Argan Oil and Acne: How It Can Make Breakouts Worse

A beautiful bottle of argan oil. Don’t put this on your skin, though!

Argan oil is HOT right now.

It’s the new jojoba oil.

It’s touted as one of the safest moisturizers for your skin – that is, the least likely to trigger pore-clogging and breakouts.

Is that really true, though? Or does it cause more harm to your skin than benefit?

Let’s dive into it!

What is argan oil, anyway?

Argan oil is, quite simply, the oil pressed from the nut of the argan tree, which is native to Morocco.

The oil is roasted for cooking or eating, but is kept raw for cosmetic purposes (mainly as a skin moisturizer).

What’s it made of that makes it so special?

Argan oil is mainly made up of, well, oil. Here’s the fatty acid breakdown:

  • 18% saturated (SFA)
  • 46% monounsaturated (MUFA)
  • 36% polyunsaturated (PUFA)red flag for acne!

That 37% polyunsaturated fat is what I think ultimately is the downfall of argan oil. But we’ll get to that in a minute! First, let’s look at the benficial stuff in argan oil.

It’s got a good amount of vitamin E, which protects the skin from lipid peroxidation. Lipid peroxidation is the oxidative breakdown of delicate unsaturated fats, especially PUFA, and I believe it is one of the main acne triggers for most people. So theoretically, argan oil might be beneficial for acne because of the vitamin E content. (One study found an improvement in skin elasticity after applying argan oil topically.[1] ) I don’t think the theoretical anti-acne effects really bear out in reality, though, as I’ll explain shortly.

Argan oil also contains carotenes, squalene (a natural component of your skin sebum), and antioxidant polyphenols such as catechins, caffeic acid, and vanillic acid. These polyphenols, especially, might also help protect the skin from acne (theoretically).

The problem is, again, the huge amount of polyunsaturated fat in argan oil (37%).

Look! It’s a goat in an argan tree! Does it have acne from eating all those argan nuts, I wonder? 😛

What’s the problem with PUFA in argan oil?

Polyunsatured fats are extremely vulnerable to a process called lipid peroxidation, wherein the fatty acids break down into harmful lipid peroxidation end-products like malondialdehyde (MDA) and thiobarbituric acids (TBARS). These basically act like shards of glass to your cells, tearing cell membranes and damaging mitochondria, the cell’s energy factories. This causes deep and widespread damage to all of the body’s tissues. Lipid peroxidation underlies most chronic diseases of Western civilization, including inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, aging, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and cancer.[2] [3] [4] [5]

And I believe it is one of the most powerful triggers of acne, by damaging sebocytes and triggering inflammation and cystic acne.

Now, theoretically, the vitamin E and polyphenol content of argan oil should protect the PUFA from lipid peroxidation, but this protection only lasts for so long. Eventually, the vitamin E and antioxidants get used up, and then the PUFA continues to peroxidize and break down.

One study found that cosmetic argan oil becomes excessively oxidized after just 7 months of storage at 25ºC (77ºF).[6] Yikes!

Now, if you were pressing argan nuts yourself into argan oil, then using it on your skin right after, it might be totally fine, even beneficial, for your acne.

But how many months ago do you think that argan oil you bought on Amazon was pressed? How long did it spend crossing the Atlantic in a super-heated shipping container blasted by sun? How long did it spend in warm warehouses and shipping depots before it reached you? Then how long does it take you to use up the bottle?

I’m going to guess those delicate PUFAs are heavily peroxidized by the time you open the bottle.

When you put already-peroxidized PUFAs onto your skin, you basically dump fuel oil on an already-simmering fires of acne. On top of that, whatever PUFA isn’t yet peroxidized might soon become so when it reacts with iron, fluoride, oxygen, heat, or other pro-oxidants in your skin. That’s a recipe for acne, and a really bad idea in my book!

Quite simply, I think the amount of PUFA in argan oil more than outweighs the beneficial vitamin E and antioxidants. Even if the argan oil was freshly pressed yesterday, I still wouldn’t use it, due to the likelihood of that PUFA peroxidizing on my skin and triggering acne, despite the vitamin E and polyphenol content. It’s kind of a moot point, since those of us outside of Morocco don’t have access to fresh-pressed argan oil anyway.

Moroccan women making fresh argan oil.

What moisturizer should I use instead?

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I’m going to say none.

The best, safest, most effective moisturizer you will ever get is absolutely free, because it’s your skin’s natural sebum! Provided, that is, that you follow a CSF-style diet as outlined in our book. (Otherwise, you’ll end up with excess PUFA and free fatty acids in your sebum, which leads to acne via lipid peroxidation).

What most people do is strip off their natural skin oil with soap and cleansers, which dries the heck out of your skin, forcing you to apply some kind of moisturizer (like argan oil), which ends up causing acne. Sound familiar?

