Many cosmetic products contain marula oil. The oil has amino acids, fatty acids, and antioxidants that may benefit the hair, skin, and nails.

Marula oil comes from the marula fruit tree (Sclerocarya birrea), which is found in southern Africa. The oil primarily comes from the kernels of the tree. It is pale yellow and has a slightly nutty scent.

Though marula oil is becoming a more popular ingredient in cosmetic products, it has been used by people living in southern African regions for thousands of years as a food, medicinal treatment, and moisturizer, as well as in traditional rituals.

This article discusses marula oil in more detail, including its benefits, how to use it, and potential side effects. The article also explores the differences between marula oil and argan oil.

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According to 2018 research, marula oil has a composition of:

  • Amino acids: The oil contains amino acids, such as L-arginine, additional 2018 research says. This helps build protein in the body. They also help regulate skin hydration and skin pH levels, per a 2021 research review.
  • Fatty acids: Marula oil also contains fatty acids, according to 2015 research. These include oleic acid, palmitic acid, linoleic acid, palmitoleic acid, and stearic acid. Fatty acids are a common ingredient in moisturizers.
  • Antioxidants: Various parts of the marula fruit tree contain antioxidants. These substances help slow damage to cells, including skin cells.

The oil may have potential benefits for parts of the body, including:

  • Hair: Marula oil may help to strengthen and moisturize dry, brittle, or damaged hair, according to 2018 research. However, further conclusive research into the effect of marula oil on hair is necessary.
  • Skin: The oil has hydrating and moisturizing properties on very dry skin, the same 2018 research says. The skin absorbs it well, so it may act quickly.
  • Nails: A person may use marula oil to moisturize the nail beds and cuticles. This may help reduce hangnails and cracked skin around the nails. However, research into the effects of marula oil on nails is needed.

It is important to note that marula oil has not been widely studied. Further research is necessary to confirm all of its properties and how they may benefit a person’s health and well-being.

Current research does not indicate side effects associated with using marula oil. A 2015 study suggested that marula oil was not irritating when applied to the skin.

However, scientific research into the side effects of marula oil is lacking. So, short- and long-term side effects are possible when using this oil.

People should consider performing a patch test before using marula oil on their face or all over their skin. A patch test can help determine if marula oil or products containing marula oil may cause irritation or an allergic reaction.

A person may consider speaking with a primary doctor or dermatologist before using marula oil on their skin.

Some cosmetic companies add marula oil to their products. People should make sure to read the ingredients and follow the directions provided for products containing marula oil.

People can use the oil itself in a number of ways, per 2015 research. A person may use it on their:

  • Hair: A person can drop a small amount of oil into their palms and massage it throughout their hair before styling it. People may also try massaging it into the ends of their hair to help prevent split ends and dryness. Alternatively, a person may add a few drops into their shampoo and then massage it into their scalp and hair.
  • Face: A person may try adding a few drops of marula oil to their hands and gently massaging it onto their face. People should avoid getting the oil in their eyes because it may cause irritation.
  • Nails: People can rub marula oil into the skin around their nails. A person may wish to try this after removing nail polish or acrylic nails because these processes can make the nails feel dry and brittle.
  • Body: A person may use marula oil as a lotion or in addition to one. People can apply the oil liberally over their skin after showering or bathing.

People should consider speaking with a healthcare professional for advice before using marula oil for the first time.

If a person notices a rash or other signs of irritation after use, they should stop using it.

Marula oil and argan oil are used in a variety of hair and skin care products.

Argan oil comes from the kernels of the Argan tree (Argania spinosa), which is native to Morocco. Similar to marula oil, argan oil also has hydrating and moisturizing properties, 2018 research says.

However, the oils differ in their fatty acid profiles.

Marula oil contains high levels of oleic acid. One 2015 study suggests that the oil contains 69% oleic acid.

Argan oil contains slightly lower levels of oleic acid than marula oil. One 2020 study suggests that argan oil contains around 46.6% oleic acid.

However, argan oil contains higher levels of linoleic acid than marula oil.

The same 2020 study states that argan oil contains roughly 32.6% linoleic acid. The previously mentioned 2015 study suggests that marula oil contains 9.2% linoleic acid.

Yet researchers must look further into both oils to fully understand their properties and their effects on the body.

A person may consider consulting a doctor or dermatologist before using products containing either oil or the oils themselves.

Marula oil is high in amino acids, antioxidants, and fatty acids. People may find it in hair, nail, and skin care products.

Current research indicates that it is an ingredient with minimal side effects. However, researchers must conduct further studies to confirm how the oil may affect the body.

A person should consider conducting a patch test before using marula oil for the first time. People may also consider speaking with a doctor or dermatologist for advice.