It probably isn’t a trend anymore but a full-blown movement: Using oils in skin care is here to stay. But there are endless types of facial oils out there with varying effects and benefits. So navigating them can confusing. Everyone knows about jojoba, argan, or squalane. Now there’s one more: Marula oil and seems like it might have even more benefits than the rest.

After this breakdown, you probably won’t be able to get enough of marula oil. The skin care industry likes to call it miracle oil. Because it goes above and beyond just moisturising, coming with a slew of good things for your complexion and is usually pretty affordable.

A little bit about the oil

As you may have deduced, marula oil is extracted from the kernel of the fruits of the marula plant. This is a tree that originates in Africa. Its scientific name is Sclerocarya birrea and it belongs to the family Anacardiaceae.

Marula tree, photo by Malcolm Manners

The marula tree produces fruits and nuts. As it’s part of the Anacardiaceae family, its nuts can be categorised as a type of cashew. Its nuts can be eaten raw or roasted. The nuts are extremely hard to crack without crushing the insides, but when you do get it open, you’ll find its truly valuable part: the kernel.

It’s from this kernel that the marula oil is extracted. It’s used for cosmetics, medicinal purposes, and as cooking oil. Other parts of the tree can be used too: The fruit is made into juice. The leaves and branches are used as natural dyes and ingredients in natural healing remedies.

Characteristics and properties

Marula oil has a clear, light yellowish-brownish colour and a rich nutty flavour. It’s considered a luxury food and is used as cooking oil for salad dressing and in a variety of local dishes.

It contains fatty acids, amino acids, antioxidants, and minerals. In more detail its fatty acid profile is

  • Ca 70% oleic acid (omega-9 acid)
  • Ca 5% linoleic acid
  • Ca 10% palmitic acid
  • Ca 5% stearic acid

The marula fruit is famed to have superfood levels of vitamin C. However, this doesn’t mean the oil itself is also rich in vitamin C. Ascorbic acid is the most common form of vitamin C found in fruits – and it’s water-soluble. This means vitamin C can only be dissolved in water, not in oil.

Hence, when marula kernels are processed into the oil, the ascorbic acid is lost. But it doesn’t need to contain vitamin C. It’s known and priced for its antioxidant properties due to its flavonoids.

It’s considered a stable oil. Due to its particular fatty acid composition – a high degree of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, it’s stable to oxidation. Hence it’s also why it was used as a traditional food preservative.

So why add it to your routine?

Just like other edible oils, it can be used to clean and massage the skin. Traditionally, marula oil was used all across Southern Africa as an emollient. It was used to treat cracked, dry, or damaged skin. It’s known to enhance wound closure and improve healing.

It’s also reputed to have medicinal properties. So, it was used to treat a range of ailments such as care, eye, and nose problems, especially in children. This should not come as a surprise since it has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.


With its particular fatty acid profile, marula oil can be classified as a permeation enhancer. This means that the oil itself penetrates quickly into your skin. Moreover, it helps other nutrients and ingredients penetrate into your skin more easily.

It may sound counter-intuitive: Although it’s a thicker oil as compared to other oils, it skins right into your skin. Again, that’s thanks to its fatty acid composition that’s similar to your skin’s sebum. Marula oil is an easy and natural way to balance your skin. It helps control excess oil production all the moisturising your skin.

Marula oil acts as an emollient, filling in the cracks and gaps in the outermost layer of your skin. The result is smoother and softer skin. At the same time, it’s also an occlusive. It creates a protective film that sits on top of your skin and seals in moisture.

Credit to its fatty acid composition combined with amino acids, marula oil helps to maintain and strengthen your skin’s barrier function. With continued use, it improves your skin’s resistance to weather and external aggressors.

Slow ageing

As we age, our skin loses its bounce and firmness. That’s because our bodies produce less of the proteins elastin and collagen. The other reason is because certain enzymes break down these proteins. The breakdown process is accelerated by sun exposure.

The antioxidant present in marula oil can suppress these enzymes meaning that the proteins are degraded more slowly. But it doesn’t stop. The amino acids present have anti-ageing activities.

More specifically L-arginine helps boost collagen production and speeds up skin cell regeneration. Glutamic acid also boosts collagen formation. In plain words: Marula oil helps ward off sagging and wrinkles.

Protect against environmental damage

By now, you know that antioxidants are a must-have ingredient for healthy skin. Marula oil is a rich source of antioxidants and flavonoids. These help to scavenge free radicals caused by exposure to the sun and pollution.

You want to ward off free radicals because they can cause oxidative stress – cell damage. This might lead to pesky things like speeding up the skin ageing process, spots, and changes in skin texture.

Soothe and calm irritated skin

Just like many other plant oils, marula oil is both antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory. The same fatty acids that make it such a great moisturiser also contribute to calming irritated and red skin.

Who should use marula oil?

It’s great for all skin types, although dry, dehydrated, and normal skin will get most of it. Since it’s a permeation enhancer you can combine it with other ingredients and it gets absorbed quickly into your skin taking with it other actives such as vitamin A or niacinamide, and then seals them in.

How to use it?

As a multitasker, marula oil can be used to moistures and help dry skin, or ward off premature wrinkles. You can use it as a standalone facial oil towards the end of your routine or find it formulated into a serum or cream.

Danger zone

Marula oil is considered safe and there are no risks linked with it.

If you’ve read until hear and kept thinking that marula oil does deserve its moniker as miracle oil – you’re absolutely right. But there’s a catch:

It isn’t suitable always suitable for people with acne-prone skin. Its fatty acid composition with a high ratio of oleic and linoleic acids means it could be more comedogenic.

Meaning, it could potentially jam up your pores more as compared to oils with a higher linoleic acid and oleic acid ratio. But that’s not to say it will necessarily block your pores. Everyone’s skin is different.

Why is it often compared to argan oil?

Just like argan oil, marula oil is an African sourced oil with a long history as a cosmetic. They both have in common that they’re great moisturisers and nourish both skin and hair.

The difference is that since marula oil has a higher antioxidant count, it’s an excellent shield for your skin, defending against environmental damage. Also, marula oil has a higher oleic and linoleic acid ratio and so is more likely to plug up pores.

But you can’t say that one oil is better than the other. It’s more a matter of personal preference. This means you have to try out what suits the needs of your skin better.

In closing

Even if up to now, now risks are linked to marula oil, it’s still a good idea to do a patch test. That is try it out on a small patch of skin and see how it reacts before you move to bigger areas.

If you want to use it as a standalone product, the best option is to use pure or virgin marula oil. This means it is unrefined and doesn’t contain any other ingredients.

With its fatty acid composition, amino acids, and antioxidants, it may not only help to reduce the signs of ageing but also prevent and reduce stretch marks. And, you can also use it on other parts of your body. It’s great for your hair, nails, and cuticles too.

Save Edible Skin Care: Why Is Marula Oil Called Miracle Oil? for later

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