The Ultimate Quest for Smooth Skin
Despite the rise in popularity of argan oil in haircare and cosmetics around the globe, Morocco, the country from which this “liquid gold” originates, remains steeped in tradition and shrouded in mystery. Much of the female population, particularly in the ancient Berber communities that reside in the arid foothills of the Atlas Mountains, are still modest in their dress—often keeping everything but their hands and faces covered. It was only during a recent excursion to the Sous Valley with The Body Shop (which sources argan oil for its new body-care line from Toudarte, a fair-trade cooperative in the area) that I discovered these incredibly hard-working women have some of the softest skin I’ve ever encountered. Interestingly enough, they also wear the proverbial pants in their respective households.
Harvesting the argan fruit (which women young and old collect from the ground with perfectly aligned, downward-dog-like backs), drying it in the sun, separating the pulp from the seed, cracking it open, and pressing the “almond” (now widely done by machine) to release the precious oil inside is a long-standing tradition. What is relatively new is the notion of doing it outside of the home—a foreign concept in this patriarchal society. Comprised entirely of women, the Toudarte cooperative (part of a larger organization known as Targanine) is revolutionary in that it not only provides the surrounding villages with a source of substantial income (approximately 1,060 dirhams, or $289, per person a month) but also access to education. An on-site school teaches cooperative members how to read, write, and speak Arabic—skills that only men were privy to in the past. “Women are [now] autonomous,” explained commercial director of Targanine Cooperative, Latifa Anaouch, of the impact the project has on the population. “A woman can fulfill her needs and those of her children.”
Gaining independence, however, doesn’t come easy. One would assume by the speed with which these women crack baskets full of argan nuts that splitting one open with a rock to reveal the sliver of seed inside would be a fairly simple task. After joining the ranks for 45 minutes, I managed to set free only four seeds…and ruin my manicure. To put that number in perspective, it requires 2 kilos of cracked almonds to produce just 1 liter of argan oil. The Body Shop placed an order of 6,000 liters for the launch of the line. In short, that’s a lot of nuts. But manual labor and harsh environmental conditions aside, when my nut-cracking partner pulled up her long sleeve and gestured for me to feel her arm, it was insanely smooth—a factor I can only attribute to the fruits of her labor.
When I was later laid out on a marble slab at my hotel’s hammam and scrubbed vigorously until my flesh turned pink, I fully appreciated the final step in the treatment: a full-body massage with The Body Shop’s Radiant Oil. While the glowy, moisturizing effects of the hydrating elixir are certainly worth their weight in gold, discovering firsthand the storied beauty secrets of newly empowered Berber women is, well, priceless.
To re-create the hammam experience at home, try The Body Shop Wild Argan Oil Bubbling Bath, Body Lotion, Radiant Oil for Body & Hair, Rough Scrub, Massage Soap, Body Butter, and Solid Oil, from $6 to $25, available at thebodyshop-usa.com.
Photo: Courtesy of The Body Shop