Jojoba oil, rosehip seed oil, etc. are all subject to the same problems as argan oil, and none of them are as well-suited to your skin as your natural skin sebum.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Nature is beautiful, ain’t it?

Why would the oil from some Moroccan tree nut be better for our skin than our skin’s natural sebum? Where’s the logic in that?

You can trace this all back to the awful hubris inherent in the reductionist view of human physiology. We cannot do better than nature, and we end up causing far more problems than we solve when we try to replace one of our body’s natural systems that has been under development for millions of years (and is FREE) with some fancy-schmancy hipster oil that can earn someone a tidy profit on Amazon, and cost you good money.

Devin’s recommended skin care approach

Again, this might be an unpopular approach, but based on my own experience and feedback from hundreds of readers of the CSF book, I recommend not using any topical oils or moisturizers at all.

I know this sounds crazy, but hundreds of CSF book readers have found that this “do nothing” approach to skin care is the last thing they needed to do to totally clear their acne, after fixing all the diet stuff.

Simply don’t wash your face with soap or cleansers – EVER – and your skin will naturally produce the right amount of sebum. Not too little, not too much.

When you strip off this natural sebum, your skin has to over-compensate and produce more sebum, leading to an oily – dry – oily – dry cycle that’s impossible to get out of, so you end up just having to manage it your best with costly products like argan oil.

Unfortunately, when you stop washing your face and using moisturizers, it can take 2-4 weeks for your skin’s sebum production to normalize.

Also, remember that your skin’s natural sebum will cause acne if you have a diet and lifestyle that leads to excess PUFA excretion via sebum, and resultant lipid peroxidation. You must address the internal diet and lifestyle causes of acne in order to start pumping out high-quality, skin-protecting, acne-banishing sebum.

What about eating argan oil?

A few studies have found benefits from eating argan oil[7] – such as reducing oxidative stress and LDL cholesterol[8] [9] , and improving skin elasticity in menopausal women[9] – but I still don’t recommend eating argan oil, due to the high PUFA content. Unless you’re in Morocco, and have access to extremely fresh-pressed argan oil, in which case the high vitamin E and antioxidant content would probably make it beneficial.

In general, though, I think it’s best to avoid major food sources of PUFA, and reduce PUFA intake as much as possible. This is based on personal experience, much reading and research, and feedback from dozens of CSF book readers.

Our world abounds with pro-oxidants like iron, fluoride, pesticides, dioxin, and other environmental toxins and contaminants – these things are all very good at oxidizing PUFA. So it doesn’t make sense to add fuel to that fire with lots of PUFA in the diet.

Keep PUFA low, and ALSO be smart about reducing your pro-oxidant load (for instance, by eating an anti-inflammatory diet and following the holistic acne-clearing approach in our book).

Key Takeaways

  • Argan oil has a lot of vitamin E and antioxidant polyphenols, which theoretically could help acne.
  • Unfortunately, it also has a lot of PUFA (polyunsaturated fats), which are extremely suspectible to lipid peroxidation, which is one of the main triggers of acne.
  • Argan oil’s PUFA degrades rapidly at room temperature, reaching excessive oxidation after only 7 months at 77ºF (25ºC).
  • The argan oil you buy on Amazon, or at the grocery store, is probably older than 7 months already, and might have been shipped and stored in shipping containers, trucks, and warehouses much hotter than 77ºF (25ºC).
  • The best moisturizer is your skin’s natural sebum, provided you follow a skin-clearing diet like the CSF approach. If you don’t, like most people, you run the risk of high PUFA excretion through your sebum, combined with excess pro-oxidant load from iron, fluoride, environmental toxins, etc., which is a recipe for acne.
  • You also need to stop stripping off your skin’s natural sebum with soap and cleansers, to allow your sebum to stay where it belongs (on your skin). This means avoiding soap and cleansers on your face, permanently. (I have not used either on my skin in 5+ years.)
  • As we’ve been saying for 7+ years, focusing on the internal root triggers of acne is the most effective approach for getting rid of acne for good. Pursuing a skin-clearing diet and lifestyle should be your number one priority! Get our master guide to clearing acne here.
Sources (click to expand)

