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By AMY LAROCCA
The New York Times – T Magazine
Published: November 18, 2007

Photo: Tara Darby

The road from Marrakesh to Essaouira is craggy and bleak, an arid moonscape dotted only by a few roadside towns and the occasional Berber village. In the ’60s and ’70s, Essaouira was a stop on the hash-filled hippie trek — land in Marrakesh, load up your magic bus and head west for the windswept beaches and clear blue waters of this former Portuguese fishing village. Back then, Jimi Hendrix made the pilgrimage, as did Bob Marley and Cat Stevens. Essaouira still has remnants of its boho past: crocheted Rasta beanies are sold alongside fezzes in the souk; surfers come to lap up the waves in what is now one of the world’s top windsurfing and kiteboarding spots; and a dilapidated fort, which legend has it was the inspiration for Hendrix’s “Castles Made of Sand” (he actually recorded the song nearly two years before touching down here), is just south of town.

In recent years, well-heeled Europeans have started to flee the more touristy Marrakesh for Essaouira, where they stay in luxurious riads in the medina and sunbathe on the pristine white beaches. The town has also developed a vibrant cultural life, with galleries, music festivals and souks filled with high-end artisanal crafts. You can pick up everything from carved wooden instruments to inlaid boxes here. The real find, however, is argan oil, made from the nuts of the argan tree, which grows almost exclusively in this region. The oil, which is said to have restorative and age-defying effects, has become one of the latest miracle ingredients in the beauty industry. High in vitamin E and essential fatty acids, it is believed to help all sorts of skin conditions: dry skin, acne, psoriasis, eczema, wrinkles. Moroccans slather it on their skin, hair, nails and even their babies. They eat it, too — drizzling it over salads and couscous, or using it to make amlou, a tahinilike spread of the oil, almonds and honey.

Approaching Essaouira’s sandy-colored ramparts, passing the olive groves and grazing donkeys, you see signs announcing women-run argan cooperatives: Argan Co-Op, Women’s Argan Collective, Miracle Oil. And so on. If you pull over to a cooperative, the Berber women — and it is only women who make argan oil — will often invite you in to watch them work. In most of the cooperatives, the older village women sit in the courtyard and work as the younger bilingual girls walk you around, giving a tutorial about the process. (Pull over too many times, though, and be prepared to hear all about the process again. And again.)
The nuts, which look like a cross between a walnut and an almond, are picked out of the fruit of the squat, gnarled argan trees that dot the yellow hills above Essaouira. Depending on the season, there might be goats up in the branches, munching on the fruit. The nuts destined for salad oil are roasted on an open flame over a large steel drum, like chestnuts, which brings out their distinctive peppery flavor; those that will be used for skin- and hair-care products are left raw.

The women first crack the shells with sharp stones. They then place the kernels between two Flintstone-size slabs of rock, grinding them into a brown paste, which resembles chunky peanut butter. The paste, kneaded by hand to extract the oil, transforms into a solid hunk and is sent to nearby factories, mainly in Agadir, where more oil is extracted by a press. Some is made into soaps, creams and shampoos, but it is the pure oil that is most sought after.

The souks of Essaouira are filled with little jars of argan oil that have suspicious locals rolling their eyes. “Vegetable oil,” they’ll warn you. (Check the bottle for provenance; if it has a cooperative’s name on the label, it’s probably authentic.) The best way to find the real deal is to follow the smell of roasted nuts that will lead you to the cooperatives.

Argan is not so new in Europe: English and French tourists have been bringing it back from Moroccan seaside vacations for years, and it’s all over the markets of Provence, lined up next to the lavender and olive oils. But now, thanks to the substantial efforts of the Moroccan King Mohammed VI (who has been praised for his efforts to promote women’s rights) and the local government, the oil is being exported worldwide, moving from the mud-and-stone co-ops into spas and Sephoras around the world.

Because the extraction of argan oil is a labor-intensive task perfected by the Berber women native to the area (it takes a few days to produce one liter), the government has established a fund for the cooperatives. Outside groups, like the government of Monaco, have gotten involved as backers. Women from the villages nearby are invited to work half days (so they can still tend to their families) in exchange for fair wages and good working conditions. Eventually, the cooperatives should pay for themselves. Unesco has designated the 10,000-square-mile argan-growing region as a biosphere reserve.

Meanwhile, more Western cosmetic companies are starting to distribute this “liquid gold,” as it is often called. Liz Earle, who runs an organic skin-care line in England, uses argan oil that she buys from two of the cooperatives in Essaouira in her Superskin Concentrate. “When I first found argan oil, I brought it back to the U.K. to have it analyzed,” says Earle, who forages the globe for raw ingredients. “It was so remarkably high in vitamin E and had these very interesting phytosterols, which are good for scar tissue and so many other things” — including, she says, that hard-to-define problem of lackluster skin.
But what Earle likes most about the oil is that the production passes the sustainability test and directly benefits the women who make it. “Culturally, what it does is good,” she says. “It provides income to a group that wouldn’t otherwise have it.”

Article from The New York Times – T Magazine
http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/11/18/travel/tmagazine/14get-sourcing-caps.html?_r=0
A version of this article appeared in print on November 18, 2007, on page 640 of the New York edition with the headline: Liquid Gold.

