Traditionally considered to be a sacred plant in Africa, the oil from the seeds of the marula tree is attracting attention as a brilliant new natural beauty ingredient.

All parts of the marula tree are valuable – the fruit contains four times the amount of vitamin C as is in an orange, and it can be fermented to make a liqueur, while the seed oil has long been used by the Tsonga people to cleanse, massage, and hydrate the skin, especially in babies. Light, non-greasy, easily absorbed, and non-comedogenic – meaning it doesn't clog the pores – marula oil suits all skin types, whether dry, normal, oily, or extremely sensitive.

The high concentrations of nutrients present in marula oil include the antioxidants vitamin E, in both the tocopherol and tocotrienol forms, and vitamin C, as well as high levels of omega 6 and omega 9 essential fatty acids. Oleic acid, which is essential for maintaining healthy skin, accounts for 70-78 percent of the fatty acid content. Marula oil is claimed to: help reverse sun damage; boost cellular activity; reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, redness and blotchiness; improve and restore skin elasticity; promote production of collagen and elastin to improve skin firmness, density and volume; protect against free radical damage from pollution and sun exposure; hydrate at the deepest levels; and help heal and reduce acne blemishes and scarring, through its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

While these claims have not been substantiated through scientific research, there’s no question that marula oil benefits the skin and especially the hair: just a few drops worked into your hair leaves it soft and shiny, reducing frizz without weighing down the strands. Simply rub your hands together to warm the oil, and pat your hands over your face rather than rubbing the oil in. When applying it to the hair, focus on the ends. Longer, thicker hair will need a little extra. Marula oil helps reverse sun damage, boost skin cell activity, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Ethical and sustainable

Ethically-focused companies may source their marula oil through one of the numerous Fair Trade communities in South Africa, where programs support women in village collectives. The women crack open the seed, or nut, to remove the kernels from which the oil will be extracted. Labour-intensive technology and filtration techniques are used for the extraction process in some collectives, eliminating the need for solvents and producing a high-quality cold-pressed oil with innate oxidative stability.
For example, the Eudafano Women’s Cooperative in northern Namibia, which supplies The Body Shop (, provides income for 1,750 women in an area where no other income-earning opportunities exist. The women develop an entrepreneurial attitude through selling marula juice locally and marketing Eudafano’s marula oil internationally, and they’re taught how to manage their finances. So before buying the oil, check the company’s website to determine their policies around ensuring the wellbeing of the communities where the marula grows, and the sustainability of the industry over the long term.

Teresa Mitchell-Paterson BHSc (CompMed), MHSc (HumNut), AdvDipNat, is a member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society.