If you've never heard of moringa oil, well, you're about to. The ingredient, derived from a tree indigenous to India, is popping up in every corner of the natural beauty industry, with companies putting it in creams, serums, shampoos, conditioners, and even makeup. Listening to natural-beauty brands, you'll hear that moringa is the next argan, that it's a miracle in a bottle, that it will Marie Kondo your apartment and change your life. OK, obviously we're overstating, but beauty folks are freaking out about this ingredient, so we set out to learn why.
Moringa oil is an essential oil culled from Moringa oleifera, which is a vegetable tree grown in Africa, Central and South America, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia. The tree itself is somewhat miraculous, with one modern researcher calling it "one of the most useful trees in the world" because not only is it drought resistant and can yield cooking and lighting oil, but its seeds can also help purify water. And while more studies are needed, it's thought that the leaves of Moringa oleifera contain more calcium than milk, three-quarters of the iron in spinach, and more vitamin A than carrots.
The oil, as equal a multitasker as the tree from which it's culled, has been used for centuries — like, all the way back to ancient Egyptian times — for cooking, medicine, and cosmetics. And based on the impressive makeup of the oil, it's easy to understand why both pharoahs and natural-beauty brands can't get enough of the stuff. "The oil from the seeds is 40 percent monounsaturated fatty acids, with 70 percent of that being oleic acid," says Cybele Fishman, a dermatologist who practices integrative dermatology in New York City.
Moringa is also ideal because it's similar to the oil your skin produces naturally, helping to balance and nourish all skin types. "Unlike other oils that sit on the surface of the skin and leave a greasy after-feel, moringa absorbs deep into the skin," explains Emily Cunningham, cofounder and COO of Moringa Connect, a company that includes beauty brand True Moringa.
Dermatologists agree that moringa can be effective in skin care, but just how effective — and whether or it can actually penetrate as Cunningham says — is still unclear due to lack of adequate research. "In truth, there haven't been many direct studies of the effectiveness of moringa oil in topical products," says Perry Romanowski, president of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists and co-founder of The Beauty Brains. "Most of the benefits are based on traditional use and small laboratory studies." And of the studies done in a lab, many of them are looking at the benefits of moringa oil when consumed, not applied topically, and with rats as the subjects, not humans.
But that hasn't stopped brands from jumping on the moringa bandwagon — or natural beauty enthusiasts from singing the oil's praises. There are even skin-care lines created entirely around the ingredient, like True Moringa, whose Universal Cure Balm is well loved for its moisturizing properties.
Erika Klemperer, a dermatologist in Santa Barbara, California, explains that "moringa oil is a powerhouse of oleic acid, making it a highly moisturizing oil and one that may benefit dry and sensitive skin." She says the elixir may also support the skin barrier, which is "vital for protecting us from external insults, such as pollution, and is also critical to sealing in hydration."
We were particularly excited to see moringa pop up in a new body product recently, since it's not just the skin on our faces that can use its moisturizing powers. Kjaer Weis's Body Oil is the brand's first foray into body care. Founder Kirsten Kjaer Weis says she chose to include this particular oil in the formula because it "awakens dull, tired-looking skin."
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and acupuncturist Annee de Mamiel, founder and formulator of British skin-care brand de Mamiel, uses moringa oil in the line's Restorative Cleansing Balm to "soothe inflammation" and "balance acneic skin because of its antibacterial properties."
Leah Klasovsky, a licensed esthetician and founder of Leahlani Skincare, also has moringa-oil-based products in her line, including the Bless Beauty Balm and Mahina Evening Replenishing Elixir, for the same skin-balancing reasons.
But can moringa oil actually be used to soothe acneic skin types? Allure spoke to Ilya Reyter of the American Skin Institute in Los Angeles, who further explained that "moringa extract has been shown to have good antimicrobial activity against numerous bacterial and fungal species."
And although it's most commonly seen in serums and oil blends, moringa oil is showing up in makeup, too. "We use moringa oil in our natural lip crayons," says Axiology Beauty founder Ericka Rodriguez. "The goals behind our brand are ethics and performance, and we found that moringa oil could provide both. Moringa oil allows our lip crayons to apply beautifully to the lips while also allowing for economic development and advancement for our moringa farmers in Ghana."
It even makes an appearance in powdered makeup, like Kosas Cosmetics' pressed powder blush and highlighter sets, as well as hair care, as seen in natural hair-care brand Rahua. "We use this powerful plant oil for its cleansing properties, to moisturize dry scalp, and to promote stronger hair," says Anna Ayers, the founder of Rahua.
Reyter explains why it's showing up in more and more formulations. "The strong antioxidant properties of moringa oil, as well as its high content of vitamin E, can be useful as a preservative to help extend the shelf-life of some skin-care products by preventing oxidation of other oils," she says. "This can help preserve the function of the biologically active compounds naturally found in the oils."
The more scientists, doctors, and chemists learn about the moringa plant, the more uses we may find for it. While the oil used in most of these cosmetic products comes from the seeds of the moringa tree, the entire plant can be used as a source of nutrition and/or skin nourishment. "The leaves have recently been shown to have an effect on the skin, and the powdered form of the leaves can now be found in topical creams and masks," says Reyter.
Ranavat Botanics uses moringa leaf powder in its decadent Eternal Reign Masque, which founder Michelle Ranavat calls a "green smoothie for your face," thanks to the high antioxidant profile of moringa.
So, move over, argan? So long, coconut oil? Maybe! Or maybe there's room on our shelves for several superstar oils. After all, when it comes to antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients in skin care, the more the merrier.
More skin-care terms to know:
- The Skin-Care Glossary: A Comprehensive Guide to Everything You Need to Know
- Why Glycerin Is the Ultimate Moisturizing Ingredient in Skin-Care Products
- What Is Hyaluronic Acid, and How Does It Benefit Your Skin?
Now see how face masks have changed in 100 years: