One of the most expensive oils on the market is also proving to deliver some of the best results. Barbary fig seed—or prickly pear—oil is an export from Morocco that’s said to be even more potent than the country’s other darling of the beauty industry, argan.
It’s easy to get caught up in the next anti-ageing hype; ingredients sourced from far away lands that are said to plump, polish and perfect every pore. One to land on this beauty bandwagon over the last few years is Morocco’s barbary fig seed oil, or prickly pear, an oil extracted from sweet fruits of the opuntia ficus-indica, a species of cactus thought to be native to Mexico.
Called tunas, the fruit ripen from August until October. It’s then they’re peeled and eaten—seeds included—boasting a similar flavour to watermelon. For thousands of years, Mexicans have used the fruit to make an alcoholic drink called colonche, while in the United States it’s favoured as cattle feed. Yet it’s the Moroccans who are showing the world that the barbary fig is more than just a local diet staple, and taking advantage of this prickly plant’s anti-ageing potential. But just how effective is it compared to other oils, such as the country’s other export, argan?
Benefits of Barbary
Unlike argan, the cactus and its fruit aren’t endangered, making it a popular alternative for producers and exporters who aren’t faced with an ethical dilemma as the ingredient’s popularity rises. It is also said to pack a big antioxidant punch thanks to its high levels of Vitamin E, a beauty industry favourite thanks to its scar healing and skin soothing abilities.
Also rich in deeply moisturising linoleic acid, which makes up 60 percent of the oil, it easily penetrates the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) making it a good choice for use in moisturisers and other skincare products.
According to Victoria Fantauzzi, who produces organic argan and barbary-based skincare range La Bella Figura, the benefits of barbary oil are “second-to-none”.
“I came upon this oil in research and found it to be more beneficial in repair and healing than argan oil,” she says. “It actually contains more Vitamin E than argan, as well as high levels of polyphenols. Its use, in my opinion, for cosmetic purposes, supersedes any oil I have ever tried or used.”
Because of this high Vitamin E content, the oil absorbs into the skin rapidly, leaving no film or greasy residue. It is also said to resemble the skin’s natural oil chemistry, balancing out sebum production, which goes into overdrive when the skin has been stripped from overuse of products that contain harsh chemical ingredients. Researchers have also found no known contraindications.
Just as the cactus protects itself from the hot, dry elements, the oil from its fruit offers the skin a similar protection, promoting skin that’s supple, hydrated and smooth. Berber women have long known its benefits, using barbary fig seed oil for centuries to protect their skin from harsh desert winds.
A Growth Industry
The price of this celebrated beauty elixir doesn’t come cheap at upwards of $1500 per litre, making it the most expensive oil on the market—purely thanks to the tiny amount that can be extracted from each prickly pear. Eight tonnes of barbary fig fruit are used to produce just one litre of the oil that’s used for cosmetic purposes, according to Karim Anegay, who heads the cactus program at the Economic Promotion Office in Southern Morocco.
Because of this high Vitamin E content, the oil absorbs into the skin rapidly, leaving no film or greasy residue.
However, the Moroccan government plans to step up production and expand plantations of the ancient cactus, which withstands harsh and extreme weather conditions, making it the perfect crop to farm in Morocco’s arid regions. The UN Development Program recently injected $1.7 million into the initiative, which is aiming to greatly multiply the current annual cultivation of 1.2 million tonnes of the fruit, planting 300,000 more square metres of cactus plants over the next five years.
Oils Ain’t Oils: What to Look For
Choosing a product that uses high quality barbary fig seed oil is a must when stocking up your beauty cabinet. Look for brands that are not only certified organic, but also that use a cold press method to obtain the oil, rather than harsh chemical solvents.
Highly processed oils, which are refined, bleached and deodorised, contain little to none of the benefits found in the barbary fig seed. Oil that has been highly processed will appear light yellow and almost clear, while a cold pressed oil will be warmer and richer in colour.
Applying Barbary Fig Seed Oil
Great to use day or night, with barbary fig seed oil at little goes a long way. Simply use two to three drops and smooth it around the face, including eyes and lips.
Use just a few drops and massage into the neck and cleavage. It also makes for a super hydrating all-over body moisturiser, while soothing dry skin of the feet and hands.
A dry hair and split-ends saviour, apply approximately 10 to 15 drops of barbary fig seed oil throughout the hair to the ends. Leave to penetrate for about 30 minutes. Wash and rinse.