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Qualities of Soap Making Oils

Different Soapmaking Oils - Different Soap Characteristics

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Like choosing the ingredients in any recipe, choosing the oils in your soap recipes is a very important step in your soap making. Each oil imparts different qualities to the final soap - creating your soap recipe is the art of balancing them to create the perfect bar of soap. Here is a list of the most common soap making oils and the qualities they will give to your soap recipes.

Apricot Kernel Oil

Apricot kernel oil is a light oil that is similar to almond oil in its fatty acid makeup. It absorbs nicely into the skin and is a good luxury conditioning oil in soap - at about 5% - 10%. It's good in soap, massage and bath oils, massage bars and bath bombs.

Almond Oil, Sweet

A lovely moisturizing oil that is very light and absorbs well. In soap it produces a low, stable lather, but I wouldn't use it more than about 5% - 10% in soap - as it's not a very hard oil in soap. It's really nice in lotions, massage bars, bath bombs, bath oils, and especially in salt and sugar scrubs.

Avocado Oil

Avocado oil is a heavy, green, rich, moisturizing oil that has a high percentage of unsaponifiables (the portions of the oil that don't react with the lye to form soap,) so it's a good oil to superfat with. It's often used in soap recipes for people with sensitive skin. On the skin, it first feels a little heavy...but after a moment, it absorbs nicely. It's high in vitamins A, D & E, which is good for your skin and gives it a longer shelf life. You can use it in your recipes from 5% - 30%. It's a bit too thick, in my opinion, for massage oils...but it's wonderful in massage bars.

Babassu Oil

Babassu oil comes from the kernels of the babassu palm. Its fatty acid makeup is very similar to palm kernel and to coconut oil. It's high in lauric and myristic acid, which contribute to a nice, fluffy lather. It also melts at close to body temperature, so it's a good heavy oil for butters, balms and such, where you are putting the oil directly onto the skin.

Canola Oil

Canola, a kind of rapeseed, is a good economical oil for soap making - you can substitute a portion of your olive for canola, or use it as part of your batch at 10-15%. It gives a nice, low, creamy lather and is moisturizing. It will slow down the rate at which your soap will get to trace, so it's a good oil to add if you're doing complicated swirls or colors.

Castor Oil

Just like you remember grandma giving you a tablespoon full of!
Castor oil is a thick, clear oil that helps increase the lather in soap - a rich, creamy lather. It's also a humectant (attracts moisture to your skin) oil. Just a little will do...5% - 8% in your recipe will work wonders. Shampoo bars often use 10%-15%...but more than that and you get a soft bar of soap. Castor oil has a fatty acid makeup that's completely unique - which makes what it contributes to your soap (the rich, creamy lather) unique.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is one of the primary oils soapmakers use in their soap. Susan Miller Cavitch, in her book The Soapmaker's Companion calls it "a gift." Most of the coconut oil sold and used has a melt point of 76°, but there is a hydrogenated type that melts at 92°. Some soapmakers prefer this one because it's easier to scoop - but either version works the same to give tremendous, bubbly lather to your soap. It also makes for a very hard, white bar of soap. The collective opinion is that using more than 30% coconut oil in your recipe will be drying to the skin. Yes, the super-cleansing nature of coconut oil can strip oils from your skin, but I have often used it at 30%-40% with great results, especially with a slightly higher (6-8%) superfat.

Corn Oil

Not many soap makers use corn oil. There's nothing wrong with it; there are just better oils to use. It acts like most of the other vegetable liquid oils like soybean or canola. Some soap makers choose not to use it for fear of affecting people with corn allergies. That aside, it can be used as part of your recipe (10-15%) and will help give a moisturizing, stable lather. Nothing remarkable - but if you've got some on hand that you're not going to use for cooking, go ahead and use it in soap.

Cottonseed Oil

Cottonseed oil may seem very unfamiliar to most soap makers; it's not on many soap makers' lists of primary oils. But if you've ever used "Crisco" or vegetable shortening in your soap, chances are you've used cottonseed oil. (Crisco and most shortenings are hydrogenated blends of cottonseed and soybean oil.) It contributes a nice, creamy lather that is moisturizing. Cottonseed oil has gotten a bit of a bad reputation the past few years due to reports of heavy pesticide use on cotton crops, and the unsustainable farming practices of the cotton industry. There is a fair amount of debate about this. But if you choose to use cottonseed oil in your soap, either as the oil or as shortening, it does make very nice soap.

Emu Oil

Emu oil is a luxury oil that is mostly used in cosmetics, lotions and balms. It is reported to be remarkably healing to your skin and also to help other healing ingredients to absorb better into the skin. You can use it in soap as a luxury oil, but one of the butters is probably a better choice for soap making. Save the emu oil for skin care products.
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