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Oil Properties for Soap Making

No one is a real soap maker without knowing its oils. This is why a chart like this is mandatory. After all you can skip most soap-making ingredients, like colorants, essential oils, superfat oils, herbs, and seeds for decoration… but never your oils, as they are your base ingredient to make soap!

In this article, you can find a list of the 13 oils most commonly used for soap making, with a brief description of how they are produced, their main characteristics, properties for soap making and indications of where to buy them.

During my research for this article, I was able to notice that most oils are “rich in essencial fatty acids, anti-oxidants and vitamins”. Although that is true in most cases, 1. It doesn’t distinguish them and 2. it feels like sales speech, which doesn’t contribute to give the deserved credit to natural cosmetics … 

For that reason, I’ve highlighted what are the strenghts and weaknesses of each oil, to have a better understanding of when to use each one.

However, my golden rule for soap making is to use your locally available oils. Don’t try to use coconut oil or olive oil, if you have babassu oil or palm oil easily available and cheaper for you!

All the websites I have consulted advise against using used oil to make soaps, just like cooking. The reason is the degradation of oil properties with temperature, and possible chemical structure change, including a potential presence of toxic substances. Only fresh, good quality oils make quality products.

Soap Making Oils Chart – Free Printable

Get a printable version of this soap making oils chart, completely FREE! Available in english and portuguese!

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Olive oil

Olea Europaea

What is it: This is the comes from pressed olives. It’s best known as a healthy, edible oil with a fruity aroma. Gentle oil with little cleansing properties, but very conditioning with good emmolient properties due to the oleic acid content, and high in antioxidants (Vitamins E and polyphenols) and Vitamin A (check out Explaining Each Oil Element Compound).

Strenghts and Weaknesses: Highly conditioning and makes a really good soap for sensitive skins. When used raw, do a skin test before using it, especially if you have very sensitive skin or oily/acne-prone skin. Your skin condition might worsen, as the high oleic acid content might clog skin pores, increasing the risk of inflammation and infection (comedogenic rating of 2). 

Shelf Life: 2 years

Properties for soap: very conditioning, very gentle for sensitive skin. Makes a soft soap and is best paired with a harder fat or oil. However it is possible to make soap (Castile soap) only with this oil type.

Usage for Soap:  Up to 100%

Where to find this oil: It’s a very good Mediterranean oil, common in Portuguese kitchens. You probably already have it! Preferably, always use 100% extra virgin olive oil (do not use oil blends in soap making).

Coconut oil

Cocos Nucifera

What is it: Coconut oil is an edible oil made from the meat of mature coconuts. It’s available in refined or unrefined varieties. Unrefined coconut oil comes from fresh coconut meat. It’s not processed with chemicals and retains its coconut aroma and flavor. Refined coconut oil comes from dried coconut meat, and is bleached and deodorized to remove contaminants, aroma and flavour. Refined coconut isn’t all-natural and isn’t recommended for use as a carrier oil.

Coconut oil contains skin-nourishing fatty acids and polyphenols, which make it a great carrier oil for massage oils and skin care preparations (check out Explaining Each Oil Element Compound).

Strenghts and Weaknesses: Great to build lather on soaps, cleansing oil, very moisturizing, shows some anti-inflammatory properties when applied on skin. Very good to hydrate hair as it has a very good penetration on hair shaft. But make a skin test if you have sensitive or oily skin, as it might clog pores (and cause blackheads or pimples) due to its saturated fat content (comedogeny of 4). 

Shelf Life: 18 months

Properties for soap: very cleansing, adds hardness, high lather with high stable bubbles. Can be drying if it is over 45% of total oils. Greatly paired with olive oil.

Usage for Soap: 15% to 30% (but you can make a 100% coconut soap bar)

Where to find this oil: Best known as a new edible, healthy oil, unrefined coconut oil is also starting to be common in supermarkets.

Sunflower oil

Helianthus Annuus

What is it: It is an edible oil extracted from sunflower seeds, with a neutral odor. The oil is said to act as a skin barrier against toxins and germs that cause infection, making it a great choice for irritated skin. It helps soften skin, moisturize skin, and soothe irritation. High in oleic or linoleic fatty acids (depending in the oil type), rich in vitamins A, D and E, it is probably the cheapest from this list, and for that has a great quality/price relation. If you wish to make cheap cosmetics, this oil is your best friend (check out Explaining Each Oil Element Compound).

