Natural oils in cosmetics – how important fatty acids are for the skin

Natural oils in cosmetics are very important in skincare. Vegetable oils in cosmetics are really the foundation of skincare. Most cosmetic products are based on oils and fats. The influence of vegetable oils and fats cannot be overemphasized when choosing skincare products.

Vegetable oils are currently produced from the seeds of almost all known plants. There are some exceptions, like the avocado that is very oily. Avocado oil is made from fruit flesh. Oil can be squeezed from almost any seed.


Is exotic and expensive cosmetic oil better than the regular oil?

You have certainly noticed how the manufacturers praise their creams for very special and exotic oils. In case you thought that these oils have a very special effect on the skin it may not be true. However, some special oils contain phytochemicals that have a positive effect on the skin. That is why oil is blended in the product, it is because of its active ingredients. The purpose of base oil, or carrier oil, is not to bring any new chemicals into the skin. The purpose of carrier oil is to strengthen the amount of naturally occurring fatty acids on the skin. This is why these two types of oil, base oils and special oils must be separated. This article is concentrating especially on base oils. Let’s talk about natural oils in cosmetics.

Get to know the world of oils

When making homemade cosmetics, you should pay particular attention to the secrets of oils. Natural oils in cosmetics contain precisely those very important components. By learning the properties of vegetable oils, you can make more effective and skin-friendly products. You can also save you a lot of money. By learning the basics of the structure of oils, you can avoid buying expensive and ineffective special oils for your skin.  You can find effective skincare alternatives even from the most common oils.

The most common fatty acids of oils


The basic structure of oils consists of two components; glycerol, or glycerine, and fatty acids. In addition, oils contain varying amounts of vitamin E and other antioxidants. Dark green oils contain more antioxidants. Glycerol is generally the same in all oils (there are some exceptions). Instead, the fatty acids do vary greatly. It is worth paying attention to the fatty acids of oils when formulating the product for your own skin. It is also good to know the properties of oils when choosing a product from the range of natural cosmetics.

The most common fatty acids in cosmetic oils are

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

These four fatty acids are the most common in most vegetable oils. The more common ones are linoleic acid and oleic acid. In addition, there are two very important omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are only found in very small amounts in the base oils.

Two very important fatty acids are:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid of plant origin) which is a so-called essential fatty acid. The human body cannot produce it so it must be supplied with food.  For example, from flax seed, hemp oil or hemp seed and walnuts.
  • Gamma-linolenic acid (omega-6 fatty acid) which is a polyunsaturated fatty acid. Gamma linolenic acid is a very rare fatty acid. It is found, for example, in the seeds of evening primrose. The human body is able to make enough gamma-linolenic acid from alpha-linolenic acid. The exceptions are the ageing people and some illnesses.

Varying amounts of alpha-linolenic acid can be found in many vegetable oils. Oils rich in alpha-linolenic acid are so called dry oils. These two fatty acids are natural in varying amounts in human skin. Of course, there are many other fatty acids in human skin that are not covered in this text. All naturally occurring fatty acids on the skin also have their own functions on the skin. Older people and those with abnormal skin conditions, should pay special attention to alpha-linolenic acid and gamma-linolenic acid, and use them both internally and externally.

How to Find Optimum Fatty Acids for Your Skin


When looking for the best oil for our skin, we must first find out the fatty acid content of the different oils. It is not an easy task. Vegetable oils in cosmetics do vary a lot depending on the source. The fatty acid content of natural oils can vary really a lot. For example, sunflower oil may contain between 28% and 89% linoleic acid, depending on the variety of sunflower seed and growing location. Unfortunately, manufacturers do not always tell the fatty acid content of oils. This makes it very difficult to choose the right oil.

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

Human skin has an incredible number of different fatty acids. Some of the fatty acids human body produces itself. Some fatty acids are mainly found only on the skin. Linoleic acid is one of them. Linoleic acid is an important component of cell membranes. If someone has a deficiency of linoleic acid, the deficiency is immediately apparent with scaling and hair loss. That’s why vegetable oils are so important in cosmetics

The downside of linoleic acid is its quick oxidation. Therefore, it is not very popular in industrial cosmetics. Often products, containing linoleic acid, are rich in preservatives to prevent oxidation. This has been necessary to extend the product’s shelf life.

