Anyway, there are not just one or two oils to choose from to make soap, and there are certainly not just one or two oils that are good for using in the soap. We jokingly say "too many oils, too little time", yet to most Soapers this is really not a joke. We are constantly experimenting and reformulating, striving for that perfect combination of oils. The problem is, there is not just ONE perfect combination, rather, there are many! So we find our favorites and stick to them, until we find new favorites. But I digress again....
So how do soap makers decide which oils to use? Certainly each Artisan has their personal favorites, for a myriad of reasons, I am sure. While availability and cost must factor in, hopefully there is an understanding of the oil's properties, as well as an understanding of how those properties will enhance the soap and benefit the user. So here are just a few of the fats that are commonly used in soaping. Well, I say commonly, but I should have said, that I commonly use in soaping.
Apricot Kernel Oil (Prunus armeniaca) – is expressed from apricot kernels. It is known for its ability to penetrate the skin easily, leaving it soft and smooth. It is a very lightweight emollient, high in oleic and linoleic acids. It’s also high in minerals, as well as vitamins A and E. It's gentle enough for a baby, and it is very similar, both in how it feels, and in its properties, to sweet almond oil, to which many are allergic to.
Avocado Oil (Persea americana) – This oil comes from....yep, you guessed it, the pulp, of the fruit, of the avocado tree. It is categorized as a vegetable oil, but the avocado is really a fruit since it has a stone. It is a great oil (and fruit), rich in protein, vitamins A, D and E, as well as lecithin and potassium. It is highly moisturizing, and studies have actually indicated that this oil increases the collagen in the skin, which makes this a great oil for any skin, especially for aging skin. It is also purported to relieve the itching and dryness of psoriasis and eczema, as well as reduce age spots, alleviate scars and sun damage.
Babassu Oil (Orbignya Oleifera (babassu) seed oil) is a solid, white fat, that melts when it touches the skin. In fact, it actually draws heat from the skin in order to initiate the melting. The resulting heat transfer produces a cooling effect on the skin as well. And the Babassu oil forms a protective, soothing coating when its applied. It leaves the skin with a very pleasant, velvety feeling, and has been used for centuries to soothe dry skin.
This oil is cold pressed from the fruit kernels of the Babassu palm, which is native to the southeastern Amazon region of Brazil. It is ultra-refined without chemicals, and is a superior emollient. It is beneficial for both dry and oily complexions, and gently moisturizes the skin without contributing to an oily sheen. It's properties make it especially suitable for eczema, itchy, dry and inflamed skin. It contains about 70% lipids (fats), glycosides, vitamins and minerals, and it creates a nice, mild soap with good lather. This oil is a bit on the pricier side, but I really feel it is worth it!
Besides that, the tree that bears the fruit used to make this oil is highly sustainable and quite beneficial. The fruit is used to produce products such as medicines, beauty aids, and beverages. The seeds contain the oil, which is used for cooking, as well as soap making. The leaves of the tree are used to provide thatch for houses, and woven into mats for constructing house walls. The stems are even used for timbers. Natives make use of every part of this tree, as well as benefiting from the exporting and sale of the oil.
Caster Oil (Ricinus communis) comes from the castor bean plant. I use cold pressed castor oil in almost all of my soaps. It is a humecant, meaning that it actually attracts and pulls moisture to the skin. Castor oil is a skin softener and emollient. It is great for many skin conditions, including psoriasis. When added to soap, it helps to create a nice, bubbly soap lather. Almost every bar of soap that I make has castor oil in it, it just adds so much!
Coconut oil (Cocos nucifera) is an oil that is not only in almost every bar of soap that I make, but is in most every bar that everyone makes. Why? It produces a nice, hard, bubbly bar of soap. Coconut will bubble and lather in the hardest of water, and has been used for centuries as a cleanser. But it is also, in the correct proportions, very moisturizing. Coconut oil presents as a solid, but melts as it is warmed by the skin.
Hemp Seed Oil (Cannabis sativa) has a high amount of essential fatty acids, and is considered a wonderful healing oil for all skin types. It is a very emollient, nourishing, balancing and restorative oil, so it is great for all skin conditions, even the most severe. Many studies have been done on this oil and all report great results. This is not the same cannabis variety that produces marijuana. This plant has so little THC that, even if you grew it, rolled it and smoked it, you would not get high. So don't worry about its use. It is even gentle enough for a baby! For more in depth info on hemp seed oil, check out this past post, as well as this one, from my exotic oil series.
Olive Oil (olea Europaea (olive) oil) is another oil that is in almost every bar of soap made. In fact, some soap has nothing else with it, Castile Soap, and some has just another oil or two with it, Bastile Soap. Why? Olive oil is exceptionally mild. In fact, it is almost always chosen for baby soaps and soaps for sensitive skin. While it doesn't really produce much in the way of bubbles, it does have a nice, rich, albeit maybe a bit slimy lather. Used alone, this soap may take some getting used to. But as a part of a base, this is considered the king of soaping oils. Not only is it a humecant, attracting moisture to the skin, but at the same time, this oil allows your skin to breathe, as well as preventing it from losing its natural moisture. Olive oil keeps the skin soft and supple, and is very emollient. This is a wonderful oil for many skin conditions and is a good for infants to elders.
Of course these are but a few of the oils available, and are not even all of the oils that I regularly use. But these are my top "go to" oils. For more oil information, check out my Exotic Oils series from about this time last year. You can start with Babassu oil (3-1-11), and find about two a week, sometimes more, through the 5-27-11 Wheat Germ oil post.