Comparison of Abyssinian oil and argan oil in hair care

Oils are an essential component to provide natural lustre, lubricity and an emollient feeling to hair care products. Therefore different natural oils are commonly used in rinse-off and leave-in products for hair conditioning benefits.

In this article we want to demonstrate the benefits and good performance of using Fancor Abyssinian oil in hair care applications. Furthermore we compare this natural oil with the popular argan oil, which is known for its conditioning and shine enhancing effect on hair. TRI Princeton, an independent non-profit scientific research and education institute located in New Jersey, US, and well known in the market for its applied hair science, conducted a study to evaluate the effect of both oils for increasing combability, hair strengthening, anti-breakage and detection of the shine of the hair after treatment. Based on the results of the study we can claim that Fancor Abyssinian oil has a very good overall performance in all evaluated aspects. It can increase the manageability, shine and strength of the hair. These benefits were displayed to be equal or even better when compared with argan oil. The results of the study show Fancor Abyssinian oil is a comparable substitution for argan oil in hair care applications.
Overview of the crops
The Crambe abyssinica is an oilseed crop belonging to the Brassicaceae family. It is known under the name Abyssinian plant (Fig. 1), crambe or even Abyssinian mustard. It is an annual plant with a higher resistance against drought in comparison to other oilseed crops due to a long tap root. Only moderate rainfall for growth is necessary. It is native to the Ethiopian Highlands (also known as Abyssinia). Nowadays, Abyssinian crops are also successfully cultivated in the Mediterranean and temperate zones due to their ability to grow even in colder regions. The breeding of this plant has been through natural selection without any genetic engineering. The plant can grow up to 1.5 m depending on the humidity during their growth period and flowering with small, hermaphroditic four-leaved flowers. The Abyssinian plant needs around 50 days until it flowers with an additional 30 days before the crops can be harvested. Therefore a high adaptability of this renewable plant on actual market demand is achievable. The Argania spinosa is a slow-growing tree of the Sapotaceae family exclusively endemic in the southwest of Morocco, the land of the Amazigh (native Berber). The argan groves cover about 8000 km2 and are a designated UNESCO Biosphere reserve. The normal life span of an argan tree (Fig. 2), can be more than 200 years and it can actively protect the Earth’s crust against erosion. It can grow to between 8 and 10 metres high and provides an annual crop only once a year. The fruits are 2-4 cm long, oval and contain one very hard nut with mainly one oil-rich seed inside. The argan oil extracted from the kernels has been used by native people as an edible oil for centuries and became a very popular and expensive oil in the last decade.1–3 The argan tree is facing trouble in maintaining its integrity and may induce degradation due to the recurrent droughts and forest overuse.1,3 Natural oils are essential ingredients for formulation chemists. Plant oils are esters of glycerine and fatty acids which form triglycerides. Natural oils can also contain various smaller components, such as free fatty acids, phospholipids, tocopherols and hydrocarbons. Fancor Abyssinian Oil is removed from the Crambe abyssinica seeds using a mechanical crushing process. Elementis Specialties does not use an external heat source to aid the process. The seeds of the Abyssinian plant (Fig. 3) are about 3 mm diameter and contain approximately 30% Abyssinian oil. Unlike many other oils Fancor Abyssinian oil is not produced via solvent extraction so it is a natural product. This green processing method has enabled Elementis Specialties to gain Ecocert certification status for Fancor Abyssinian oil. The nuts of the argan tree (Fig. 4) are about 3 cm long and contain around 60% argan oil. The success of argan oil on the international market has created a need to secure the quality of this high-value product. This can be a reason for people to fraudulently attempt to adulterate argan oil with cheaper oils.1,2 Validation of its quality, origin and sustainability is therefore very important. Traditional argan oil preparation follows a multistep process that is often not standardised.3 As a result of this, the quality can vary from batch to batch. For cosmetic applications mainly unroasted kernels are used and very often the oil is extracted with lipophilic solvents. Some grades of argan oil also have Ecocert certification status, but not all. Fancor Abyssinian oil has the INCI Name: Crambe Abyssinica Seed Oil. Argan oil has the INCI Name: Argania Spinosa (Argan) Oil.
Abyssinian and argan oil composition
Abyssinian oil and argan oil both have very high levels of unsaturated fatty acids. Abyssinian oil contains a high percentage of unsaturated C22 omega-9 fatty acids. Argan oil is mainly composed of triglyerides with C18 omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acid, which are major parts of Abyssinian oil as well. Both oils will therefore have a similar application on skin and hair, with the Abyssinian oil offering a slightly richer feel. The typical fatty acid profiles of Abyssinian oil and argan oil can be seen in Table 1.
