Natural cosmetic oils; the importance of fatty acids for the skin

Skincare cosmetics are largely based on various vegetable oils. Cosmetic oils are perhaps the most important group of raw materials in cosmetics. Most of the products are based on oils. The effect of vegetable oils cannot be overemphasized when selecting skincare products.

Today, vegetable oils are made from the seeds of almost all known plants. However, there are exceptions, such as the avocado. The flesh of avocado is very oily. Avocado oil is made from the pulp of the fruit. Oil can be extracted from almost any seed.

A special or exotic oil is not necessarily any better than just plain ordinary oil

You must have noticed how the cosmetic industry promote their products by saying that very special and exotic oils can be found in their creams. In case you thought that these oils have a very special effect on the skin, most likely that is not true. The purpose of cosmetic oils is not to introduce any new chemicals to the skin, but to support and increase the quantity of fatty acids naturally present in the skin.

However, some special oils contain plant chemicals that have a positive effect on the skin. Then the oil is also included in the product because of its antioxidants or other plant chemicals it may contain.

Get yourself familiarized with the world of oils

When you prepare homemade cosmetics, you should pay particular attention to the secrets of oils. Cosmetic oils contain exactly those components that are particularly important for your skin. By learning the properties of vegetable oils, you can prepare more effective and skin-friendly products for yourself. This way you can also save a large amount of money. By learning the main things about the structure of oils, you can avoid purchasing expensive and ineffective special oils for your skin. You can find effective alternatives for skin care even amongst many ordinary oils.

The most common fatty acids in oils

The basic structure of oils consists of two components; from glycerol aka glycerine, and fatty acids. In addition, the oils have a so-called unsaponifiable part. It contains variable amounts of vitamin E and other antioxidants. The darker the oil, the more antioxidants it contains.

The glycerol is usually the same in all oils (there are also exceptions). On the other hand, the fatty acids in cosmetic oils do vary greatly. Now this is very important: You should pay attention to the fatty acids in the oils when designing a product for your own skin. You can also use this same information when choosing a product for yourself from the selection of natural cosmetics.

The most typical fatty acids that cosmetic oils contain

  • Oleic acid (omega 3 fatty acid) which is monounsaturated, liquid fatty acid
  • Linoleic acid (omega 6 fatty acid) which is a polyunsaturated, liquid fatty acid
  • Palmitic acid which is a saturated, fixed fatty acid
  • Stearic acid which is a saturated, fixed fatty acid

These four oleic acids are the most common ones in most vegetable oils. The most common of them are linoleic acid and oleic acid. In addition, there are very important fatty acids that are only present in very small amounts in base oils.

Two fatty acids that are very important for the skin but occur in small concentrations

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (vegetable omega-3 fatty acid), which is the so-called an essential fatty acid. The human body cannot produce alpha-linolenic acid on its own, and it must be obtained with food from flaxseeds, hemp oil or hemp seeds, walnuts and from some other sources.
  • Gamma-linolenic acid (omega-6 fatty acid) which is a polyunsaturated fatty acid. Gamma-linolenic acid is a very rare fatty acid. It occurs, for example, in the seeds of borage and evening primrose. A body of a young person can make enough gamma-linolenic acid from alpha-linolenic acid. As we get older, the production of gamma-linolenic acid declines and we need to get it more as dietary supplement.

How to find the optimal fatty acids for the skin?

When we are looking for the best oil for the skin, we must first of all find out precisely the fatty acid content of the oils to be used. It’s not an easy task. Cosmetic oils are a very diverse group of ingredients produced from different sources. The fatty acid content of natural oils can vary greatly. For example, sunflower oil can contain 28%-89% linoleic acid, depending on the variety of sunflower seed and the place of growth. Unfortunately, manufacturers do not always indicate the fatty acid content of the oils. This makes it very difficult to choose the right oil.

Check out my fatty acid chart. You can find the average fatty acid concentrations of the more common oils there.

The most important external fatty acid for human skin is linoleic acid

Human skin has an incredible number of different fatty acids. We humans can produce some of the fatty acids by ourselves. Some of the fatty acids are those that occur mainly only in the skin. Linoleic acid is one of them.

Linoleic acid is an important component of cell membranes. If there is a deficiency of linoleic acid, the deficiency is immediately visible as skin scaling and hair loss. That is why cosmetic oils are so important.

The downside of linoleic acid is that it is sensitive to oxidation. This the the reason why it is not widely used in industrial cosmetics. I have seen natural cosmetics products based on linoleic acid with a lot of preservatives added to prevent oxidation. This has been necessary in order to make the product’s shelf life more reasonable.

Linoleic acid prevents skin inflammation

Linoleic acid has anti-inflammatory effects on the skin. If linoleic acid is eaten in large amounts, it may increase inflammation in the body. If linoleic acid is used externally on the skin, it in turn reduces inflammation on the skin such as acne and eczema.

The oils that are good for our skin are not necessarily suitable for use as food and vice versa, at least in large quantities. This is a very good basic rule to follow when choosing oils.

This is very typical in the human body functions. The skin is often a mirror image of the of the human body. The human body is always slightly alkaline on the inside but acidic on the outside. This is one of the body’s defence mechanisms. If the skin becomes alkaline on the surface, it will definitely get sick.

There is plenty of linoleic acid in the following, easy-to-get oils

  • Sunflower oil about 66% (can also be only 28%), always get cold-pressed oil, not frying oils from grocery.
  • Safflower oil 74%
  • Poppy seed oil 70%
  • Hemp oil 54%
  • Grape seed oil 68-72%

There are also rarer vegetable oils with very high linoleic acid concentrations. However, they are difficult and expensive to get. You can try to look for the linoleic acid content of different oils that are available online.

