. Likewise, using a few drops after washing my hands was much more effective than using it on dry skin. Marta loved Zinn’s Argan Smooth Body Milk ($25 in the TIA shop), which combines argan oil with emulsifiers like glyceryl stearate that make it more readily absorbed. Now that I'm down to about half the bottle, I'm planning to mix a few droppers full of the oil into a small jar of body lotion to extend it and make it more of an all-purpose, anytime moisturizer.

Ultimately, I enjoyed using Zinn’s argan oil and found it superior to other brands I’ve tried, but if I were to purchase anything from Zinn’s product line it would probably be their Smooth Body Milk. Not only did it get a glowing review from Marta, but I think it would provide the same healing, emollient qualities of argan oil in a more convenient form than the pure oil. As a company, Zinn gets a gold star for not making any outlandish product claims, for accurately listing argan oil’s active constituents, and for offering a high-quality, certified organic product. A great find, and a worthy addition to the TIA arsenal!