Sunday, January 9, 2011

Question: Can we substitute one oil for another?

At least once a day, someone writes to me to ask if they can substitute this oil for that one, and my answer is always "yes!!!" (although I don't always put exclamation marks at the end of the sentence).

I spent a small fortune on oils and butters when I started on this amazing journey of making bath and body products. I'm glad I tried them - it gave me an idea of which oils I liked and what skin feel I wanted - but it made me so nervous when I used soy bean oil in place of olive oil for the first time! The lotion worked, and it felt nice (both the lotion and my sense of accomplishment).

When you see lotion recipes posted on this blog, they reflect my personal preferences, the availability of the ingredients, and my style of making things. If you don't like olive oil or prefer apricot kernel to something I'm using, then go for it! I'm not saying you can't e-mail me to ask if you can substitute one thing for another, but why not try it! You'd be amazed at how much difference the substitution of one oil can make! (Hence the six ingredient challenge!) And it's such a great learning process!

Let's say you want to make the lotion I made the other day - the six ingredient lotion with shea, soy bean, and sesame oil - but you don't have any sesame oil. You can do some research on sesame oil (or use the comparison chart) and see what it brings to the party, then exchange it for something similar - rice bran oil tends to be my favourite substitute - or you can switch it for whatever you have in your workshop that day.

Let's say you have some brand new avocado oil and want to use that. Avocado is a slightly heavier, slightly more astringent oil than the sesame seed oil, so the lotion may feel slightly drier and slightly heavier. It will contain more oleic acid than the lotion I originally made, and you've reduced the amount of Vitamin E in the product, so it's a good idea to add up to 1% to get the same benefits.

Or let's say you like apricot kernel oil. Apricot kernel oil is lighter than sesame seed oil, with some linoleic acid and a lot of Vitamin E and phytosterols. So your product will be lighter and have a little less linoleic acid.

So if you made your shea, soy bean, and avocado oil lotion, you'd have something that might feel slightly heavier, feel slightly drier, and will contain more oleic acid. If you make the shea, soy bean, and apricot kernel lotion, you'd have something that might feel lighter. But you still have a lotion!

Most oils have an HLB value of 6 to 8, with the average being 7, so you can generally switch one oil for another without concern for the emulsification of the lotion. Where you will see a difference is in the fatty acid breakdown, in the amount of Vitamin E, phytosterols, and polyphenols, and in the skin feel. (And yes, you can use grocery store oils in your products. Click here to learn more!)


Topcat said...

I love that you love rice bran oil! It is my favourite oil to include in my products - soap, scrub, lotion, name it. I am even cleaning my teeth with my 100% rbo cp soap at the moment (tastes nutty)

Karen said...

Hi Susan
I read somewhere on the your blog (sorry for putting the comment here instead of there but couldn't find it again) that you don't have to worry about ph in a lotion. I have looked elsewhere on the web and the info varies from "it should be 4-5" to "4 is too low" to "6-7" and am now a bit confused. I am using cetyl alcohol and glyceryl monostearate as thickener and emulsifier which is giving a read of 7 on a test strip. have tried adjusting with lactic acid but its tricky to get the right amount and not break apart the emulsion. Is it ok to leave it at 7?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Karen. I can't find it either - when I type in pH and lotion I get 300 posts, and that's just too much work this morning! I think it's okay to leave a lotion at pH 7 rather than messing with it because our skin will respond to a neutral product as well as a slightly acidic product (ph 6 or so). Most of the ingredients we use in our lotions - for instance, oils - don't have a pH, and most are neutrally charged (non-ionic) and designed to be put into lotions. Some people like to adjust the pH with apple cider vinegar, lactic acid, citric acid, and so on, but I find that's a lot of work that can break the emulsion (as you've found out), when pH 7 works well. The place you'll find problems with this is when you're making moisturizers with things like AHAs, but that's a post for another day!

Karen said...

Thats great, Susan thanks.
Just recently discovered your blog - its awesome, don't know how you find the time!

Thanks again

Justine said...

This is definitly a variation of this question but I still have to ask it.
I cannot find any plant butters can I just substitiute them with another oil and maybe compensate with a higher stearic content or do I need any new ingredient?

Kirsten Thomas. said...

Hi, there is no link available for the conversion chart. I am trying to find a good sub for soy oil, and also another recipe where I need to sub out macademia nut oil. Any help would be appreciated. thanks!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Kirsten! If you look to the right hand side of the blog, you'll see the lists to links, which include the oil comparison charts. Or you could click on the "emollients section of the blog" - which you'll find on the right hand side of the blog - to see all the information I have gathered on oils and butters. There are no conversion charts, though. You have to learn what each oil brings to the mix then make your decision about substitutions after learning what they have to offer. Have fun!