Strenghs and Weaknesses: Best relation quality/price you will ever find. It’s a non-comedogenic oil (0-2), due to high linoleic content, moisturizing, due oleic acid content, filled with vitamins (A, B, D, E), suitable for all skin types … and cheap! 

Shelf Life: 6 months

Properties for soap: very conditioning, adds stable and creamy lather, and gives a silky feeling to soap bars. Can’t be used above 25% as it makes a very soft soap. Helps slowing down trace, ideal to create designs, giving time to work.

Usage for Soap:  5% to 20%

Where you find this oil: The most common and cheap kitchen oil. Be careful to purchase 100% pure, as it usually comes mixed with other vegetable oils.

Castor oil

Ricinus Communis

What is it: This powerful oil is extracted from the castor bean and is particularly high in the unsaturated fatty acid ricinoleic – with 90% ricinoleic acid – that helps with several skin conditions (check out Explaining Each Oil Element Compound). A hard shiny oil, it is used in many beauty products for its emollient properties and ability to form a barrier against harsh conditions.

Strenghts and Weaknesses: Makes very conditioning, fluffy, stable lather in soap. Castor oil is said to promote skin health and have many benefits for facial skin, and hair. However, most of these statements are not supported scientifically. Despite being a hard, thick oil, it is a comedogenic oil of 1, meaning it doesn’t clog pores and is easily absorbed by skin.

Shelf Life: 2 years

Properties for soap: conditioning, moisturizing, creamy lather with high stable bubbles. Above 10% in soap it can lead to a sticky bar.

Usage for Soap:  3% to 10%

Where to find this oil: Health stores usually have castor oil in their skincare section. Pharmacies? Maybe.

Sweet almond oil

Prunus Dulcis

What is it: It’s an edible oil made from the kernels of sweet almonds. It has a strong, nutty aroma. The oil is lightweight and absorbs easily, and is a great moisturizer for dry skin. It has vitamin B and E, oleic and linoleic acids, and several essential minerals like calcium, magnesium or iron (check out Explaining Each Oil Element Compound).

Strenghts and Weaknesses: Filled with several nutrients, vitamins, fatty acids, lightweight and easily absorbed by skin, this oil is very complete, suited for all skin types, great for skin care. Beware if you have nut alergy, do a skin test before using it. 

Shelf Life: 1 year

Properties for soap: stable medium lather, good moisturizer

Usage for Soap:  5% to 20%

Where to find this oil: You can purchase sweet almond oil in health stores and pharmacies.

Palm oil

Elaeis Guineensis

What is it: Cold-pressed from the fruit of the palm tree. There are two varieties of this oil. Refined, Bleach and Deodorized (RBD) and the unrefined version which is often referred to as African Palm oil. African Palm Oil is a fabulous orange color and may give your soap a creamy butter yellow or a lovely orange shade. The Refined oil (RBD) is creamy off white in color. Palm oil production is involved in environmental problems linked with illegal deforestation and wild species endangerement.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Unlike all other vegetable oils in this list, it was rather difficult to find out good information about palm oil cosmetic properties. This vegetable oil has clearly become a “scape goat”, unjustly it might be said, as palm oil usage has nothing to do with the unresponsible way its exploitation and consequent deforestation of natural habitats are conducted – which is the responsibility of the local human community and government, by the way, and in a greater scale, of all of us. 

Not using and banning palm oil from cosmetics won’t accomplish anything… There are just too many families which minimum life conditions depend on this oil. I’d strongly advise to read these article about the subject:

Read more in 100% Palm Oil Soap Recipe

Shelf Life: 1 year

Properties for soap: Very nice stable, conditioning lather. It is very high in palmitic acid which makes the soap hard and long lasting. This oil traces very quickly so care should be taken when using it with other quick tracing oils.

Usage for SoapUp to 50%; Up to 15% (red palm oil, because it may stain with higher %)

Where to find this oil: In Portugal, for example, it is possible to find palm oil in supermarkets

Grapeseed oil

Vitis Vinifera

What is it: It is extracted from the seeds of grapes, a winemaking by-product, and has fantastic skin penetration qualities. It has a thin, lightweight texture. It is high in linoleic acid and antioxidants.

Strenghts and Weaknesses: High in linoleic acid, it’s another low-comedogenic (1) oil. Along with hypo-allergenic properties, makes it ideal for all skin types, especially sensitive, allergy-prone skin. Silky textured and very moisturizing. 

Shelf Life: 1 year

Properties for soap: highly conditioning, creamy and stable lather

Usage for Soap:  Up to 15%

Where to find this oil: Health stores may have this oil available, but this is not an easy oil to find. Natural cosmetics suppliers will have this sort of product and also some essential oil brands, selling this oil as a carrier oil.