  1. Boucetta KQ, Charrouf Z, Aguenaou H, Derouiche A, Bensouda Y. The effect of dietary and/or cosmetic argan oil on postmenopausal skin elasticity. Clin Interv Aging. 2015;10:339-49. (link) ^
  2. Ramana KV, Srivastava S, Singhal SS. Lipid peroxidation products in human health and disease 2014. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2014;2014:162414. (link) ^
  3. Ramana KV, Srivastava S, Singhal SS. Lipid peroxidation products in human health and disease. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2013;2013:583438. (link) ^
  4. Romero FJ, Bosch-morell F, Romero MJ, et al. Lipid peroxidation products and antioxidants in human disease. Environ Health Perspect. 1998;106 Suppl 5:1229-34. (link) ^
  5. Tirosh O, Shpaizer A, Kanner J. Lipid Peroxidation in a Stomach Medium Is Affected by Dietary Oils (Olive/Fish) and Antioxidants: The Mediterranean versus Western Diet. J Agric Food Chem. 2015;63(31):7016-23. (link) ^
  6. Gharby S, Harhar H, Kartah B, et al. Oxidative stability of cosmetic argan oil: a one-year study. J Cosmet Sci. 2014;65(2):81-7. (link) ^
  7. Seiquer I, Rueda A, Olalla M, Cabrera-vique C. Assessing the bioavailability of polyphenols and antioxidant properties of extra virgin argan oil by simulated digestion and Caco-2 cell assays. Comparative study with extra virgin olive oil. Food Chem. 2015;188:496-503. (link) ^
  8. Haimeur A, Messaouri H, Ulmann L, et al. Argan oil prevents prothrombotic complications by lowering lipid levels and platelet aggregation, enhancing oxidative status in dyslipidemic patients from the area of Rabat (Morocco). Lipids Health Dis. 2013;12:107. (link) ^
  9. Drissi A, Girona J, Cherki M, et al. Evidence of hypolipemiant and antioxidant properties of argan oil derived from the argan tree (Argania spinosa). Clin Nutr. 2004;23(5):1159-66. (link) ^

{ 16 Comments }

  1. Kris says

    Hi Devin,
    Great research, thank you for linking the sources. I’ve suffered with back acne for years. I eat a mostly plant based diet, so I’d call myself a flexitarian (95% plants, 5% grass fed-organic animal). Before that I did mostly Paleo, therefore lots of fresh plants, but still a lot of organic meat/poultry.
    From recent testing, I have low iron stores (ferritin), normal iron (since I suppliment), and low iodine (I now supplement—-boyfriend has shellfish allergy…). I take vitamine A and Magnesium as well.
    I’m game to try anything thats humane and organic even if its not a plant based suppliment, but I would be interested in the Frankin-rice you mentioned since I try to avoid dairy due to an intolerance (causes me inflammation and IgG testing shows markers). If the colostrum is derived from cows or colostrum is from humans, wouldn’t in theory the human one be closer to what we need? Albeit odd to consider!!
    I’ve also looked for a non-bovine ferritin supplement, but it seems I may need to take the bovine one as the plant ones are just more iron (leading to excess). I just want to be humane in my choices, with no added hormones from the cows, etc. With all that said—I’m open to anything—as my skin and other health issues are the number one priority! Any product tips would be greatly appreciated. I use Pure Encapsulations too. 😊 Thank you!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Kris! Sorry for the epic delay on this, I haven’t checked blog comments in a long time. My fault!

      How low is your ferritin? Did you get liver enzymes checked? It’s quite possible to have low ferritin, but also have an overload of unusable iron stored up in your liver. Taking additional iron supplements on top of that, if that’s the case, isn’t a very good idea. Liver enzymes (and/or GGT) can help point to iron overload in the liver. (See my iron article for more info on tests.)

      What kind of iron are you supplementing with?

      Doubt you’ll find human-sourced colostrum, though it’s an interesting idea! 🙂

      Are you interested in lactoferrin for reducing your iron levels, or for boosting your ferritin? There are definitely other, more effective ways of modulating ferritin, I think (see the iron article linked above for way more info on all the iron stuff, including why I think many people may have an iron overload problem even if ferritin levels don’t show it). I’d target the iron-utilization-boosting nutrients listed in the iron article, personally.

      Also, how much iodine are you taking? What form?

      Finally, have you thought about A2 milk as a skin-safe dairy option, that would give you some lactoferrin in a whole food form?

  2. Donna says

    I actually test low for iron. My Tibc, Total Iron, Iron Saturation, and Ferritin are all low.
    It was recommended for me to take Lactoferrin with an iron supplement to properly increase my iron.
    I’m confused about your article because it makes me second guess my situation. You don’t believe ANYONE is actually low in iron?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Donna! How low are we talking on these numbers?

      I definitely think there are a small number of people who are actually low in iron, but I think it’s probably a lot fewer people than most doctors think. Often, if you have iron dysregulation, excess iron gets stored up in your liver, which doesn’t show up one these blood tests. If you’re lacking in one of the co-factors necessary to use iron properly (vitamin A, molybdenum, vitamin C, copper, ceruloplasmin, vitamin B12, etc.), you can get excess iron deposits in the liver combined with low circulating iron. When you add a plain iron supplement on top of that, without addressing the deficient co-factors, you can worsen the problem. Did you happen to get your liver enzymes and/or GGT tested? That can sometimes indicate excess iron storage in the liver. But keep in mind I have zero clinical experience in all this and just going based on the all the research I’ve read (and my own iron overload problem).