Abyssinian and argan oil appearance
Abyssinian oil is a clear liquid oil and very light in colour, even though it has a high molecular weight. Argan oil can come in various shades, but it is most commonly clear and copper to golden-coloured. Both oils can be seen in Figure 8. Flow curves of the individual oils were measured using a Paar Physica MCR 300 Rheometer. The flow curves (Fig. 9) show that Abyssinian oil has a slightly higher viscosity to argan oil. This is probably due to the Abyssinian oil containing slightly more fatty acids with a higher carbon chain length. Many claims are being made to demonstrate the effectiveness of hair care products. These include aspects like manageability of the hair, protection, strengthening of the hair fibres and antibreaking properties. Furthermore a visible benefit like the enhancement of the natural shine of the hair is important to achieve customer satisfaction. To prove the benefit of hair treatment with Abyssinian oil in comparison to argan oil, Elementis Specialties sponsored an independent study that was carried out by TRI Princeton. The tests were mainly performed on mixed race hair, which offers a combination of characteristics of different ethnic hair types mixed with African origin. Due to the ellipticity and high degree of curliness, hair of African or mixed race origin has a tendency to be very sensitive against damage. Therefore, an improved hair quality in this type of hair can demonstrate the benefit of a treatment with Abyssinian and argan oil very efficiently. TRI Princeton conducted a dry combing test, a repeated grooming test and quantified the shine of the hair. The hair tresses were cleansed with a nonconditioning shampoo, dried overnight under controlled humidity (60%) and afterwards the oils were applied to the hair at a dosage of 0.5 mL per 3 gram hair tress. Based on the results of three different test methods we can claim that Abyssinian oil offers the same benefits as argan oil in improving the manageability of the hair, enhancing the shine and strengthening the hair fibres.
Impact of treatment with Abyssinian and argan oil on hair
Measurement of hair manageability – dry combing
Most conditioning products claim to increase the manageability and combability of the hair due to a lubrication and conditioning effect of the hair fibres. Improving the combability of the hair is perceived as the hair being in better condition. Better combability decreases the mechanical damage on the hair because less force is needed to untangle the hair, therefore, the combability of hair after treatment with conditioning agents provides an indicator if the effectiveness of the treatment is sufficient. TRI Princeton used the Instron Tensile Tester to quantitatively evaluate the combability of mixed race hair treated both with Abyssinian oil or argan oil (Fig. 11).4 Virgin mixed race hair tresses were used and to ensure statistical relevance eight standardised hair tresses were used per sample, the combing force was measured eight times on each tress.
Dry combing results
 To comb untreated mixed race hair it is necessary to use almost 2000 gmf frictional force due to its kinked structure. Both Abyssinian oil and argan oil effectively increased the combability by reducing the required force down to 1.5% of the force initially needed for untreated mixed race hair. In Figure 12 this striking effect is obvious, but the difference between a treatment with Abyssinian oil or argan oil cannot be seen, therefore a zoom into the results of both oils is given in Figure 13. In the direct comparison of Abyssinian oil and argan oil even a better combability of the hair treated with Abyssinian oil can be seen. This means that Abyssinian oil is an even more effective conditioner than argan oil.
Measurement of anti-breakage and strengthening repeated grooming
The ability of natural oils to coat the hair fibres and to reduce snags, entanglements and abrasion leads to strengthening of the hair. This effect is linked to the phenomenon of anti-breakage, which is a common problem in real life due to different stress factors like grooming and hair-dressing. To enable the hair fibres to stay in good and healthy-looking shape, although being confronted with this potential damaging procedures, is highly appreciated by consumers of hair care products. A repeated grooming experiment was used to quantify the strengthening and anti-breaking effect of Abyssinian oil and argan oil, which evaluated broken fibres after repeated combing strokes.5 Ten hair tresses per treatment were used and brushed 10,000 times, then the broken fibres are counted and analysed. The repeated groomer device is shown in Figure 14. It consists of a chamber and four rotating combs. The broken fibres are collected on a plate under each tress. The hair was chemically relaxed twice to improve the sensitivity and to simulate the conditions where people are treating their hair chemically to modify their natural look. This experiment shows a reasonable representation of real-life conditions and the potential reduction of hair fibre breakage due to conditioning agents. The experiment was conducted on mixed race hair again due to the fact that ethnic and mixed race hair is known to be more affected by breakage than Caucasian or Asian hair.
