Monday, March 16, 2009

Oils: A short guide

May I suggest visiting the emollients section of the blog instead of just reading this page? I've written posts on every oil I've ever used, which you can find there, as well as posts on all the things you'll find in oils, like phytosterols and polyphenols, and comparison charts for all the oils and butters. This page is a good summary, but the emollients section of the blog will give you far more information! 

Almost every question you can think of asking me about oils will be found there. I'm not kidding! Check out the emollients section of the blog! now! 

It is great fun tweaking a recipe to suit your needs, and knowing your oils is a great way to make a creation your own. You can extend the shelf life of your oils by adding up to 0.5% Vitamin E to your creations or to the oils themselves. Unsaturated oils - meaning those with a double bond - will go rancid more quickly than saturated oils. The oils we use in bath & body products are called "carrier oils" (at the suppliers' sites) and they are all unsaturated oils. (Some of the butters will be saturated, but for the most part, you are going to be using unsaturated, liquid oils in your creations.)

(Why does something go rancid? For more information, click here!)

When you are considering your oils, think about the following...
  • What do I want in a moisturizing lotion or bar? If you are looking for help with dry, cracked skin, you will use different oils than if you are looking for anti-inflammatory oils that might help with acne.
  • How long is the shelf life of the oil? Hempseed oil, for instance, is fantastic stuff, but if it is going to be rancid in 3 months, it might not be ideal for something you are going to take a long time to use.
  • How much does the oil cost? If you find something you simply have to have, then use it! But if you are going to be using a lot of something, consider the cost when tweaking a recipe.
When reading this oil list, please note the following:
Light, medium, or heavy weight - this indicates how it feels on your skin
Low, medium, high - this indicates the comedoegenity of the oil, more relevant for facial products

This list is not the end all and be all of's meant to be a starting point to introduce you to the basic oils you'll find in your suppliers' inventory and introduce you to the various properties, in addition to cost and feel, you might want to consider when choosing your oils. Please feel free to e-mail or comment if you have some oils or qualities of oils I've forgotten! (As for my favourites...well, you'll learn more about those in the coming days!)

Finally, you can purchase a lot of these oils at the grocery or health food store. If you do, assume you have no more than a 6 month shelf life as you do not know how long they have been on the shelves. For something like hempseed oil that has been kept in a refrigerator, assume 3 months.

Finally finally...Let's say you find a killer recipe on the 'net for something like lotion, but you don't have the oils they suggest. You can substitute a similar weight oil for another, so check out this list to see what would work for the weight. For instance, let's say a recipe suggests apricot kernel oil: You could substitute sunflower, safflower, soy bean, or another light oil. Or if it calls for avocado oil...substitute olive or castor oil. (Most of the time recipes are formulated by a company to use many different ingredients so you'll buy more -- I know, it's shocking! -- or by people like me who only have so many products on hand or who have a preferred oil.) Substituting one oil for another may change the feeling of the recipe (especially if you go for a "dry" oil like hazelnut), but for the most part it won't mess up any of the emulsification (more on this another day) and it won't mess up the preservatives.

Apricot kernel oil - light weight, low comedogenity
Good for dry, sensitive, mature skin, or really any type of skin. This penetrates quickly without an oily feeling. High in oleic and linoleic acids.
Shelf life: 6 to 9 months.

Avocado oil - heavy weight, low.
Good for sensitive, dehydrated, cracked, and maturing skin. High in Vitamins A, B1, B2, B5 (panthothenic acid), minerals, protein, lecithin, and fatty acids. Improves skin elasticity. Great for feet.
Shelf life: about 1 year.

Castor oil - heavy weight, low
A humectant, it attracts and retains moisture to the skin. It is a thick, viscous oil, soothing and lubricating, and it is absorbed quickly. It is good for muscle aches. It acts as a barrier agent.
Shelf life: about 1 year.