Rice bran oil

Oriza Sativa

What is it: It is extracted from the bran (outer coating) of the brown rice grain. It has a thick and moisturizing consistency, similar to olive oil. It is rich in vitamin E and antioxidants.

Strenghts and Weaknesses: Rich in anti-oxidants and with fair UV protection properties, it’s excelent for mature, damaged skin. High in linoleic and oleic acids, makes for a conditioning, moisturizing, easily absorbed oil for skin (low-comedogenic (2)).

Shelf Life: 2 years

Properties for soap: very conditioning, stable lather, contributes to hard bar. Slows down trace, as it is a liquid oil.

Usage for Soap:  Up to 100% (will produce a soap bar similar to olive oil, soft and with not much lather)

Where to find this oilHealth stores may have this oil available, but this is not an easy oil to find. Natural cosmetics suppliers will have this sort of product. Some essential oil brands may sell this oil as a carrier oil.

Jojoba oil

Simmondsia Chinensis

What is it: Jojoba oil is actually a wax-like substance, extracted from the seeds of jojoba plants. It has powerful moisturizing properties, contains vitamin E and several minerals.

Strenghts and Weaknesses: Jojoba oil has a fat profile very similar to human sebum, making it an almost-perfect moisturizer for skin and hair scalp. It is also low-comedogenic (2), making it adequate for all skin types, including acne-prone and oily.

Shelf Life: 2 years

Properties for soap: conditioning, moisturizing, strong stable lather, very stable, long-lasting soap bar. Use it more like a wax (it doesn’t fully saponify)

Usage for Soap:  Up to 10%

Where to find this oil: Natural cosmetics suppliers will have this sort of product. Some essential oil brands sell this oil as a carrier oil.

Argan oil

Argania Spinosa

What is it: Argan oil is a plant oil produced from the kernels of the argan tree (Argania spinosa L.) that is endemic to Morocco. Scientific studies note that Argan oil is commonly used as a skin and hair moisturizer and as a remedy for juvenile acne. Golden in color, it is a lightweight, quick absorbing oil. It’s strong in has powerful moisturizing properties, contains vitamin E and several minerals.

Strenghts and Weaknesses: Argan oil, also known as “liquid gold”, enhances the appearance and texture of skin and hair with its rich fatty acid and antioxidant content, easily hydrating, conditioning, and softening both without leaving a greasy residue.

Shelf Life: 2 years

Properties for soap: conditioning, moisturizing, adds hardness, stable rich lather. High in vitamin A and E and antioxidants.

Usage for Soap:  Up to 10%

Where to find this oil: Natural cosmetics suppliers will have this sort of product. Some essential oil brands sell this oil as a carrier oil.

Hempseed oil

Cannabis Sativa

What is it: Obtained by cold pressing hemp seeds from the Cannabis Sativa plant, it is a great source of fatty acids namely, omega 3 and omega 6, low on oleic acid, and contains vitamins A, C, D and E, making it a light oil, highly conditioning and rich in anti-oxidants. 

Strenghts and Weaknesses: True “non-comedogenic” (0), packed with vitamins and medicinal properties, is good to help treat skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis and others. This statement is actually backed up by science.

Shelf Life: 1 year

Properties for soap: highly conditioning, excellent lather

Usage for Soap:  Up to 15%

Where to find this oil: Hempseed oil is getting more common as its medicinal properties are being investigated and confirmed. Do not confuse this with CBD oil, they are different products. You may find this product in health stores or natural cosmetic products.

Rosehip seed oil

Rosa Canina and Rosa Rugose

What is it: It is cold pressed from rosehip seeds, the fruit of rose bushes, and is full of vitamins – A , C and F -, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids – oleic, palmitic, linoleic, gamma linolenic – that supposedly do wonderful things for your face. It has a lightweight, non greasy consistency.

Strenghts and Weaknesses: An oil packed with so many benefitial vitamins, anti-oxidants and fatty acids that is ideal to treat damaged and mature skin, as well as acne, making it a perfect anti-aging. I’ve personally used it on facial creams and I can testify for its properties. It’s only weakness is really the price (but it’s worth it!).

Shelf Life: 2 years

Properties for soap: good conditioning and moisturizing

Usage for Soap:  Up to 10%

Where to find this oil: Only natural cosmetic stores selling ingredients have this oil available.