Repeated grooming results
Untreated mixed race hair showed a high number of 170 broken fibres per 10,000 strokes which reflected the higher breaking potential in comparison to Caucasian hair that yielded around 80 - 100 broken fibres per 10,000 grooming strokes. The effect of using Abyssinian oil or argan oil is impressive as they reduce the number of broken fibres for untreated mixed race hair by 93%. In Figure 15 this anti-breaking effect is obvious, but the difference between a treatment with Abyssinian oil or argan oil cannot be seen, therefore a zoom into the results of both oils is given in Figure 16. Figure 16 shows that Abyssinian oil has an even higher potential to strengthen the hair fibres against grooming damage shown by reducing the amount of broken fibres down to 10.3 per 10,000 strokes. The results display the benefit that Abyssinian oil offers a high anti-breakage performance desired by many consumers.
Quantification of shine
The shine of the hair is a very highly appreciated attribute of healthy-looking hair and a common claim of many hair care products. The commercially-available SAMBA device by Bossa Nova was used to quantify the shine enhancement from Abyssinian oil and argan oil, seen in Figure 17. This method was developed to measure the lustre and shine of the hair tress by light reflected from a curved hair tress.6 The quantification is based on an image analysis by scanning the light distribution of a hair sample across highlighted and dark areas.
Results of shine measurements
The natural shine of untreated mixed race hair is around 165 technical shine units (in Reich-Robbins units).6 The effect of using Abyssinian oil or argan oil to enhance the shine of the hair is impressive for both natural oils by almost doubling the apparent shine on the hair in comparison to untreated mixed race hair. These results can be seen in Figure 18. Mixed race hair treated with argan oil offers a slightly higher technical shine of 300 units compared to the mixed race hair treated with Abyssinian oil that resulted in 290 units. Argan oil is very well known in the market as natural shine enhancer and in some cases claimed being able to outperform the competition in this particular aspect. Therefore Abyssinian oil is highly comparable to argan oil, offering almost the same shine enhancing benefit.
Fancor Abyssinian oil is a comparable substitution for argan oil in hair care applications. The great performance of Abyssinian oil in hair care applications has been displayed in the test results presented in this report. Fancor Abyssinian oil offers the typical benefits of using argan oil in hair care products like shine enhancing, conditioning and strengthening, in some cases even outperformed them. Since Abyssinian is an annual crop that is planted each year and yields seeds within months, it is a more reliable oil source than argan, which is mainly produced in Morocco’s Argan forest, an area designated as a UNESCO reserve. Furthermore, argan oil is a high-priced oil for nutrition and cosmetics and its security of supply cannot be guaranteed due to growth and harvesting conditions. Abyssinian is an economic alternative of a reliable source not competing against nutrition usage. As a consequence of its short growth and harvesting conditions it is a renewable and sustainable plant easily adaptable to the increasing demands of the market. Below we have highlighted the similarities and enhanced performance characteristics of Abyssinian oil compared to argan oil in hair care:
•  Similar fatty acid composition: Although slightly different the Abyssinian oil and Argan Oil both have high levels of long chain unsaturated fatty acids.
•  Conditioning effect: Abyssinian oil provides similar or even slightly better combability than argan oil. Abyssinian oil argan oil therefore offer the same conditioning and manageability effect for hair.
•  Anti-breakage effect: Repeated grooming tests showed the capability of Abyssinian oil and argan oil to strengthen the hair and to reduce the breaking of hair fibres significantly. The overall results showed Abyssinian oil performance was superior to argan oil in reducing the breakage of the hair fibre.
•  Natural shine enhancer: Argan oil is very well known for its outperforming shine enhancing capabilities. When compared to Abyssinian oil this is in the same range of benefit. This impressively demonstrates the potential of Abyssinian oil as an alternative to argan oil.
1 Lybbert TJ, Aboudrare A, Chaloud D, Magnan N, Nash M. Booming markets for Moroccan argan oil appear to benefit some rural households while threatening the endemic argan forest. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2011; 108 (34): 13963-8. PPCC 2 Charrouf Z, Guillaume D. Argan oil: Occurrence, composition and impact on human health. Eur J Lipid Sci Technol 2008; 110: 632-6. 3 Guillaume D, Charrouf Z. Argan oil. Monograph. Altern Med Rev 2001; 16 (3): 275-9. 4 Garcia ML, Diaz J. Combability measurements on human hair. JSCC 1976; 27: 379-98. 5 Evans TA, Park K. A statistical analysis of hair breakage. II. Repeated grooming experiments. JSCC 2010; 61: 439-55. 6 McMullen R, Jachowicz J. Optical properties of hair: effect of treatments on luster as quantified by image analysis. JSCC 2003; 54: 335-51.

Photo Credit: Kurt Stueber