Coconut oil differences and use (not only) in soapmaking and cosmetics making
… it might be pretty confusing, right? Which one to choose in SoapCalc? And why there is so many of them! In this post I tried to gather everything (almost everything, since I forget things…) important I know about coconut oil differences.
First, let me state that coconut oil is very different from other oils, since it contains mainly medium chain fatty acids (having 12 and less carbon atoms). The composition of coconut oil is the answer behind all the questions, so let’s start with it:
The composition of coconut oil
Typical coconut oil – much as any other plant or animal based oil or fat – contains mainly fatty acids in the form of triglycerides (now if you just fainted reading these words, I strongly recommend to look them up in wikipedia – it is really important! J). These guys are reacting with NaOH and turning into soap.
The coconut oil fatty acid profile  looks like this:
Saturated fatty acids:
Medium chain: 8% caprylic acid (C-8), 7% capric acid (C-10), 48% lauric acid (C-12)
Long: 19% myristic acid (C-14), 8% palmitic acid (C-16), 3% stearic acid (C-18)
Non-saturated fatty acids:
Long: 5% oleic acid (C-18:1), 2% linoleic acid (C-18:2)
So coconut oil contains around 93% saturated fatty acids, which means it is very resistant to oxidation and its shelf life is around 2 years (or more).
The majority of these saturated fatty acids is of medium chain length and that is why coconut oil is so different from other oils (I repeat myself here but it is really important!)
Coconut oil also contains – again similar to other oils – non-saponifiables – everything that does not saponify – usually is also good for our health. More specifically, coconut oil contains:
- phytosterols – which regenerate skin
- phenolic compounds (caffeic acid, p-cumaric acid, ferulic acid, catechin) – which have antioxidant and antibacterial properties. However, not strong enough to work as a preservative.
- a bit of tocopherols (vitamin E)
Coconut oil types
You probably know a difference between virgin and refined oil from the kitchen. The virgin oil is usually cold pressed, unrefined, keeps its fragrance as well as all the goodies. It is a bit more complicated for coconut oil.
Virgin coconut oil is made from coconut milk only. However, majority of coconut oil is made from copra – dried coconut meal. Extraction is done either by cold pressing, fermentation or pressing using heat. This influences the fragrance as well as composition of non-saponifiables.
If coconut oil is from copra, it is not virgin, even if it is unrefined and it has a different composition of non-saponifiables. Soooo, an oil that smells of coconut is unrefined, but doesn’t have to be virgin.
Have a look into references  and  for more info on extraction.
Fractionated coconut oil is made by fractionation – coconut oil is divided to different types of fatty acids. What we usually buy as fractionated coconut oil is a mix of triglycerides containing mainly caprylic (C8) and capric (C10) acid. INCI: Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride.
So… what is such an oil good for? -see Coconut oil in cosmetics below
76 deg vs. 92 deg coconut oil
You may have seen this in SoapCalc and you probably wondered – what the heck is this?
One can do other fancy things with coconut oil apart fractionation. For instance, you can hydrogenate it – that means you can add hydrogen atoms to the double bonds of unsaturated oils, which means you convert them to saturated. This increases the oxidation stability and at the same time the melting temperature.
Non-hydrogenated (original) coconut oil has melts at 76 °F (24°C). Hydrogenated coconut oil melts at 92°F (cca 33°C) – I read about higher temperatures, too, it seems to be connected to the level of hydrogenation.
Most often, we can find mainly the original 76 deg oil.
Coconut fat is coconut oil at its temperature below the melting point. In summer heat it quickly becomes liquid.
Coconut oil in soapmaking
Coconut oil contains mainly medium chain fatty acids, which make soaps that dissolve readily in water and therefore have the best cleansing properties. They make beautiful big bubbles, and in comparison with other soaps they clean also in sea water (and hard water).
On the other hand, this is also why they do use up pretty quickly and are not resistant – if used for hand soaps, they get mushy.
When using SoapCalc, unless you are sure you have 92 deg coconut oil, select 76deg. However, it does not really matter as to the saponification value since it remains the same for both – 174g NaOH for 1000g of oil with 5% superfat. That’s because hydrogenation does not change the number of molecules in the oil, just their type.