The skin does not like too much oleic acid

Oils containing a lot of oleic acid are generally used in cosmetic products. It is a well-preserved oil that does not oxidize and deteriorate in the same way as oils containing linoleic acid.

The most important fatty acid in the skin is linoleic acid. The skin can also use oleic acid. However, oleic acid is only some kind of emergency aid for the skin. When there is not enough linolenic acid available, the skin has to try to get along with the substitute oleic acid. The problem with oleic acid is that if used for a long time and in abundance, it eventually clogs the pores. However, if the skin always has plenty of linoleic acid to use, this may not happen.

Oleic acid is absorbed right into the surface layer of the skin, protecting the skin from drying out. You can use oleic acid-rich oils together with linoleic acid oils for a very light, protective cream.

The main source of oleic acid is olive oil. Olive oil often contains almost 90% oleic acid. It is called moisturizing oil because it protects the skin from drying out. Oleic acid is a very healthy food. It should not be used in very large quantities for the skin. Olive oil is not the best oil for skin care.

Palmitic acid and stearic acid are useful in cosmetics

Although the oils in cosmetics are often liquid, do not forget solid fats either. Palmitic and stearic acids are fatty acids that occur in small amounts in every oil. If you want to find large amounts of these fixed fatty acids, you can use, for example, shea butter or some other solid vegetable fat. Palmitic acid and stearic acid make these vegetable fats solid.

Palmitic acid is common in animal fats

Palmitic acid is definitely found most in animal fats. Some animal fats contain up to 25% palmitic acid. Palmitic acid turns animal fats into hard fat. Among the vegetable oils, palm oil has the most palmitic acid, from which it also got its name. Nowadays, palm oil is hardly used in cosmetics for ethical and ecological reasons.

Of the oils in cosmetics, rice bran oil (21%), macadamia oil (20% palmitoleic acid and 20% palmitic acid), corn oil (10%), shea butter (9%) and coconut oil (8%) contain the most palmitic acid.

Stearic acid can also be found mostly in animal fats (25%) and shea butter (up to 20%). Corn oil is also rich in stearic acid.

All liquid oils contain some palmitic acid and stearic acid. If your skin does not need protection against drying out, you can make your products from, for example, rice bran oil. Rice bran oil is a well-balanced oil. It has a very optimal mixture of different fatty acids for the skin (37% linolenic acid, 37% oleic acid and more than 20% palmitoleic acid). Rice bran oil also contains a lot of vitamin E, which is a very important antioxidant for the skin.

Palmitic acid and stearic acid also occur naturally in normal skin. The skin’s own sebum contains these fatty acids precisely for the protective purpose. Palmitic acid and stearic acid form a protective, natural film on the surface of the skin that protects the skin from drying out. Therefore, all these fatty acids are very important and necessary in their own way.

Use alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) for intensive skin treatments

Alpha-linolenic acid is a plant-derived omega-3 fatty acid important for the skin. Animal-based Omega-3 fatty acids are also available like fish oil. Fish oil is good on the skin but only when used internally. Because of the smell, fish oil is never used externally, even though it might otherwise be suitable for the skin.

Alpha-linolenic acid is absorbed deep into the surface layers of the skin and does not leave a greasy feeling on the skin. However, alpha-linolenic acid has its disadvantages. When used excessively and too often, it really dries out the skin.

Gamma-linolenic acid is a rare omega-6 fatty acid that a young person’s body can produce on its own. As you age, the formation of gamma-linolenic acid in the body fades and finally stops completely. Gamma-linolenic acid is very essential for the skin. The skin dries out, thins and starts to peel if there is not enough gamma-linolenic acid.

Both gamma-linolenic acid and alpha-linolenic acid occur naturally in human skin in varying amounts. Of course, human skin also contains many other fatty acids that are not discussed in this text. All fatty acids that occur naturally on the skin also have their own functions on the skin. Especially older people and those suffering from skin diseases should take care of an adequate intake of alpha-linolenic acid and gamma-linolenic acid, both externally and internally.

Where can I get alpha-linolenic acid and gamma-linolenic acid?

You can find alpha-linolenic acid in seeds such as flax seeds and hemp seeds. Oils rich in alpha-linolenic acid are sometimes called dry oils, because they do not leave the skin feel greasy.

Gamma-linolenic acid is a rarer fatty acid. It is present in very small amounts in some vegetable oils. Only borage oil, evening primrose oil and blackcurrant seed oil have more gamma-linolenic acid. If you suspect that your skin lacks gamma-linolenic acid, use evening primrose oil and blackcurrant seed oil in your products.

Both evening primrose oil and blackcurrant oil can be obtained from online stores that sell cosmetic raw materials. Remember to check the freshness of these oils when buying, as they get oxidises very quickly. Always store these oils in the refrigerator.

Evening primrose oil is also commonly available in capsules from health food stores. The oil in the capsules is in an oxygen-free state and lasts very well. Capsules are the best way to find really fresh oil. You can open one evening primrose oil capsule at a time and use it as a treatment, for example, instead of a night cream. It doesn’t hurt if you also use evening primrose oil capsules internally.

Here was a basic dose of cosmetic oils for you. Thanks again for taking the time to read my post. I will open this oil question more widely in the future. Oils are a very dear subject to me and there are so many things to tell about them.

What is your favourite oil in cosmetics? Do you only use one oil or do you also mix different oils?

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