As a cosmetic chemist with experience in product development and innovation in the beauty industry, I am always trying to predict what is the next big thing. Since the dawn of time, we have reaped the benefits of adorning our skin and hair in natural oils. The Egyptians and Greeks did it, and now curly women everywhere cannot get enough of it! At the turn of the century, we started to see a big push for olive oil-based products. More recently, argan oil has been trending amongst some of the more popular brands, but we would not be true beauty enthusiasts if we were not already trying to get our hands on the next miracle beauty elixir. As I “insta-stalk” my favorite brands and peruse the aisles of Sephora, I have been noticing a number of brands starting to catch marula fever.
What is Marula Oil?
Marula oil originates from the marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea), which is most commonly found in the southern regions of Africa. This tree produces fruit and nuts. The marula nut falls into the Anacardiaceae family, which basically means a type of cashew. These nuts can be eaten raw or roasted for heightened flavor. However, when the nut is cracked open, you will find the truly valuable part – the kernel. There is more value placed on the marula kernel because it is a difficult and time-consuming process to crack the nut open to remove the kernel, which is then used to extract oil that is used for cosmetic, medicinal, and nutritional purposes.
While the oil is extracted from kernels of the nuts, the fruit is used to make juice or wine. In traditional African cultures, the leaves and branches are used for natural healing remedies and to make tea. It is a tradition in many African cultures to give the kernels away to friends and neighbors as gifts. I enjoy the rich history behind this particular tree because it symbolizes the strong community of women that we have created to celebrate curly and coily hair.
Breaking it Down
Cultures that hold marula oil in such high regard are on to something! The magical oil that these kernels produce is approximately 70% oleic acid content (omega-9 acid) and very high in other fatty acids, making it extremely penetrable into the skin. The high levels of this monounsaturated fatty acid make it rapidly absorbing, while the saturated fatty acids, such as palmitic acid, help to create a moisture-trapping barrier around the hair shaft. Also, this combination adds slip to prevent tangling and smooths the cuticle to enhance shine. The fatty acid composition makes it very similar to olive oil, so that tells you it has to be pretty good.
But wait…there is more! Marula oil also has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. This means that it can aid in killing the bacteria that causes infections and flare-ups of the skin. A number of people who experience symptoms of psoriasis or eczema claim that marula oil has helped to soothe their flare-ups. It also helps that it is rich in vitamins C and E and can be used to soothe burns and reduce scaring. This, combined with its concentrated levels of anti-oxidants like tocopherol, helps to fight free radicals, which are thought to be one of the leading causes of wrinkles and skin aging. The higher levels of oleic acid and antioxidants in marula oil give it a slight edge over argan oil.
How to Use It
Since marula oil is highly penetrable into the skin, absorbs quickly, and has anti-inflammatory properties, I recommend that this product be used as a hot oil or scalp treatment to retain moisture, treat the hair follicle, and reduce itchy or flaky scalp. It can also be beneficial when used as moisturizing hair oil due to its light consistency. It will instantly improve the hair’s softness and moisture retention without remaining too greasy or weighing the hair down. Of course, marula oil will also be an added benefit to any type of cream-based formulas for the skin and hair promoting moisturizing properties.
Now that you are more informed on the many benefits of marula oil, the next time you see this name pop out at you from the shelf, you may decide that this is something you might want to test out on your next product junkie binge.
Do you currently use marula oil in your regimen? What are your thoughts?
If you have more questions about natural oils for the hair, visit me at SisterScientist.com to keep the conversation going.