The Surprising Truth About Marula Oil for Your Face: Not a One-Size-Fits-All Solution
by Heather Smith on Feb 25, 2023
Marula oil has been gaining popularity as a cure-all for skin ailments recently, but we're here to tell you that's not necessarily the case.
Marula oil is controversial because it's not the best facial oil, but some big brands out there want you to think differently.
Don't worry, there isn't any sinister marketing lie - the issue is that marula oil's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential isn't as powerful as other oils, plus the high oleic acid level is not balanced, so the pore-clogging risk is higher.
This makes marula oil a nice-to-have for some people but not a ride-or-die oil for most.
In this article, we'll explore why marula oil is only suitable for some and other alternatives they can pursue instead.
We prefer other oils for face and hair use, but marula oil is best for:
- Body moisturization
- Chapped lips
- Stretch marks
- Brittle nails and cuticles
- People with very dry skin who already know they won't break out
What Is The History Of Marula Oil
Sclerocarya birrea (marula) oil is derived from the nuts of the marula tree, which grows in parts of Southern Africa. It has been used for centuries by local people to treat various skin conditions. Yet, there are only recently any scientific studies on its potential benefits.
The marula tree has been a source of nutrition for thousands of years, with evidence showing its use dating back to 10,000 B.C. It is a botanical treasure of Africa, often called the tree of life. Its fruits and nuts are rich in minerals and vitamins.
Marula trees grow up to 18 meters tall and are found across Southern Africa. The fruit is edible and high in vitamin C, and the tree has many uses, including as a source of wood for carving, bark for rope-making and dyeing, and leaves for medicinal purposes. The marula fruit can be used to make jam, juices, and alcoholic beverages, but scientists have debunked the myth that elephants get drunk off the fermented fruit.
Marula oil itself consists mainly of oleic acid and palmitic acid. Despite being marketed as an effective facial moisturizer or treatment for wrinkles and other signs of aging, it's important to know that pure marula oil isn't necessarily suitable for all skin types.
What Is The Fatty Acid Composition Of Marula Oil
Virgin marula oil consists primarily of oleic acid - an omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid. However, it also contains smaller amounts of palmitic acid, a fatty acid which may be more irritating than beneficial due to its comedogenic properties that can lead to breakouts if used at too high a concentration. Oleic acid isn't a "bad" oil, but it needs to be offset with high levels of linoleic acid to ensure you receive the positive benefits and not the side effects.
- Oleic acid (omega-9): 70-78%
- Palmitic acid: 9-12%
- Stearic acid: 5-8%
- Linoleic acid (omega-6): 4-7%
- Arachidonic acid (omega-6): < 0.5%
- Alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3): < 0.5%
- Eicosanoic acid: < 0.5%
The Use of Marula Oil For Face Care
While there may be some benefits from using marula oil for face care, this product does not offer any notable advantages compared to other facial oils.
The fatty acid profile makes marula oil for skin that's very dry. Oleic acid is a beneficial fatty acid for the skin, but when it's present in high concentrations, it can be irritating or pore-clogging unless it's balanced out with a high percentage of linoleic acid.
Oils, like argan, that are high in oleic acid AND linoleic acid are the best for your facial skin because the balance gives you the best of both worlds - the oleic acid moisturizes well, and the linoleic acid reduces inflammation and acne.
It's also worth noting that even though marula oil does contain antioxidants (albeit fewer than other oils), these components aren't as potent as what one would find in other types of facial moisturizers or anti-aging treatments available on the market today. As such, those looking for significant results from using marula oil alone will likely end up disappointed, no matter how much they apply or how frequent their usage is over time.
Marula Oil Comedogenic Rating
For most people, we don't recommend using oils with a comedogenic rating greater than two on their face. The oils rated three and above are more likely to clog pores. The oils in the "3" range are borderline and can still be beneficial for some people with very dry skin.
However, definitely skip marula oil for acne treatment!
Marula receives a rating of 3. For the reasons noted above (the high palmitic acid and the low linoleic acid), irritation and pore-clogging are more common with marula oil than many others.
Benefits of Marula Oil for Hair and Body
There are much better choices for hair and scalp health than marula oil. However, its potential as an all-around body care product should not be overlooked.
The body is where marula oil can really shine. Like coconut oil (another oil preferable on the body rather than the face), marula will help get your dry, flaky skin back in check.
If you have a pure marula oil product, try using it on your nails and cuticles, lips, and stretch marks, as well as your body - arms, legs, knees, and elbows can benefit most from what this carrier oil has to offer.
What Is The Shelf Life Of Marula Oil?
Once formulated or adding extra antioxidants, the shelf life will extend closer to 1.5-2 years as long as kept cool and away from light.
Is Marula Oil Safe For All Skin Types?
No. Marula oil can often be too heavy for people with oily or acne-prone skin. In addition, its high level of palmitic acid, unbalanced with low levels of linoleic acid, contributes to the possibility of increased acne or inflammation in some users.
There is no specific safety precaution needed for most people, but it's essential to know that marula oil comes from a nut - which could be an allergen for some people. Talk to your doctor if you're worried.
If you're new to using face oils or if your worried about increasing acne or inflammation, there are so many other oils that are universally more balanced and beneficial for all skin types, including oily or acne-prone.
Our list of favourite oils is long; start by considering abyssinian, argan, meadowfoam, pomegranate, rosehip and squalane (the best face oil ever).
Is Marula Oil Farming Sustainable
Ensure that you choose a brand or product certified by an international standard such as Ecocert - certifying sustainable farming practices behind their production process.
Due to the way in which marula oils have traditionally been produced, ethical concerns often arise surrounding the sustainability of their production process. Although Ecocert or organic certification ensures a certain level of ethical standards are met during harvesting and manufacturing processes, much of the industry remains unregulated, leaving consumers unsure whether they can trust what brands claim about their sourcing practices.
Certified organic marula oil does exist, but much of it is wild-harvested, so the growing environment won't be altered (but the risk of overfarming does exist).
Wild harvesting can have some advantages (local economic growth), but also risk for exploitation if wages aren't appropriate or if proper agricultural practices aren't taught and encouraged.
The use of marula oil on the face is a controversial topic among skincare experts. While some believe it improves skin tone, texture and hydration, others argue that the fatty acid profile puts it on the bottom of the list for facial oils.
Because of the unbalanced fatty acid profile, marula oil isn't suitable for all skin types - those with sensitive, acne-prone, or oily skin need to be extra cautious when considering adding this product into their routine, as it could worsen existing conditions, including clogged pores and acne.
If you do use it, start with dry skin areas like nails, cuticles, stretch marks, knees, and elbows. If you have severe dryness on your skin or scalp, it's still ok to try it for overall hair health or facial use; it's just not for everyone.
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