Wondering what all the fuss is about when it comes to Marula Oil? There’s a lot to love about this oil, and that’s coming from someone who isn’t usually the biggest fan of single oils.
Marula Oil is a plant oil. It’s used in skin, body and hair products, as well as cosmetics. The marvels of this oil have been discovered and suddenly the beauty industry can’t get enough of this liquid gold. But if have a nut allergy, you’re going to need to look elsewhere for your favourite oil.
Its botanical name is Sclerocarya birrea. The Marula tree is a member of the Anacardiaceae, more commonly known as the cashew family or sumac family of flowering plants. Native to South Africa, it’s important to a number of African communities.
Marula Oil was first used by the Zulu people for its skin and hair benefits. They would use it for making soap, moisturising the skin and treating dry hair.
While this oil has been used traditionally, there hasn’t been a lot of research on it. More recently, however, science has started to uncover the wonders of this oil and provide a better understanding of its characteristics.
Marula Oil has come to be discovered and the global market for it has grown to more than US $48 million a year and heading for $90 million by 2031.
Where does Marula Oil come from?
Marula Oil is usually extracted from the kernel of the fruit of the Marula tree, which thrives in arid areas. It’s native to Africa and can be found throughout the East and South of the continent. The tree also has been introduced to Madagascar and Australia.
South Africa, Botswana, Nigeria, and Zambia are the primary producers of this oil.
The bark of the tree is used for building material, the leaves for medicine and the fruit for eating. Interestingly, the fruit is used to make the world’s second favourite liqueur, Amarula Cream Liqueur.
The tree is sacred to many people in the region and is protected by South African law to ensure its sustainability.
Despite being used traditionally, this oil wasn’t commercially extracted until 1999. A women’s cooperative, the Eudafano Women’s Cooperative, began collaborating in 2000 with the Body Shop, which introduced a number of products containing this oil.
Marula Oil has since drawn the attention of the broader beauty world and demand has grown.
What does Marula Oil do?
Originally, it was used in its pure form to apply to skin and hair, while the leaves were used to treat acne and other skin conditions. It can be extracted from the stems, leaves and kernel found in the fruit, but most commonly from the kernel.
The benefits of the oil have long been recognised by the people of Africa and used to make soap, creams, lotions and shampoo.
Because Marula Oil is a non-fragrant oil, it doesn’t contain the problematic volatile compounds found commonly in essential oils, such as limonene, citronellol, eugenol and linalool. Therefore it’s suitable for those who are sensitive to fragrance and essential oils.
Marula Oil is a pale yellow oil that absorbs quite well into the skin. But being a slightly thicker oil, it leaves behind a silky after finish.
This oil soothes the skin, calms redness, hydrates and moisturises, provides moderate occlusion and restores a radiant complexion. It may also aid skin healing, reduce the formation of scars and prevent hyperpigmentation.
How does Marula Oil benefit skin?
This oil contains a number of compounds that are beneficial to the skin.
Antioxidants Vitamin C and Vitamin E fight free radical damage caused by UV, pollution and chemicals.
Antioxidants have powerful anti-ageing benefits. Not only do they protect the skin from environmental aggressors, they also support repair processes that naturally occur at night. By preventing destruction of collagen and elastin and playing a role in repair, they help prevent premature wrinkles, sagging, discolouration and uneven tone.
Amino acids Arginine and Glutamic Acid maintain the health of the skin and enable repair.
Amino acids are the building blocks of peptides and proteins. There are many amino acids in skin care and each amino acid has its own specific function.
Arginine specifically enables repair and thereby reduces visible skin damage. Glutamic Acid maintains the pH and water balance of the skin, so that it can stay hydrated.
Fatty Acids provide emollient and moisturising benefits.
The fatty acids found in Marula Oil are very similar to those in the epidermis and therefore this oil is considered biomimetic. They are Oleic Acid (70%), Palmitic Acid (15%), Linoleic Acid (9%), Palmitoleic Acid (4%) and Stearic Acid (1.5%).
Oleic Acid is an Omega-9. When combined with other fatty acids, it can calm skin irritation, reduce sensitivity and relieve dryness. Another benefit of Oleic Acid is that it can preserve the effectiveness of ingredients that are sensitive to light and oxygen, such as antioxidants.
Polyphenols protect collagen and elastin in the skin to keep it looking younger.
Polyphenols are beneficial plant compounds with antioxidant properties.
It’s thought that polyphenols in Marula Oil prevent collagen and elastin in the skin being degraded by two naturally occurring enzymes, collagenase and elastase. The destruction of collagen and elastin leads to wrinkles and sagging.
Various polyphenol compounds have been identified in Marula stems extracts. It’s thought these are important to its anti-ageing profile. Quinic Acid, Catechin, Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG) and Epicatechin Gallate have been identified as having skin protective effects. Research has shown these polyphenols to improve skin hydration, reduce wrinkle formation, scavenge free radicals and limit melanin generation.
Epicatechin Gallate and Epigallocatechin Gallate are found abundantly in green tea and are responsible for many of its antioxidant and UV-protectant powers. Additionally, they’re anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic and antimicrobial. This awesome duo is ideal for anyone with skin ageing concerns, as well as skin conditions such as acne, rosacea and eczema.