  3. jay,s says

    hi, suffering from acne for 20 years and a rediculolus amount of money spent on “solutions”i tried a newer supplement that’s called acne block that contains lactoferrin,found it on amazon.. it actually was/is one of the only supplements I have tried that actually helped..

    • Devin Mooers says

      Great to hear you got good results from lactoferrin! The science is sound behind why it works, helping to reduce iron overload. Good stuff.

  4. Sara says

    Would eating liver or taking a dessicated liver supplement cause iron overload? I would like to get more vitamin A, but am concerned about the extra iron I would be getting.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sara! Wise to be cautious about this. Do you have reason to suspect you have existing iron overload? Curious about that, I’ve suspected that in myself for a while now, and have been avoiding liver for that reason. I’m taking Pure Encapsulations vitamin A instead.

    • Sarah says

      Suggesting vegans/Vegetarians have a greater risk of iron deficiency is incorrect. There are at least as many meat-eaters as vege people deficient in Iron. Meat is not an efficient source of iron for human beings. Cutting out animal products goes along way in clearing up acne.

      • Devin Mooers says

        Hey Sarah! I actually agree with your first point now, but differ in the second. I think many people, vegeterians and meat-eaters, have an iron overload problem. This is pretty new to me, but the research seems sound. Turns out you can have anemia AND iron overload, due to iron getting deposited in your liver, but a lack of nutrients that are required to put iron into hemoglobin, like vitamin C, vitamin A, molybdenum, and copper. I also think the research strongly points to heme iron from meat being an excellent source of iron – much more absorbable than plant iron – but I now think eating too much meat leads to iron overload, because your body can’t shut off absorption from heme iron like it can from plant iron. If you’re curious to learn more, I just posted a huge article on iron and acne two days ago:

        Iron and Acne

        I think this is really an unusual perspective, and the opposite of what most people will tell you! Curious to hear your thoughts! 🙂 (I’m actually eating mostly vegetarian these days, due to trying to reverse my iron overload problem, and, yes, the environmental impact.)

  5. Taylor says

    So if I maintain a Paleo/Whole 30 diet that includes high quality meats and seafoods and I do not eat any of the iron-fortified foods or foods that inhibit lactoferrin – my body should be creating lactoferrin on it’s own in a healthy manner and I likely do not need to supplement it, correct?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Yep, exactly! Historical iron overload can be an issue, less so for menstruating women due to the continual iron dumping outlet. Bloodletting was effective back in the day for many diseases due to iron removal! Men don’t have such a built-in iron removal system (perhaps explaining why men tend to live shorter lives than women – iron buildup!). I’m not 100% sure how effective lactoferrin supplementation is for addressing built-up iron overload. Morley Robbins (gotmag.org) is the guy to read about on all the iron issues.

  6. Christina says

    I’m confused. I was just about to purchase some FCLO for my teen daughter to help her with her acne and now I stumbled across your reply where you state you no longer recommend FCLO! Why the change?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Christina! Sorry about the confusion here – I wish we could keep the same recommendations forever, but our knowledge (and the science, and reader experience, etc.) forces us to change our recommendations now and then, and it’s hard to change everywhere all at once! We changed this recommendation because FCLO is basically pure PUFA (polyunsaturated fat), which is more susceptible to lipid peroxidation than other fats, and this is a major contributor to acne, we now believe (lipid peroxidation). The vitamin A in FCLO tends to be very beneficial, but you can get that vitamin A from eating liver, taking desiccated liver capsules, or taking a vitamin A supplement such as this one by Pure Encapsulations. We now think it’s best to reduce the total body load of PUFA as much as possible, rather than trying to boost omega-3s, for instance. Does this make sense?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sam! That’s actually a really good idea. We currently do not recommend taking FCLO or cod liver oil – we’ve updated our book but haven’t found the time yet to update our cod liver oil blog post – we’ll do that soon! We recommend taking desiccated liver capsules or eating grass-fed liver regularly, or taking a vitamin A supplement like this one:

      Pure Encapsulations Vitamin A 10,000 IU

      Taking vitamin E is a great PUFA defense strategy when you’re eating out at restaurants or for some reason consume a large amount of PUFA. We’re working on a “PUFA Shield” supplement that incorporates full-spectrum E along with some other lipid peroxidation blockers to make it easier for travelers, folks who eat out a lot, etc. to avoid the worst PUFA effects on acne.

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