Hey there, Alabaster Babes!
We’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about plant oils that we will not use for ethical reasons. In particular, our pledge to not use argan oil in any of our products. We’re here to set the record straight, from a global standpoint.
Our commercial beauty competitors may praise you for buying their products containing argan oil, and boast how your purchase is supporting Moroccan women. Where this is an accurate statement, the sad truth is, this is only half of the coin. In fact, the global demand for argan oil is so high that its sustainability is in danger, despite reforestation efforts. Let’s talk about it.
Ladies, and Argan Oil
Argan oil is one of the rarest oils in the world, due to the small, very specific growing areas and limited production. Argan oil is produced from the kernels of the argan tree (Argania spinosa L.) that is endemic (unique to its geographical location) to Morocco. The argan tree once covered Northern Africa, it is now endangered and under the protection of UNESCO. The production of argan oil is a lengthy process. Each nut has to be cracked open to remove the kernels, and it is said that producing one litre of oil takes 20 hours’ work. The majority of Argan oil sold today is claimed to be produced by the Tighanimine Cooperative, the world’s first Fairtrade-certified women’s argan oil cooperative, that shares the profits among the local women of the Berber tribe. This money is in fact providing healthcare and education to the local women, and supporting the entire community as a whole. These are the good things.
Now for the Other Side of that Coin
Notice how we mentioned that most sales of argan oil are claimed to be sourced from the Tighanimine Cooperative. The “gold rush” of argan oil has predictably made households vigilant guardians of these endangered trees. It is important to keep in mind that demand for any rare ingredient is met with increasing incidents of piracy, adulteration and illegal trade. So where the women’s cooperative is an admiration, the reality of global trade is not as pretty a picture as cosmetic companies would like you to think. Moreover, UNESCO has not cited significant investments in longer term tree and forest health, despite the ecosystem reforestation project initiated by the cooperative. Scientists at UC Davis have evaluated landscape-level impacts and normalized difference vegetation index data over the period from 1981 to 2009. The results of the mesoanalysis (population size that falls between the micro- and macro-levels) of enrollment are consistent with the microanalysis: the argan boom suggests improved educational outcomes, especially for girls. The normalized difference vegetation index analysis, however, suggests that booming argan prices have not improved the forest and may have even induced further degradation. What this means is, yes, the sale of argan oil is supporting local women, but only in the present. The ever-increasing demand for argan oil threatens the extinction of argan trees, and will ultimately collapse the advancements of the Moroccan women’s cooperative if more drastic conservation measures are not taken.
Faced with this classic David and Goliath scenario, we at Saint Alabaster cannot in good conscience add ourselves to the long list of cosmetic companies that use the ever-rarer argan oil in their products. With so many alternative, non-endangered plant alternatives to argan oil (such as meadowfoam seed oil, jojoba oil, and coconut oil to name a few), we hope that our choice emboldens others to limit, if not avoid completely, the use of endangered ingredients in their beauty regimen.
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- Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org