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Argan oil

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Argan Oil
“When I was in my 20’s, I had beautiful long thick shiny hair. When I got into my 40s, my hair is still thick, but it’s dry and lifeless. I didn’t know anything about Argan oil, but I found this site and read about the results other people were having. I gave it a try. I put it on after I took a shower my hair looks amazing, soft, bouncy and shiny after only one application! You only need a little bit. Put some on your hair tips and massage your scalp with it. If you have same hair problems like mine please don’t hesitate to try this product it is truly a miracle. Thank you so much.”

J. Davis (Tampa, FL)
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“I have rosacea and my skin is very sensitive. I am amazed at how soft this makes my skin feel and there’s no irritation at all. I also use a few drops to moisturize my arms and legs. Great product!”

K. Peterson (Lexington, KY)
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“I found argan oil several years ago, and have been using it as skin and hair moisturizer. What I really like is that argan oil adds a lot of moisture and shine to your skin or hair without ever making it look greasy and/or feel sticky and oily. Also, I have used this particular brand of the oil and find it of a very good quality. Highly recommended!!”

P. Liska (Huntingtown, MD)
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“I read the reviews and was excited when my Argan Oil arrived. It did miracles for my face and cleared my adult acne. It also helps alot with fine lines. I’m ordering a second bottle!”

I. Downey (Oklahoma City, OK)
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“I’ve been hearing great things about Agran oil and wanted to give it a try. My hair was dried out and this oil makes it manageable. It does hydrate the hair and make it shiny and healthy. When I got it, I put it on the ends of my hair and ran my hands throughout (not at the roots) and slept overnight. I shampooed and conditioned in the morning. It wasn’t a miracle, but it was the best experience that I’ve had with a simple product.”

S. Fromky (Jacksonville, FL)
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“I have very dry skin and the oil clears up the dry spots within minutes. It also gives my skin a really pretty healthy glow. I highly recommend it!”

M. Stanjesky (Spearman, TX)
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“I have very dry skin in the winter and after I cleanse my face, I put a drop of this and pat it into my skin… this is wonderful and I highly recommend it. You will not be disappointed. :)”

D. Dillon (Orday, CO)
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“After one of my friends started raving about Argan Oil, I knew I had to give it a try. Well, I did, I liked it so much I gave it to everyone for Christmas, from my mother in law, to my baby nephew with eczema! I love it for my face. I have the kind of combination skin that can feel tight and dry but have an oil slick on top. This oil absorbs quickly, doesn’t feel greasy, and hydrates so well that it balances your skin. I also had good results speeding up the healing on a cut, and shrinking a pimple breakout.”

M. Revner (Windom, MN)
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“I have mild to moderate adult acne with combination skin. Upon reading about all the benefits of Argan oil, I decided to try it for my acne as well as for anti-aging purposes. After about six weeks of using it, I realized my face had been unusually clear for a number of days. I still get a few pimples but not as many and the ones I do get seem to heal faster. My skin just looks better period. Like many acne sufferers I have tried numerous products for my acne with limited results. I am really surprised this worked so well. I totally did not expect it.”

D. Blackton (Lancaster, OH)
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“My skin looks much better and I realized it had to be the Argan oil as I have added nothing else to my current regimen, and my face looks great. So in total it has been about eight weeks now that I have been using the Argan oil and my skin looks better than it has in years.”

E. Louis (Norwich, NY)
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“All I do is add three to four drops of the argan oil to my moisturizer morning and night. My biggest fear with any new product that I use on my face is that it is going to break me out since I am acne prone (especially an oil!)–but that did not happen at all. Like many acne sufferers I have tried numerous products for my acne with limited results. I am really surprised this worked so well. I totally did not expect it.”

J. Nicole (Cartersville, GA)
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“I’ve been using this for the past 3 days. The product is superb and already my skin feels brighter and smoother. I’ve usually been very skeptical of such products but this has been a rare find. I use this oil in combination with Jojoba oil to control my acne.”

B. Lewis (Scottsdale, AZ)

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Chaacoca Shine Finishing Mist
• With certified Moroccan organic argan oil and keratin
• Gives all hair types a lustrous shine
• Instantly smoothes fly-aways
• Color protection
• Alcohol free
• For all hair types
• Sulfate, phosphate, and paraben free

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Chaacoca conditioner benefits
• Daily moisture/repair
• With certified Moroccan organic argan oil and keratin
• Very rich in fatty acids and proteins
• Gently cleanses, nourishes, and restores moisture to hair
• Replenishes shine and resilience
• Calms frizz without weighing hair down
• For chemical-treated and over stressed hair
• Color safe
• For all hair types
• Sulfate, phosphate, and paraben free

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Benefits of Chaacoca Shampoo
• Daily moisture/repair
• With certified Moroccan organic argan oil and keratin
• Very rich in fatty acids and proteins
• Gently cleanses, nourishes, and restores thickness and fullness to hair
• Replenishes shine and resilience
• Calms frizz without weighing hair down
• For chemical-treated and over stressed hair
• Color safe
• For all hair types
• Sulfate, phosphate, and paraben free

Read Full Post »