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  1. Olive Oil
  2. Coconut Oil
  3. Sunflower Oil
  4. Castor Oil
  5. Sweet Almond Oil
  6. Palm Oil
  7. Grapeseed Oil
  8. Rice Bran Oil
  9. Jojoba Oil
  10. Hemp Seed Oil
  11. Rosehip Seed Oil
  12. Shea Butter

No one is a real soap maker or a skincare formulator 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 12 most used oils for soap making as well as other natural skincare products like creams, lotions, balms, hair conditioners and so on.

You can find a brief description of how they are produced, their main characteristics, properties for soap making and other cosmetics and indications of where to buy it.

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.

Please, check out Explaining Each Oil Element Compound everytime you bump into a linoleic or tocopherol you don’t know about. Also, How to Make Soap Using SoapCalc gives some insight about using oils for soap making.

List of 12 Mostly Used Oils

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 (comedogeny 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%

Properties for other cosmetics: With its excellent emollient properties it is widely used in body care products.

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).

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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)

Properties for other cosmetics: Coconut oil is an effective skin moisturizer and provides protection against the elements. As it is a mild oil it is good for skin sensitivities and irritated or inflamed skin.It is very high in saturated fat which lends itself to it being a natural skin softener and source of nourishment. Being a hard oil (solid at room temperature) provides structure to natural cosmetics like a lip balm. It also penetrates very well into hair structure, making it a good ingredient for hair products.

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%

Properties for other cosmetics: Rich in skin loving vitamin E and other vitamins, fairly light and easily absorbed by skin (due to the high linoleic content), moisturizing and nourishing, this oil is very good for hair and skin homemade products, to treat dry, dehydrated, aged and weathered skins. It is said to add some UV protection to skin (not enough to use as a sunblock!). High linoleic acid sunflower oil also has anti-inflammatory properties, and is a “non-comedogenic” – means it doesn’t clog pores – along with argan oil, hemp oil and shea butter.

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.

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Castor oil

Ricinus communis

What is it: This power house 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 comedogeny is of 1, meaning it doesn’t cog 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%

Properties for other cosmetics: One of the most benefitial oils it is one that should always be bought cold pressed when using topically in beauty products or directly onto the skin, hair, eyelashes or eyebrows. The list of said benefits of this ancient oil includes thickening hair, treats/prevents acne and scars, keeps skin youthful, minimizes signs of aging, treats shingles, calluses, athlete’s foot and is a wonderful hair conditioner. 

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%

Properties for other cosmetics: Sweet almond oil is one of the most popular carrier oils for skin care. It’s great in massage oils, and bath oils. It has fantastic moisturizing properties, with high contents in anti-oxidant vitamins, minerals, nutrients and monounsaturated fatty acids. A superb carrier oil that has the proven ability to soothe, soften and re-hydrate the skin in face and body care lotions and potions.

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 colour and may give your soap a creamy butter yellow or a lovely orange shade. The Refined oil (RBD) is creamy off white in colour.

The use of palm oil in food products has attracted the concern of environmental groups; the high oil yield of the trees has encouraged wider cultivation, leading to the clearing of natural habitat forests in parts of Indonesia to make space for oil-palm monoculture.This lead to the creation of a association that produces sustainable palm oil, the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil. Whenever you wish to use palm oil, make sure it’s sustainable.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Unlike all other vegetable oils in this list, it was rather dificult to find out good cosmetic properties about palm oil. This vegetable oil has clearly became a “criminal”, 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 responsability 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:

Palm Oil is a great ingredient: In fact, palm oil is very sustainable! It has one of the highest production yields (you get more palm oil from 1 kg of palm fruit than, for example, 1 kg of sunflower seeds). Therefore, it becomes cheap to produce. It has a very good fatty acid profile, being a good nutritional choice. it helps fighting bad cholesterol, slows progression of heart diseases, boosts brain health, enhances vitamin A status, and improves skin and hair health.

