Soap and cosmetic making is an intensely creative business. There are so many colors, ingredients, shapes and sizes to choose from! One of the main decisions you’ll need to make during the formulation process will be what oils you’ll use, and there are many to choose from.
Choosing Your Oil(s)
Which oil or oils you ultimately choose will depend entirely on what you’d like your final product to be and do. Some oils lend conditioning and moisturizing elements, while others help to produce a stable and luxurious lather. Some oils, like canola oil and avocado oil can produce different coloration in your bar, which will in turn require additional consideration if you are adding micas or other colorants to your recipe.
Let’s talk about some of the most common oils and their benefits in soapmaking!
A soapmaking staple, olive oil has been used in soapmaking for centuries. Using 100% olive oil in your recipe will result in the famously slow-curing castile soap, with tiny, almost “slimy” lather. For cold process soap, 100% usage will result in a cure time of about 6 months to a year!
Used in a lower percentage, olive oil offers the benefit of stable lather, a harder bar, and is widely considered to be hypoallergenic. This makes it accessible to everyone, including those with skin sensitivities.
Palm has dual reputations in the soap and cosmetic industry. It was originally introduced into soapmaking as a replacement for animal-based lard and tallow.
Many soap and cosmetic makers love it for its creamy, non-greasy lather and bar hardening properties, but shy away due to environmental concerns. If you do decide to use palm, be aware in sourcing to buy from a reputable company that acquires the oil from a fair and honest source.
Palm can be used up to 100% in your recipe, and will really boost that lux feel of your lather.
Coconut oil can be purchased in 76 degree, 92 degree and fractionated. Coconut oil can be used as 100% of your oils, or can be added in a smaller percentage to increase the cleansing and the hardness of your bar. It produces large, fluffy, but short-lasting, lather. Some say that coconut oil can be drying to the skin when used in high percentages.
As an aside, 100% coconut oil soap was traditionally used by sailors as it will lather even in salt water.
Castor can be added up to 20-25% of your recipe and will help to provide a luxuriously bubbly lather! Keep in mind that usage over about 10% will result in a softer bar, and as with all bars, the longer it sits the better it will be.
Sweet Almond Oil
Nourishing on its own or used in soap, sweet almond oil can be used up for up to 20-25% of a recipe. Don’t limit your usage just to soaps though-this oil is also great in scrubs, lip balms and other cosmetic products. As with Castor Oil, high percentages may result in a softer bar.
Avocado is having a moment, and its usage benefit ranges well beyond food. Using avocado oil in your soap and/or cosmetics will provide a skin loving, moisturizing finished product. Sticking to 15% usage or less will help your bar not to get too soft. Avocado oil has a high percentage of “unsaponifiables” which bring skin-friendly benefits to your soap. Also, avocado oil may give your product a light greenish yellow tint, so it is a good idea to take this into consideration if you are coloring your product.
Known for producing a whiter bar of soap, canola oil is very easy to find and offers the benefit of a creamy but not greasy lather. Usage rates vary, but between 15-20% is suggested.
Soybean oil can be used for up to half of your recipe and also gives the benefit of a creamy and luxurious lather.
If it’s a food grade oil, chances are good that you can use it in your soap or cosmetics. Experiment with oils and their percentage rates to really make your product stand out!
Remember, you can use the HSCG Lye Calculator to calculate the amount of sodium hydroxide needed to make your new and exquisite soap based on the oils you have selected.