Marula Oil

When touting the benefits of beauty oils, cosmetic companies often compare their oil to the beloved liquid gold –and it’s definitely different for marula oil.

Marula oil is said to have higher levels of antioxidants and fatty acids than argan oil, giving skin natural protection against the environmental and free radical damage known to cause premature skin aging.  Like argan oil, marula oil has been used in Africa for centuries.


Marula oil is extracted from kernels (nuts) from the fruit of the marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea). The tree is indigenous to southern Africa and parts of East and West Africa. It is called the "king of the African trees," because it is drought-resistant, as well as a multi-purpose tree. The marula tree has been used for various uses for thousands of years.  There have been archeological findings as early as 9000 BC of marula fruit and cracked shells beside utensils similar to those used today to retrieve the kernels and fruit. All parts of the tree can be used either for food, medicine or other purposes that help sustain life and living conditions.

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The marula tree is also referred to as the “Elephant Tree” because elephants, as well as many other animals, eat the fruit.  The fruit is the size of a plum, with a leathery skin that is light yellow when ripe.  The white, juicy flesh clings to a hard brown kernel.  Inside the kernel are 2 – 3 seeds that contain the prized oil.

 Traditional Uses

Marula is a source of food and income in Namibia and other African countries.  It is used as an ingredient in traditional foods.  Jams, juices and marula beer are made from the fruit.  The oil is used to preserve meat, as traditional cooking oil (called ondjove in Namibia). A brew made from the bark is used in a cleansing ritual prior to marriage.  Namibian women use marula wood to make kitchen utensils.  The shells are used for charcoal and the bark for medicinal purposes. The oil is also used to treat leather and as a skin moisturizer.    South African women used it on the feet, face, hands and feet, and as a treatment for dry and cracked skin.  According to some sources women used marula oil in place of water for cleansing the body. The Tsonga women of Southern Africa used the oil as a moisturizing body lotion and to massage babies.  In Swaziland, pregnant women and new mothers used marula oil to reduce stretch marks. 

How Marula Oil Is Made

village womenAs with other fruits, nuts and seeds from African trees, women traditionally harvest marula. Village women would collect the fallen fruit between February and June.  The nuts would be laid out in the sun to dry.  Once dried each shell was crushed using a heavy stone and then the kernels pried out using an animal horn and then collected, ground and cooked to release the oil. Today the process is still labor-intensive, but now after the seeds are collected, they are sent to a mill to be pressed.

In the past, marula oil and products were sold locally.  The only major commercial product sold outside of the community was Amarula cream, a popular South African liqueur.  In 1999 Namibian organization CRIAA SA-DC  (Centre for Research Information Action in Africa South African Development and Consulting) came up with an idea to sell high quality marula oil to the cosmetic industry.  With the help of the government, the membership-based organization established the Eudafano Women’s Cooperative (EWC) to market marula products for local and export markets.   The women were taught to utilize their traditional knowledge of marula harvesting as well as learn how to harvest more sustainably, store the seeds as well as how to handle their finances.   The Body Shop discovered the oil in 2011 and according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the company began to use the oil sourced exclusively from Namibia in more than 140 products.

Marula Oil's Skin Nourishing Propertiesmarula fruit on ground

Marula oil is ideal to use in cosmetics.  It adds natural skin protection, anti-aging properties to serums, to foundation to give a silky finish and also boosts the efficacy of products.

Marula oil has a fatty acid structure similar to olive oil, but does not degrade as quickly.  Its high content of fatty acids, particularly oleic acid, a mono-unsaturated fatty acid, helps to make it stable oil.  In addition it contains linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid (polyunsaturated fatty acids) and palmitic acid, stearic acid and arachidonic acid (saturated fatty acids), omega acids that among other things, makes it absorb quickly into the skin.

It also has several antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E, containing two vitamin E compounds - tocopherol and Tocotrienol. (Tocotrienol is a more powerful compound, often referred to as natural vitamin E and a more powerful antioxidant than tocopherol.)  Marula oil also contains phenolic compounds, essential amino acids and flavonoids.  

Marula oil has anti-inflammatory properties to sooth irritated and damaged skin and anti-microbial properties that help with such conditions as acne.  It balances moisture levels in the skin, making it good for all skin types, especially mature and dry skin.

 Skin Care Benefits

• Reduces redness and soothes irritated skin
• Boosts efficacy of anti-aging treatments and other skin care products
• Skin soother that eases skin irritation and discomfort after procedures like chemical peels, microdermabrasion, laser treatments and surgery to reduce redness and inflammation
• Revitalizes dull skin
• Replenishes moisture to dehydrated and aging skin
• Renews skin damaged from free radical damage and exposure to sun and other environmental skin stressors
• Restores skin elasticity and firmness
• Reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
• Reduces the appearance of scars and stretch marks
• It is non-comedogenic; helps heal acne blemishes and acne scars

 Purchasing Marula Oil

marula oilThe clear, light yellow oil has a sweet and nutty aroma.  If it does not have a nutty scent, it probably has other ingredients, such as essential oils, which are sometimes used to mask the natural aroma.

Purchasing Fair Trade marula oil, extracted from wild-harvested and handpicked marula nuts, will ensure getting high quality oil.   Some mass-produced marula oil is processed by crushing the entire nut, with kernels and flesh and then extracting the oil using heat and chemicals, which purists believe destroys the oils' antioxidant properties.  Buying Fair Trade oil or marula-infused cosmetics from companies that use Fair trade marula oil also contributes to women's collectives and African communities.  




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