Properties of Oils
This is a list of most commonly used oils in soapmaking - it is by no means complete, but gives a general overview of most oils and fats.
Almond Oil - produces stable lather and skin conditioning in handmade soaps. Wonderful for dry, inflamed, or irritated skin. Contains vitamins and minerals. Widely used for soaps, lotion bars, and cosmetics. Can be used as a large percentage of oils or for superfatting. (Also called Sweet Almond Oil or SAO)
Apricot Kernel Oil - this is the choice oil for most professional massage therapists. Absorbs easily into the skin - a light, moisturizing oil that is good for even the most sensitive or dry skin. Commonly used to superfat soaps.
Avocado Oil - Rich in vitamins A, D, & E as well as amino acids and protein. Wonderfully moisturizing and excellent for anyone with extremely sensitive skin. High in unsaponifiables. Most people use this in smaller quantities to superfat because of cost. Has a shorter shelf life than some other emollient oils.
Canola Oil - this oil has gotten a bad rap lately due to an Urban Legend. Canola is also known as lear oil and comes from rapeseed, a member of the mustard family. It has actually been cultivated for over 4000 years and has become popular in the last decade or so for being low in saturated fats. Its oleic acid content is almost that of olive oil. Canola contributes protein and moisturizing qualities in soap. Used alone, it would produce a soap that is too soft. Can be a cost effective oil to use in soaping when balanced with other more expensive base oils.
Castor Oil - acts as a humectant by attracting and retaining moisture to the skin. Also contributes lots of bubbles to soap - a "bubble booster". Used alone, it would create a soft, transparent soap. Castor is wonderful to superfat with, but it must be saponified if you want the added bubbles it provides. Adding castor oil to M&P or rebatched soap will *not* improve lather. Used in larger percentages in shampoo bars, but average usage is 1/2 to 1 oz per pound of base oils.
Cocoa Butter - made from the same bean as chocolate and cocoa. Cocoa butter is a by-product of making chocolate. When used in soap, it puts down a protective layer that holds moisture to the skin, acting as a softener. Also contributes to a very hard bar. Limit amounts to 15% or less of your total oils or soap could be brittle. You can use it to counteract "sticky" ingredients such as lanolin, honey, etc.
76 degree Coconut Oil - If you are going to make soap, you gotta have coconut oil! Coconut is the only oil that will lather in *any* type of water - even seawater. Solid at room temperature. (Fractionated coconut oil is liquid at room temp and is mostly used for cosmetics and lotions.) When used in the correct percentage, coconut oil is moisturizing and adds lots of fluffy lather. Limit to 20% or less of total base oils. Hydrogenated coconut oil (92 degree) can also be used for soapmaking.
Corn Oil - can be used as a cost effective addition to soap recipe while providing moisturizing properties. Combine with other "hard" oils or soap will be too soft.
Cottonseed oil - most commonly combined with soy shortening (i.e. Crisco) because the composition is similar. Provides a quick and abundant lather, but a softer soap. Can be slow to saponify and prone to rancidity. This can be corrected by using a lower amount in proportion to other base oils. Contrary to popular belief, there is no greater risk of pesticide contamination when using cottonseed than any other oil.
Emu oil - made from the rendered fat of the Emu bird. The oil is transdermal meaning anything you add to it will make it more readily absorbed through the layers of the skin. Emu is non-comedogenic (won't clog pores), has a natural SPF, is hypo-allergenic and non-irritating, anti-inflammatory, helps prevent and diminish scars and stretch marks, helps to heal burns like no other oil can, reduces wrinkles, and is a wonderful emollient and moisturizer. WHEW! Is there nothing this oil can't do? I am not a fan of animal fat, but I make an exception in this case. Therapeutic grade emu is what I use but there is also a "soap grade" which has not been as thoroughly refined. You can use up to 20% in a recipe and still get a hard, well lathering bar.
Grapeseed Oil - light oil commonly used in massage oil preparations. Rich in vitamins and minerals. Can be used in soaps, lotions, creams, etc.
Hempseed Oil - made from the crushed seeds of the Cannabis sativa, aka the marijuana plant. High in protein, but very prone to rancidity. The cost is prohibative compared to other oils. Moisturizing emollient that helps heal dry skin and burns. Can be used up to 30% of your total oils in a soap recipe, but too much of this oil left unsaponified in a soap will cause it to spoil.
Jojoba oil - it's actually a liquid wax rather than an oil. Commonly used in shampoo bars for its conditioning properties, but can be used in other soaps and creams as well. Jojoba has some anti-inflammatory properties and is highly resistent to rancidity - can actually lend those properties to other oils thereby extending their shelf life as well. An extremely stable oil to have onhand for its moisturizing potential.
