In Marrakech these days, the streets are paved with gold. Liquid gold, that is. Argan oil. End to end, shop by shop, in the narrow alleyways of the souk and on display in the rollicking central Jemaa el Fnaa, this transcendental beauty elixir is as copious as Morocco’s sultry sunshine. Argan oil’s praises have been sung by Selena Gomez, Madonna, and Kim Kardashian West, an A-list of enduring beauties who are said to slick themselves generously with it as a vital and possibly transformative component to their skin-care regimens.
Because of its diverse benefits, argan is somewhat of a superfood for the hair and complexion. Its effects are known to be anti-aging, therapeutic, and simply sensual. Deep yellow with a barely perceptible grassy aroma, it is quickly absorbed and has the ability to moisturize deep into the skin, which helps erase wrinkles and brighten a lackluster complexion. For the hair, it adds depth and shine to dreary locks. Loaded with vitamin E, fatty acids, and anti-inflammatory properties, argan oil treats scars, acne, eczema, and psoriasis. It is both glamorous and a highly effective workhorse and made from nuts that are endemic to Morocco, making it one of the country’s most visible national treasures.
The argan tree grows only in the Sous Valley, a 9,900-square-mile area south and east of the Atlantic beach resort of Essaouira. Women’s cooperatives have sprung up throughout the area and have greatly improved the livelihoods of Berber women, who are tasked with the production of argan oil. (Many Western brands, such as Neal’s Yard Remedies, have partnered with these co-ops.) The nuts resemble almonds in their whole form, and once they are cracked with the help of stones, the fruit is ground into thick paste from which the oil is extracted. Or the nuts are roasted and reduced by the cold-press process into cooking oil.
If a journey to the cooperatives is not in the cards, it’s satisfying to pick up a few bottles in Marrakech, close to the source, especially when awed by the dewy complexions of local women who are said to swear by the stuff. I was advised to beware: Much of the product crowding the stalls in the souk is either adulterated, impure, or actually cooking oil bottled to look like a cosmetic (though if it bears the name of a women’s cooperative on the label, it should be safe). I consulted the concierge at La Mamounia, arguably the finest hotel in Morocco, about the best place for argan oil. I knew he would steer his worldly guests right, and he duly pointed me to aromatic heaven.
Located in an immaculate but otherwise nondescript mall on the road to the Menara, the Nectarome boutique brims with creams and oils fashioned from Morocco’s most fragrant healing plants—rose, orange blossom, Barbary fig, lavender, rosewood. There is ghassoul soap made from the country’s famous restorative clay, and luscious nigel and sweet almond oils for the skin. Its argan oil is as pure as it gets—cold-pressed, along with all of the extracts used in the line, in its own organic gardens located in the Ourika Valley, just 20 miles from Marrakech. Best to apply argan oil neat, but I could not resist a bottle of the most divine concoction I’ve ever smelled— a serum of argan, neroli, and fig oils.
I stumbled upon the second place, located in the upper floor of a small building outside the medina, and it was a nostalgic bit of happenstance. For anyone who remembers Kiehl’s when it was a one-room apothecary on Third Avenue in New York City, Herboristerie Firdaous brings the same sense of old-world comfort. Like Nectarome, the store is a tribute to Morocco’s sweeping floral and plant diversity, and its shelves are crammed with essential oils, scented waters, lotions, and serums. If you are fortunate, owner Mohamed Lougdali will be behind the counter to dispense advice on herbal remedies and suggestions for aromatherapy. Pure rosemary, thyme, mint, sage, and rose oils are made from plants gathered from rural farms and bottled in basic brown vials. All are organic (or biologique) and distilled in Lougdali’s own factory, as is its divine argan oil, which costs all of 5 euros a bottle. My added temptation here was an infusion of pure chamomile, a balm for my tired, traveling eyes.
One more cream bears mentioning, which I dug into in a fit of argan frenzy in the Majorelle Blue and sunset-orange halls of the Mamounia spa. The building was recently renovated to desert perfection, but the 20-acre garden remains as it was when the hotel was built in 1923—a green oasis of rosebushes and flowering plants lined with palm, orange, and ancient olive trees.
I crossed into the richly embellished but thoroughly Zen interior pool, framed by white Moroccan arches and mosaiced columns, and soon found myself in the deep sanctuary of the spa. Tiled and toasty from the heat of the steam rooms, the space was thick with an aromatic bouquet of orange flower, lavender, and rose, as well as a hint of eucalyptus from black soap used in traditional hammam rituals.
Here, they use the product line MarocMaroc, based in the capital Rabat, for many of the treatments (the pure organic argan oil sold in the hotel’s boutique is created for La Mamounia by Les Arômes du Maroc). The line’s facial cream, Richesse d’Arganier, is a blend of argan oil, honey, and date extract. Buttery, rich, and full-bodied, I swear I could feel it tend to all that ailed me, smoothing out the creases and bringing that sunlit Marrakech glow to my face.