I never tried the 92deg, but I read that it does not have an influence on the final soap properties – I would like to be corrected if you have other experience, please, leave me a comment below!
Fractionated coconut oil can be used in soap just as any other oil, but it is quite expensive. I never tried it in soap, but given the fatty acids I would expect it creates soap with a lot of bubbles and good cleaning properties. I would use around 10% to increase bubbles.
Attention! Since fractionated coconut oil is composed solely of medium chain fatty acids, it contains in 1 gram more molecules than normal coconut oil. This means we need more NaOH for its saponification. Its saponification value is 220g of NaOH for 1000g of oil (at 5% superfat).
If you do not know if your oil is fractionated or not, most probably it is not. Fractionated coconut oil is too expensive to be sold as a simple coconut oil and it would be clearly stated on the label. In any case, testing is easy – if at 20°C it is liquid, most probably it is fractionated oil.
Have a look at the results for coconut oil soap in my big test of 100% one oil soaps:
- A big test of 100% one oil soaps – part I (about trace)
Coconut oil in cosmetics
Fractionated coconut oil – what it is good for?
- First, it contains only saturated fatty acids. They say it has practically infinite shelf life, since there are no unsaturated fatty acids to oxidize.
- Since it is composed only of medium chain fatty acids, it is liquid. In addition it has no scent or colour. Also, it is well absorbed by skin. All together, it makes for an ideal carrier oil for aromatherapy and cosmetics.
- To make it a bit more complicated – fractionated coconut oil is not really considered an oil. You can find it listed in non-oil cosmetics preparations.
Coconut oil for hair
Shorter fatty acids penetrate more readily skin and hair. Recently I read a study  where they tested protective effect of coconut oil on different hair types (straight, curly, wavy and permed) against damage by combing, UV exposure, bleaching and boiling.
Coconut oil – as the only one (tested with mineral and sunflower oil) – was able to prevent protein loss both damaged and undamageed hair. This is because: „Coconut oil being a triglyceride of lauric acid (principal fatty acid), has a high affinity for hair proteins and, because of its low molecular weight and straight linear chain, is able to penetrate inside the hair shaft“
The oil was applied and left on hair for 14 hours to simulate overnight application (let’s hope shorter times are as good, since my night gets 14 hours long on very very rare occasions, and usually it is not the time I would consider having my hair „soak greasy“…).
So quick quick, ladies and gentleman, coconut grease your hair happily while you read a chapter of your favourite book in the bath, or if you have a tolerant partner, make it an overnight treatment J
Check this amazing post of Susan on oils penetrating hairs (presenting some other scientific papers).
As for the skin, it seems coconut oil is not good for acne-prone skin, since it clog pores and makes acne worse. On the other hand is nice for normal and dry skin.
I also read [now I can’t find where] that it increases the shelf life of other oils.
Coconut oil in the nutrition
… probably you know, but I have to mention it so that I don’t get lynched for forgetting it, coconut oil is very good oil for cooking.
Yes, it contains tons of saturated fatty acids, but the „good ones“, since they are medium chain acids (MCA). This means it does not increase the levels of cholesterols and it seems they have preventive effect for colon cancer.
Metabolic derivatives of MCAs (in other words what they become once we eat them) have antibacterial and antivirotic properties – thanks to their size they can penetrate protective membranes of bacterias and viruses and so destroy them. Scientists are now examining its effect in HIV treatment. But remember, you have to eat it first, therefore it is not good as preservative in your creams.
So – one coconut a day keeps doctor away! 🙂
… one could write a book about it, but I don’t have time and hey – there was at least one written already …
References and recommended reading
 Krishna A.G. et al. Coconut Oil: Chemistry, Production and Its Applications – A Review. Indian Coconut Jounal, 2010
 Reele A.S. and Mohile R.B. Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage. J. Cosmet. Sci., 54, 175-192, 2003
 http://coconutoil.com/ – references to scientific articles studying coconut oil benefits for human health