Lanolin - fatlike substance obtained from sheep's wool, although it is actually a wax. Known to be effective in softening dry, cracked, chapped skin. It is easily absorbed and lays down a protective barrier therefore holding moisture in. Wonderful emollient when added to soap or lotion. A very small percentage of the population *is* allergic to lanolin. Average usage is 1-2% of your total oils, or 1 Tablespoon per pound of base oils. You can use cocoa butter or another hard oil to counteract the "stickiness" from the lanolin.
Lard - made from rendered pig fat. Lard is actually a good moisturizer for the skin, and a lot of soapers use lard because it is readily accessible at your local supermarket. Provides good lather and cleansing properties, but will make a soap too soft if used alone and is not easily soluble in cold water. Combine with other oils and it makes a very cost effective base oil.
Meadowfoam Oil - highly resistant to rancidity and lends those properties to other oils, extending their shelf life. An excellent moisturizer and can be used in soaps, creams, lotions, and cosmetics. Prevents moisture loss in the skin.
Neem Oil - used to treat a variety of skin problems including psoriasis, eczema, dandruff, etc. Has antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiseptic properties. Used in pet soap shampoo bars to repel fleas and ticks. Can be used as a natural bug repellant in "people" soaps and lotions. Adds hardness and skin conditioning in soaps and is easy to saponify. Can be used in large amounts in a recipe - up to 40% of total oils, but the cost can be prohibitive.
Olive Oil - an excellent oil to use in soap as it is a moisturizer that forms a "breathable" layer on the skin, preventing loss of internal moisture. Produces small, silky bubbles and contributes hardness to the bar. Olive oil was used for centuries to make traditional 100% "castile" soap. May be used in any amount in a soap recipe, but soaps with high amounts of olive oil *do* take longer to bring to trace and will be softer initially after unmolding. *However* - olive oil makes a very hard, almost completely white bar after a few weeks that is worth the wait. Suitable for babies and even the most sensitive of skin. (Pomace olive oil is also used in soapmaking - it is less refined and will interfere with soap coloring unless you prefer the natural look.)
Palm Oil - made from the pulp of the fruit from the palm tree. When used in a combination with other oils, it makes a very hard bar of soap. It is very mild and cleans well, but does not offer much in the way of skin conditioning. Its lather is small and stingy if not used with other soaping oils. Palm helps pull other stubborn oils into saponification faster. Whereas you have to limit amounts of other oils that produce a hard bar (coconut and palm kernel for example), palm can be used as a large portion of your base oils. *Do* use it in combination with other oils though or your soap will be dry and brittle. Palm is the vegan alternative to using animal fats such as lard and tallow in soap. **Note** Palm separates into layers as it cools and must be melted and stirred before using in soap recipes, otherwise you may get inconsistent results.
Palm Kernel Oil - made from the kernels of the palm tree. Like coconut, palm kernel lathers well in almost any type of water. It lends to a very white, wonderfully lathering, hard bar of soap. If you use too much, it can be drying to the skin, but does offer moisturizing properties if used correctly. Average usage is 10 - 30% of your total base oils.
Shea Butter - also known as the African karite butter. It is expressed from the pits of the fruit of the African butter tree which grows in Central Africa. Fabulous for superfatting soaps to add moisture and nourish the skin. I LOVE shea butter! It's great stuff and if you haven't tried it, you must. High in unsaponifiables, therefore leaving lots of skin conditioning emollients in your soap. Average usage is 2 - 5% of your total recipe. Too much can cause the soap to be "sticky" feeling.
Soybean Oil or Shortening - used as an alternative to animal fats in soap. Adds mildness, lots of fluffy lather, and is moisturizing when used in combination with other oils. Used alone, it would produce a soap that is too soft. Some people use Crisco or generic shortening which also contains cottonseed oil. I have found to get consistent results in soapmaking, 100% soy shortening works best and produces a harder bar than Crisco. Soy is cost effective when used as a base oil for added bulk in a soap recipe.
Sunflower Oil - rich in vitamin E, provides skin conditioning for dry skin. Can be used as an added emollient or as a larger portion of your recipe, however it can make the soap too soft if used in too high a percentage. Slow to saponify, so use with other oils to help speed things along. Average usage is up to 15% of your total oils.
Tallow - rendered beef fat. Provides little skin conditioning, but adds to the mildness and hardness of the soap. Easily saponified, readily available at your local grocer or butcher, and cheap. Also has a distinctive odor that can be difficult to mask. If you'll read the label on commercial detergent bars, sodium tallowate is normally one of the leading ingredients - that's the proper scientific name for saponified tallow. Most pioneer soaps were made with tallow as well.