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) ^

{ 8 Comments }

  1. pwxyc says

    OMG…. I actually read your post before using argan oil. I never thought it would really triggers acne.
    After 3 months of use I’m dead…I have pimples basically every inch of my face and I thought it’s in the ‘purging’ phrase. Such an idiot. I’ve got so many cystic acne I never got before. and I even have acne popping up at the eyebrows and also on my eyelid!!! OMG!

    I was wondering why it wouldn’t stop! After I stop using it for 1 day my acne stopped getting inflamed! and in these 3 months my skin has been completely ruined…

  2. Heather Figueroa says

    What about using argan oil just for hair? Will the peroxidized/oxidized polyunsaturated fats harm the hair? Will I get any benefit from it if I do use it?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Heather! You could try it – I used Morrocco Method shampoo for a while, which may have argan oil in it, certainly has other plant oils in it. Don’t think that caused any problems, but not sure. I had a few zits on my shoulders that I thought were due to fluoride detox from megadosing kelp and dulse (iodine), but they could have been from the shampoo. I’m currently going no-poo, just rinsing my hair well with warm water, and allowing my scalp to better regulate natural oil production.

  3. Niki says

    Hey,

    Interesting post. I’d never come across that about lipid peroxidation before. It was my understanding that high PUFA oil was optimal for skin prone to acne, because the sebum of acne sufferers is low in linoleic acid, which PUFAs help to address & so help lessen or prevent breakouts (in conjunction with diet & lifestyle changes, of course).

    I’ve personally had some success with using the oil cleansing method with hemp oil, which is really high in PUFAs. My skin isn’t completely clear but it’s way better than it has been. I think mine is largely stress related though. But it’s definitely the best way of cleaning my face that I’ve found so far.

    So yeah, not quite sure what to make of it really as it’s the opposite of what I’ve read elsewhere & also contrary to my own experience. But we’re all different I guess, what works for some just doesn’t for everyone.

    Great site by the way, been trawling through the articles & there’s so much helpful information here. Thanks for sharing! 😃

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Niki! Glad you’re enjoying some of the articles on the blog here, really helps to hear your kind words! 🙂

      From my understanding, sebum of acne sufferers is actually low in *saturated* fatty acids, compared to people with clear skin. AFAIK there isn’t supposed to be much PUFA in healthy sebum. This is the only full-text article I could find talking about sebum composition at the moment:

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4507494/

      Do you have any other links showing higher PUFA content in healthy sebum? Would love to read if so!

      As far as I know, there aren’t many human cultures across the millennia that have relied substantially on PUFA as a large portion of the diet. Especially not refined/processed/oxidized PUFA – that’s a pretty recent player on the diet field. Saturated and monounsaturated fats have played a much larger role in the human diet. I think it’s telling that the healthier an animal is (e.g. grass-fed vs. grain-fed), the more saturated their fat tends to become (and less PUFA/MUFA).

      At the end of the day, results are what matter – I see methodological flaws in most nutrition studies I read, so I can’t go by those alone. But results tell us that vegetable oils tend to trigger acne, especially the more processed, heated, oxidized, etc. they are. Makes sense when viewed through the lipid peroxidation theory lens. Highly saturated fats like coconut, grass-fed animal fats, raw dairy fats, etc. seem to cause no acne whatsoever (aside from beneficial iodine-induced fluoride detoxification acne from raw milk!).

      Thoughts?

  4. Niki says

    Hey,

    Interesting post. I’d never come across that about lipid peroxidation before. It was my understanding that high PUFA oil was optimal for skin prone to acne, because the sebum of acne sufferers is low in linoleic acid, which PUFAs help to address & so help lessen prevent breakouts (in conjunction with diet & lifestyle changes, of course).

    I’ve personally had some success with using the oil cleansing method with hemp oil, which is really high in PUFAs. My skin isn’t completely clear but it’s way better than it has been. I think mine is largely stress related though. But it’s definitely the best way of cleaning my face that I’ve found so far.

    So yeah, not quite sure what to make of it really as it’s the opposite of what I’ve read elsewhere & also contrary to my own experience. But we’re all different I guess, what works for some just doesn’t for everyone.

    Great site by the way, been trawling through the articles & there’s so much helpful information here. Thanks for sharing! 😃

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Niki! Glad you’re enjoying some of the articles on the blog here, really helps to hear your kind words! 🙂

      From my understanding, sebum of acne sufferers is actually low in *saturated* fatty acids, compared to people with clear skin. AFAIK there isn’t supposed to be much PUFA in healthy sebum. This is the only full-text article I could find talking about sebum composition at the moment:

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4507494/

      Do you have any other links showing higher PUFA content in healthy sebum? Would love to read if so!

      As far as I know, there aren’t many human cultures across the millennia that have relied substantially on PUFA as a large portion of the diet. Especially not refined/processed/oxidized PUFA – that’s a pretty recent player on the diet field. Saturated and monounsaturated fats have played a much larger role in the human diet. I think it’s telling that the healthier an animal is (e.g. grass-fed vs. grain-fed), the more saturated their fat tends to become (and less PUFA/MUFA).

      At the end of the day, results are what matter – I see methodological flaws in most nutrition studies I read, so I can’t go by those alone. But results tell us that vegetable oils tend to trigger acne, especially the more processed, heated, oxidized, etc. they are. Makes sense when viewed through the lipid peroxidation theory lens. Highly saturated fats like coconut, grass-fed animal fats, raw dairy fats, etc. seem to cause no acne whatsoever (aside from beneficial iodine-induced fluoride detoxification acne from raw milk!).

      Thoughts?

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