As a cheap, healthy vegetable oil, it is a basic, vital ingredient in many families’ tables. To ban it, is to ban a good food source from impoverish people who will simply stop having this ingredient, as I seriously doubt that they will go to the supermarket and opt to choose another oil… 

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 %)

Properties in other cosmetics: in fact, palm oil has as many benefits as any other vegetable oil. Its properties list as anti-bacterial, antioxidant, stimulant, anti-inflammatory, firming, brightening. It also helps with skin conditions, to reduce aging effects, acne, dark spots and blemishes. In hair, it reduces hair loss and slows down the appearance of grey hair. Not appropriate for oily or sensitive skin as it is high in oleic acid and may clog skin pores.

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

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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%

Properties for other cosmetics: Grapeseed oil is a smooth silky textured oil that is quickly absorbed into the skin and does not leave a greasy film. It is an excellent moisturizer, and has hypo-allergenic properties making it perfect for allergy prone or sensitive skins for many homemade skin care treatments. If you need a natural alternative for shaving cream, this is another great one that leaves the skin silky smooth and soft. 

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, of course, Amazon.

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, silimar 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)

Properties for other cosmetics: Due to the content of UVA and UVB-absorbing materials, antioxidant-acting natural oryzanol rice bran oil is ideal for use in sunscreens and day creams.  It’s light and moisturizing, only slightly greasy, quickly absorbed by skin. It is a powerful antioxidant and intense conditioning. It is skin soothing, perfect for irritated and sensitive skin.

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, and of course, Amazon.

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%

Properties for other cosmetics: Acne conditions benefit greatly from this lightweight, non greasy oil which provides anti-inflammatory properties. It is very close to the natural oil produced by the skin so it makes a perfect moisturizer for all skin types. It absorbs easily into the skin and doesn’t clog pores. Along with acne it is very effective in the treatment of psoriasis, eczema, sunburn and chapped skin.

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 of course, Amazon.

Hemp 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 lke 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%

Properties for other cosmetics: Hemp oil is anti-inflammatory and skin soothing. It is also and a light oil low on oleic acid, making it a “noncomedogenic” , which means it does not clog pores, making it a great oil to prevent and treat acne. With its high anti-oxidants content along with vitamins, this oil has an effective anti-oxidant action on the skin.

Where to find this oil: Hemp seed 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: 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%

Properties for other cosmetics: Rich in vitamin C, this oil contains more of it than oranges or lemons. Vitamin C has antioxidant properties. Research shows vitamin C may help reduce ultraviolet light damage caused by free radicals. It also supports collagen production, which helps reduce wrinkling. Finally, vitamin C may increase wound healing and help prevent dry skin. Vitamin A may help to reduce sun damage, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and treat mild to moderate acne (there are several news on the net about this, probably some exagerated). Source of lycopene.

Where you can get

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-infllamatory), it acts mostly as superfat (high in unsaponified material)

Usage for Soap:  Up to 15%

Properties for other cosmetics: The list of benefits to the skin is long. From helping to treat several skin conditions, to being a good anti-aging, conditioning and moisturizing, shea butter has most of it – and most of it backed up by scientific studies. As it is a butter at room temperature, it provides natural structure to cosmetics, namely, lip balms. It is also a good haircare product.

Where you can get


Some oils should be part of this list, like argan oil (as a cousin of jojoba oil, great for hair care) or pomegranate seed oil (another excellent anti-aging oil), but the list of oils you can use in natural cosmetics is very long – if you wish to consult a more complete list click here

I simply listed the most common and mostly used (many of them cheap as well). I hope this list becomes useful to help you decide on what ingredients should you use to best fit your skincare needs on soap, creams, lotions, lip balms…

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

References

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/9027603_Plants_Used_in_Cosmetics

https://www.newdirectionsaromatics.com/blog/products/all-about-palm-carrier-oil.html

https://www.healthline.com/health/carrier-oil#things-to-consider

https://www.kaffebueno.com/post/guide-to-specialty-carrier-oils-for-skincare

https://www.herbaldynamicsbeauty.com/blogs/herbal-dynamics-beauty/understanding-the-comedogenic-scale-for-oils-and-butters

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