Fractionated coconut oil - very light weight (technically, this is an ester)
Absorbed by the skin well and doesn't stain clothing or sheets. Great for hair care products.
Shelf life: more than 1 year

Grapeseed oil - light weight
A slightly astringent oil good for hypoallergenic applications, massage oils, and facial moisturizers.
Shelf life: 3 to 6 months

Hempseed oil - light to medium weight (if it is refined or unrefined)
Protects skin, offers anti-inflammatory properties. With a high content of fatty acids, it resembles the body's natural sebum, making it great for acne prone skin. It is quickly absorbed into the skin. It contains ceramides, which protect the skin. Very high in gamma linolenic acid.
Shelf life: under 3 months (store in the refrigerator and always add Vitamin E to any creation with hempseed oil.)

Hazelnut oil - light weight
Not great for mature, aging skin but good for oily skin due to its astringent properties. Highly penetrative and nutritive to skin and hair. Very high in fatty acids. (If you have full blown acne on your face, odds are good you have reduced linoleic acid levels, which means this isn't a great oil for your skin.)
Shelf life: 6 to 9 months.

Jojoba oil - light to medium weight
Great for premature aging and wrinkling skin and sensitive or oily skin. Anti-inflammatory, bactericidal properties. Adds denseness to skin lubricants as it is a liquid wax. It resembles human sebum, and is great for hair care and facial products.
Shelf life: over 1 year.

Macademia nut oil - medium weight, low comedogenity
Resembles the skin's sebum, so great for facial applications.
Shelf life: 9 to 12 months.

Olive oil - heavy weight
Acts as a humectant, attracting external moisture. Good for inflamed skin. Does not block the natural functions of the skin, and could be good for cell regeneration.
Shelf life: 1 year.

Rice bran oil - medium weight
Good for sensitive, mature, or aging skin. A great emollient with softening and moisturizing properties. High in fatty acids, Vitamin E complex, phytosterols, polyphenols, and squalene. It contains the highest amount of Vitamin E in all the natural oils. Can act as an anti-oxidant for other oils.
Shelf life: 1 year

Safflower oil - light weight, low
Great for mature or damaged skin, should be the first consideration when creating a moisturizing lotion. High in Vitamins A, D & E, lecithin, and omega 9. Can offer cell regenerating properties and excellent skin peentration.
Shelf life: 3 to 6 months.

Sesame oil - light to medium weight, low
Rich in fatty acids, Vitamins B & E, calcium, magnesium & phosphorus. A good emollient, it restructures and moisturizes skin. Great for massage oils as it does not stain clothes or sheets.
Shelf life: 6 to 9 months

Soy bean oil - light weight, medium comedogenity
Good carrier oil with 60% unsaturated fatty acids. A source of Vitamin E. (As this is a very low cost oil, consider this as the backbone of a lotion bar or other oil based product).
Shelf life: 6 to 9 months

Sunflower oil - light weight, low comedogenity
Great for mature, dry, sensitive, or damaged skin. High in essential fatty acids. Offers moisturizing, cell regeneration, and conditioning for the skin. Great for recipes designed to treat dry, weathered, aged, or damaged skin. Lays down a slightly oily protective layer on the skin that resists rancidity. (As a note, look for high oleic sunflower oil as this has a longer shelf life).
Shelf life: 6 to 9 months.

Sweet almond oil - light weight, low comedogenity
An excellent emollient and softener. It is lubricating, but not penetrating. Good for skin that is very dry or inflamed.
Rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, and E.
Shelf life: 6 to 9 months.

There's a few basics to get you started for our project tomorrow -- lotion bars!


acbaker82 said...

Thank you so much for the information, so many oils, so little money, he he.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if this is the appropriate place to ask this, but here I go. :)

I know that there are a lot of natural ingredients that can add different benefits in a DIY hair conditioner/shampoo.

Rosemary is one just off the top of my head. However, you can use this as an Essential Oil, extract or a tea (I'm sure there's more, but I'm not sure what they are).

How do I know what would benefit me most? What are the different properties of each of these? Or are they all basically the same?

Your blog is the best! Thank you for all the great information!


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

I can make a few suggestions...

1. Check out the posts I've written on extracts to see which ones are great for your hair type. (Click here to see the list.) What you choose will depend on your hair type. If you have oily hair, rosemary is awesome. If you have dandruffy hair, white willow bark is great. So check out those extracts to see what will work for you.

