Ximenia Americana

I just love the current trend of blending exotic botanical oils with synthetic ingredients to create truly modern, innovative products. In many cases, these types of formulations achieve improved performance over both "all-natural" and "all-synthetic" types of products. Another benefit of incorporating these botanical oils into products is that they are often obtained via fair trade practices and provide an important economic boost to the local economies from which they are harvested and processed. Solvent-free processes are also the preferred method for extracting these oils, which makes them an environmentally friendly choice. Two of the more unusual exotic oils that are being incorporated into products now are ximenia oil and argan oil.

Ximenia fruit

Ximenia Oil

Ximenia oil is obtained from the seed kernel of the Ximenia Americana, a small tree or shrub found in the woodlands and savannahs of Southern Africa ranging from Namibia to Zimbabwe. The trees bear fruit known as monkey plums, sour plums, or wild plums. Extraction of the oil can be accomplished using various techniques, but commercially available ximenia oil is usually processed using eco-friendly, solvent- and GMO-free methods.

The fatty acid composition of ximenia oil is dominated by monounsaturated fatty acids, with the major component being oleic acid. The remainder of the fatty acids are longer chain monounsaturated fatty acids and a small percentage of medium chain saturated fatty acids. This molecular composition of ximenia oil makes it a very attractive ingredient for use in products such as skin moisturizers, hair conditioning products, and hair styling agents.

oleic acid

Oleic acid, which comprises approximately 50% of the oil, is a shorter chain fatty acid that can penetrate into the cuticle of hair strands, as can stearic and palmitic acid. The long chain monounsaturated fatty acid molecules remain on the surface of hair, and make hair soft, shiny, and easier to comb. As they are organic fatty acids, they can attract dirt to the hair and so should be removed more often than some of the newer synthetic polymers, such as silicones and fluoropolymers, which repel dirt. The good news is that although these fatty acids are not water soluble, they are sufficiently small molecules that conditioner washing or washing with mild shampoos should be effective in removing them from the hair.

Argan oil

Argan oil is obtained from the fruit of the ancient Argania Spinosa, a tree indigenous to the arid climate of southwestern Morocco. The tree, which dates back to the Tertiary period (about 1.5 million years ago), is an invaluable component of the local ecosystem, as it helps prevent erosion due to wind and rain, and protects the area from the ever-encroaching Sahara desert. Argan oil has been harvested and used in the region for thousands of years for both cosmetic and culinary purposes. Sadly, in recent years there has been a dramatic decline in the Argan tree population due to both the chopping down of trees for firewood and over-grazing of goat herds.

Argania Spinosa

Fortunately, the formation of cooperatives by Berber women has resulted in an international endeavor to protect and save this very important natural resource. The cooperatives are aimed at educating the local populace as to the value and import of the Argan tree as well as making a concerted effort to commercialize of Argan oil. The oil is extracted using organically-certified eco-friendly techniques and is done using a sustainable business model. The monies obtained by the cooperative go back into the community to provide education for tribal women and children, to contribute toward reforestation, and to benefit the rural Moroccan socioeconomic structure as a whole.

Argan oil is a unique composition of fatty acids, proteins, polyphenolics (antioxidants), tocopherol (Vitamin E), phytosterols, and a rare component - squalene. This mixture of active substances gives argan oil many beneficial properties for both skin and hair. The fatty acid content of Argan oil is primarily (~80%) a mixture of oleic acid (monounsaturated fatty acid) and linoleic acid (polyunsaturated fatty acid), with two saturated fatty acids making up the other 20%. when Argan oil is incorporated into a hair conditioner or styling product, the monounsaturated fatty acid component (oleic) and the medium chain saturated fatty acids are able to penetrate the cuticle, which helps increase the suppleness and elasticity of the hair. The polyunsaturated fatty acid remains on the surface of the hair, where it is able to provide emollience and softness. A current product manufacturer has shared with NaturallyCurly.com that they are combining Argan oil with silicone in their products, and that the silicone acts as a seal on the exterior of the hair to keep the Argan oil inside the hair, where it can provide longer-lasting benefits. This is a fascinating application of mixing modern ingredients with ancient ones in order to achieve a superior product.

What should we expect from these oils?

Both ximenia and argan oil have very similar fatty acid profiles to mango butter, avocado oil, and olive oil, all of which are valued for their ability to soften dry tresses. For this reason, if you have experienced success with those oils on your hair or skin, you may expect to see similar results from ximenia and argan oil. However, as we discussed in a previous article (Butters and Oils), if your hair is extremely porous, you may experience unpleasant effects from products containing these oils, as your hair may absorb too much of them. So if you enjoy these oils or products that contain them, just try using a little less quantity if you encounter problems such as frizz or unpleasant texture to your hair. If either of these work well for you and you can make your own products or find a ready-crafted product that you enjoy, you can not only enjoy your silky hair, but you can also feel satisfied that you are contributing to the local environment, economy, and social structure of several indigenous tribes in Africa.

Table: Comparison of Fatty acid composition of Ximenia and Argan Oils to other common botanical oils

Vegetable Butter or Oil Fatty Acids (total may be <100%)
Ximenia Oil Oleic acid

Monounsaturated

45-55%

Octacosenoic, Tetracosenoic acid

Monounsaturated

long chain

8-12% each

Hexacosenoic acid

Monounsaturated

Long chain

6-8%

Cerotic, Lignoceric, Linolenic,Linoleic, Erucic Acids

Monounsaturated fatty acids

Long chain

1-3% each

Stearic acid, Palmitic acid

saturated

1-3% each

Argan Oil Oleic acid

Monounsaturated

43%

Linoleic acid

Polyunsaturated

37%

Palmitic acid

Saturated

12%

Stearic acid

Saturated

6%

Mango Butter Oleic acid

Monounsaturated

40-50%

Linoleic acid

Polyunsaturated

5-8%

Palmitic acid

Saturated

5-8%

Stearic acid

Saturated

5-8%

Arachidic

saturated

1-4%

Shea Butter Stearic acid

Saturated

85-90%

Oleic acid

Monounsaturated

5-10%

Palmitic acid

Saturated

minor component

Linoliec acid

Polyunaturated

long chain

minor component

Arachidic

saturated

long chain

minor component

Avocado Oil Oleic acid

Monounsaturated

55-75%

Palmitic acid

Saturated

9-20%

Linoleic acid

Polyunsaturated

long chain

10-15%

Palmitoleic acid

Monounsaturated

2-10%

Stearic acid

saturated

long chain

0.1-2%

Coconut Oil Lauric acid

Saturated

shorter chain

45%

Myristic acid

saturated

17%

Palmitic acid

Saturated

8%

Caprylic acid

saturated

8%

Linoleic acid & oleic acid

unsaturated

5-10% total

Olive Oil Oleic Acid

Monounsaturated

55-85%

Linoleic acid

Polyunsaturated

9%

Linoleic acid

Polyunsaturated

2%

Jojoba Oil Eicosenoic acid

Monounsaturated

69%

Erucic acid

Monounsaturated

16%

Oleic acid

Monounsaturated

10%

Almond Oil Oleic Acid

Monounsaturated

65%

Linoleic acid

Polyunsaturated

25%

Palmitic acid

Saturated

6-7%

Stearic acid

Saturated

1-2%