Shea butter

Butyrospermum Parkii

What is it: It is actually a wax-like solid butter, and not an oil. It is a fat that is extracted from the nuts of the shea tree. It’s the queen of oils and butters in natural cosmetic, a noble ingredient. lts chemical structure contains: 

  • linoleic, palmitic, stearic, and oleic fatty acids, ingredients that balance oils on your skin
  • vitamins A, E, and F, antioxidant vitamins that promote circulation and healthy skin cell growth
  • triglycerides, the fatty part of the shea nut that nourishes and conditions your skin
  • cetyl esters, the waxy part of the shea nut butter that conditions skin and locks in moisture

Strenghts and Weaknesses: Highly moisturizing and conditioning, anti-oxidant and well balanced, it contains many medicinal properties for skin care. In soap, is a superfat by excellence, making soap silky and skin-loving. Besides, there are no records of allergic reactions with shea butter, despite being a nutty ingredient. It’s a bit expensive but totally worth its price.

Shelf Life: 2 years

Properties for soap: Luxury ingredient, emmolient, moisturizing and providing medicinal properties to soap (anti-inflammatory), it acts mostly as superfat (high in unsaponified material)

Usage for Soap:  Up to 15%

Where you can get: Natural cosmetic suppliers or essential oil suppliers sell shea butter.



What is it: A white semi-solid fat rendered from fatty tissues from pigs. Known mainly for being related with health issues like high cholesterol and heart diseases, due to its content of saturated fatty acids, it has a very bad reputation. Actually, if you make an objective analysis, just by comparing its composition with other oils and fats, it is very similar to palm oil, and better for your health (yes, I mean eating) than many processed cooking margarines and butters.

Shelf Life: 1 year (refrigerated)

Properties for soap: Very similar to palm oil, makes a very nice stable, conditioning and mild lather. It is very high in palmitic acid which makes the soap hard and long lasting. This oil traces very quickly so care should be taken when using it with other quick tracing oils.

Read more in What Does Lard Do In Soap?

Usage for SoapUp to 100%; Up to 15% (red palm oil, because it may stain with higher %)

Where to find this oil: Avoid supermarket lard, prefer handmade instead. You can find it in local markets or some butcher shops. You can also easily render it at home: How To Render White Lard At Home.

This list consists of the most common and most used oils in soap making, many of them cheap as well. There are many more, and surely I will keep it updated. I hope this list becomes useful to help you decide on what ingredients should you use to best fit your skincare needs on soap.

If you have any questions, a suggestion to make, or simply wish to say you enjoyed this article, please, leave a comment below.


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4 thoughts on “Oil Properties for Soap Making”

  1. Good to know that you should never skip oils when it comes to making soap. Things like colorants and seeds I can surely live without. From your oil list I like the sound of coconut oil, sweet almond oil, palm oil, hemp seed oil, rosehip seed oil and shea butter. These sound like really outstanding ingredients. I think I’ll start with the hemp oil. Do you think it would go well with peppermint?

    • Hello Pentrental and thanks for your comment.

      Hehe, yes, oils are fundamental to make soap. That and sodium hydroxide (lye). I wouldn’t advice trying hemp oil to make soap, I don’t know if it’s very expensive where you live but it usually is, and it’s more used for more noble cosmetics like facial creams (I use it on an “anti-wrinkle” serum). 

      You can of course use hemp oil if you wish, but not alone. Soap is made of a balanced mixture of oils, where each one contributes with its properties, like it’s listed on the chart. Usually the base is olive oil and coconut oil, then a third main fat (palm oil, sunflower oil, castor oil…) and then in minor quantities, more noble oils/butters like hemp oil, shea butter or rosehip seed.  

      Peppermint essential oil goes great with any soap 🙂



  2. I’m in love with this article, thanks! I lived in Italy for a few years and even just returned from a trip there last month. For me, there is nothing like pure, organic olive oil. While it is well known in food, I don’t think people consider the health implications for soap products enough! Thank you for breaking down the various oil types and discussing their benefits and any potential considerations; this is extremely helpful! 🙂 

    • Hello A Jaynes and thanks for your comment!

      I am so glad you liked the post, I hope it’s useful as well. Yes, olive oil is great for handmade soapmaking, and a must-be-there ingredient. Check out some handmade soap recipes in Google (hopefully you will find mine too) and tell me how many you find without olive oil 🙂 Another surprise for me was sunflower oil, it’s also a great oil for cosmetics and it’s so cheap! 

      I want to encourage you to try a lip balm recipe (as soap is more complicated) to see the benefits of these oils:

      Stay well,



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