Research on Marula Oil is still limited, however one lab study found:
- Marula Stem Extract had exceptionally high activity against the enzymes collagenase and elastase.
- Marula Leaf Extract had moderate activity against elastase but not collagenase.
- Marula Fruit Extract and Marula Oil had limited activity against both.
The study concluded that Marula Oil’s benefits are likely coming from its other compounds.
Who is Marula Oil for?
This oil is best for those with combination, dry, normal or sensitive skin. It also may help with some skin conditions, although there is no scientific evidence to support this.
If you have combination skin, it’s best to keep it off your oily areas.
Marula Oil has a comedogenic rating of 3-4, which means it could clog pores. When used as an ingredient in an oil blend or a moisturiser, it may work for those of you with acne or oily skin. But this will depend on how much of it is in the formulation and what the other ingredients have been used.
It can moisturise, smooth and soften and nourish the skin, as well as possibly minimise the formation of stretch marks.
While research doesn’t yet confirm that Marula Oil can help improve skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, it’s been used traditionally to relieve skin dryness, irritation and itching. Many people report the benefits of using this oil to ease their skin conditions.
Marula Oil also has been used by those with acne, particularly given its antimicrobial properties. However I don’t think it’s the best choice for those of you with oily skin.
How to use Marula Oil?
Because it’s a highly penetrable oil, it can be used as a pure oil. You can apply it directly to your face, body, scalp, hair and nails to moisturise and relieve dryness.
Marula Oil can be used as an all-in-one scalp and hair treatment. Use it to ease a dry, itchy scalp and smooth dry, frizz-prone hair. If you have a dry, itchy scalp, you may find it helpful to warm the oil before massaging it in. You can also apply a small amount directly to the hair to condition it.
Another way of using it is to apply it to nail beds and cuticles to keep them supple and reduce hangnails. Massage a small amount in daily to get the most out of it.
Marula Oil can be found in oil blends too, as well as in many skin, body and hair care products.
It may be in some products you currently use without being aware of it. Take a look and see if you can spot it on the ingredient list. It will be listed as Sclerocarya Birrea Seed Oil, its INCI name.
What else you should know?
Like many things in the world of beauty, there are many brands that look to ride the latest trend. You need to look beyond whether the product contains this oil. How much Marula Oil does it contain? Where is the Marula Oil sourced from? How is it extracted?
Most of the Marula Oil used in skin care comes from the kernels of the fruit and so it doesn’t have the same clinical potency. To use the stems and leaves would be destructive to the trees and not be sustainable.
Buy Marula Oil from an ethical brand that you know and trust. If you’re in any doubt, contact the brand and ask them how they source their oil.
And don’t mistake Marula Essential Oil, which comes from the peels of the fruit, for Marula Oil.
Texture and smell
This oil has a slightly thicker texture with some occlusive properties. It absorbs quite well, but does leave a satiny finish and glow.
Marula Oil has a fruity and floral aroma with a nutty undertone. Its natural scent allows it to be used as a base note in perfumes, body lotions and soaps.
Benefits in a nutshell
In summary, what does Marula Oil do?
This plant oil:
- moisturises the skin
- helps skin retain moisture
- calms the skin and reduces redness
- fights free radical damage
- reduces the formation of hyperpigmentation
- helps restore a radiant tone
- supports skin healing and may reduce scar formation
- may protect collagen and elastin in the skin
But keep in mind that Marula Oil doesn’t have the same potency as stem Marula Stem Extract.
It’s a lovely oil and one that’s nice to see on the ingredient list. But don’t expect it to do the work of a retinoid or copper peptide. Use it alongside other proven skin care actives to look your youthful best.
Products with Marula Oil
Comfort Zone Remedy Serum
Comfort Zone Remedy Serum is an intensive creamy serum that’s packed with carefully chosen botanicals to soothe, increase hydration, reduce redness and improve skin resilience. Ideal for sensitive, sensitised and rosacea skin types. Made of 92% natural origin ingredients and free of fragrance, essential oils, irritants, silicones, parabens, mineral oils and artificial colours.
Comfort Zone Remedy Cream
Comfort Zone Remedy Cream is a silky cream at the right pH to soothe, protect and nourish skin that needs extra care. Ideal for sensitive, sensitised and rosacea skin types. Made of 92% natural origin ingredients and free of fragrance, essential oils, irritants, silicones, parabens, mineral oils and artificial colours.
Necessaire Body Lotion
Necessaire Body Lotion is a beautiful body lotion unlike any other you’ve tried. Its ingredient list reads like more like that of a face cream. You’ll find high levels of nourishing and active ingredients that promote skin health.
Necessaire Body Oil
Necessaire Body Oil is a sumptuous all-over oil that nourishes and soothes the entire body. Marula Oil is one of the star oils in this beautiful blend. Comes in a luxury 100ml glass bottle to complete your bathroom aesthetic.
Necessaire Body Wash
Even the Necessaire Body Wash gets in on the Marula Oil action. The Necessaire Body Wash is a gentle, non-drying body wash that elevates your shower routine to a whole new level. This body wash uses no SLS or SLES. It comes in fragrance and fragrance-free options.
Yours truly in better skin