2. Check out the posts I've made about various oils - I've tried to include information on usage in hair care, along with some recipes. (Click on the label about oils.)

3. Learn all you can about coconut oil. Studies have shown it is amazing for our hair, and it's inexpensive. (Link to coconut oil for hair care.)

For most of the posts on hair care, click here - warning: it's a long list.

Oils, part 1 -PDF
Oils, part 2 - PDF
Conditioners - PDF

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the links! Great info!

I think I poorly stated what I was wondering about most.

What is the difference between an EO, Extract or tea? (Besides how they are made)

For example, if I was going to use Rosemary, which form would be the best to use in a shampoo or conditioner?

Or is there not much of a difference between the effectiveness of Rosemary EO, extract or tea?

I know each processes the "Rosemary" differently, but will it really make that big of a difference in which one I choose to use?

Thanks for your help! -k

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

I have answered your question in this post because it was getting too long as a comment.

stacey said...

The supplier I'm thinking of purchasing my soy bean oil says the oil is solid at room temperature. I would like to use with other oils and perhaps some IPM in a brown sugar body scrub. Will this oil make the entire body scrub solid?

Anonymous said...

I'm just starting to make my own lotions, and this is the first site I've found that lays out the qualities of all these different oils. Thank you so much, this is a great resource!

Minaz said...

Hi Susan, just wanted to say thank you. Love your blog, it's like a little encyclopedia of cosmetics.

love, Minaz

Ella said...

Hi Susan,as much as i have learned from you i still find myself wondering about simple ingredinents that are waiting to used...and this poppy seed oil is one of them. Honestly,i'we been doing magic with all sorts of complicated ingredients-just this simple oil somehow never gets its turn:) please,enlighten me with some ideas,facts, anything!
P.s.great fan of your blog;)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Ella. I know nothing about poppy seed oil, and neither does the internet, from what I can tell. This is the only reference I could find on the topic. Sorry I couldn't find more. I guess you'd use it like you would sunflower or soy bean oil!

Ella said...

I is very hard to find any useful info on this oil...i dont know what i was thinking when i bought was a cheap chane to try something new...
Thank you anyway, i 'll check that link out:)
I'try it and see if there is anything special about it:)

Birgit said...

Have you ever played around with tamanu oil? It's quite pricy but apparently can do pretty much anything (except maybe fold my laundry). I am curious to try it out, but would like to hear your opinion on it before I splurge.

Anonymous said...

Hey I hv oily acne prone skin
Looking for a facial oil tht keeps my oil n vane at bay n makes skin flawless n beautiful :)

Erika said...

Thank you for all this wonderful information!

I am studying fatty acid profiles, but I have a question about the feel of oil on the skin.

What is it about oils that impart a drier feel, like avocado, hazelnut and macadamia versus oils that impart a greasier feel, like olive, sunflower and soy bean?

When I look at the fatty acid profiles of all of these, I don't understand what the differences are that make the oil impart the dry feel or the greasier feel.

Thanks so much! I love this blog and your SnapGuide too!


still learning and still confused (at times) said...

Hello Everyone

If you use enough preservative (for water products) and/or anti oxidant (for non water products) that are mixed correctly does the shelf life of an oil matter? I ask because the products sold at stores last forever. The products contain oils w a short shelf life but contain preservatives. The products still work, doesn't smell, or change color.

Eric87 said...

Hello Susan,

In your experience, is emulsifying castor oil is harder than any other oils? In a thick cream formula I am creating, if I include castor oil, the emulsification will fail. Omitting it, or replacing it with PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor oil will make it work.

Have you got any idea why is that so? Thanks!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Eric87! No, it is not harder to emulsify castor oil. Could you please send along your complete recipe in percentages and your exact process and we might be able to help further.

Eric87 said...


I have sent you an email. My email is erictimothy87 at yahoo dot com. Hopefully you don't mind me sending you email. Thank you Susan.

Jan Jacobs said...

Omg Susan, you are the, where do you keep all this knowledge besides your brain!!!

buzz said...

You are the best thanks for giving so much information for free. you are definitely building up good karma :D