Linoleic acid prevents inflammation of the skin

Linoleic acid has anti-inflammatory effects when applied to the skin. Overconsuming of linoleic acid with nutrition may increase inflammation in the body. If linoleic acid is applied topically to the skin, it in reduces inflammations such as acne and eczema.

The oils that are good for our skin may not be suitable for nutrition and vice versa. This is a very good rule of thumb to keep in mind when choosing oils.

This is very typical functioning of the human body. The skin is often a mirror image of the internal functioning of the human body. The human body is always alkaline from the inside but acidic from the outside. This is one of the body’s defence mechanism. If your skin becomes alkaline, you will most certainly get sick.

Linoleic acid is high in the following easily obtainable oils

  • Sunflower oil about 66% (can also be as low as 28%) Always get cold pressed oil, not frying oil at Market
  • 74% Safflower Oil
  • Poppy Seed Oil 70%
  • Hemp Oil 54%

You can read more about sunflower oil here. There are also exotic vegetable oils with very high levels of linoleic acid. However, they are difficult and expensive to obtain. You can try to spot the linoleic acid content of different oils online

Skin does not like excess oleic acid


Cosmetic industry generally uses oils that are very high in oleic acid. It is very preserving oil that does not oxidize and deteriorate in the same way as linoleic oils.

The most important fatty acid in the skin is linoleic acid. The skin can also use oleic acid. However, oleic acid is just some kind of emergency aid for skin. If your skin is dry after the shower, and you  do not have body lotion containing linolenic acid available, you can use lotion containing oleic acid as a replacement. The problem with oleic acid is that, when used for a long time and abundantly, it eventually clogs the pores. However, if the skin is always rich in linoleic acid, this may not be the case.

The main source of oleic acid is olive oil. Olive oil often contains almost 90% oleic acid. Oleic acid is a very healthy nutrition. For the skin it should not be used in very large quantities. So olive oil is not the best oil in skin care.

Palmitic and stearic acid are useful in cosmetics

Although vegetable oils are often fluid in cosmetics, you should not forget about solid fats. Palmitic and stearic acids are fatty acids that are found in small amounts in all oils. If you want to find large amounts of these hard fatty acids you can use 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

Animal fat is the most abundant source of palmitic acid. Some animal fats contain up to 25% palmitic acid. Among vegetable oils, rice brand oil contains 21%, macadamia oil contains 20% palmitoleic acid and 20% palmitic acid,  corn oil 10%, shea butter 9% and coconut oil 8%.

Animal fats (25%) and shea butter (up to 20%) also have the highest levels of stearic acid. Corn oil is also high in stearic acid.

All oils contain some palmitic acid and stearic acid. If your skin does not need protection against dehydration, you can be confident with making your product, for example, from rice bran oil. It has a very optimal blend of different fatty acids (37% linolenic acid, 37% oleic acid and over 20% palmitoleic acid) for the skin. Rice bran oil also contains a lot of vitamin E, which is a very important antioxidant.

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

Use herbal omega-3 fatty acids for intensive skin care

Alpha-linolenic acid and gamma-linolenic acid are essential herbal omega-3 acids. Omega-3 acids also exist as animal origin fatty acids. Fish oil, for example, is such an oil. Fish oil is good for the skin but only for internal use. Because of its odour, fish oil is never used externally, although it may otherwise be suitable for the skin.

These two fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid and gamma-linolenic acid, are so-called dry fatty acids. They are very absorbent on the skin and leave no greasy feeling at all. However, these fatty acids have their drawbacks. When used excessively and too often, they dry the skin too much. So use herbal omega-3 oils very carefully.

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


You will find alpha-linolenic acid in seeds such as linseed and hemp seeds. Gamma linolenic acid is less common. It can be found very small amounts in vegetable oils. Only evening primrose seeds and blackcurrant seeds contain more gamma-linolenic acid.

After all, gamma-linolenic acid is produced by the body itself. However, if you suspect a deficiency, you can find it, for example, in evening primrose oil or black currant oil. You will also find evening primrose oil in the form of capsules. Gamma linolenic acid is easily oxidized so capsules are really the only way to buy proper oil. You can open the capsule one by one at a time and use shea butter instead of night cream.

This story was my gift for you. Thanks again for taking the time to read my post. I will open this oil issue more widely in the future. Natural oils in cosmetics is always very interesting topic to me and there are so many things I will share with you later on.

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

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