Plant oils and butters: virgin, refined, purified, deodorised

Plant oils and butters are the base of a good personal care formula. Here's how to decide between unrefined, processed, virgin and deodorised versions.

Plant oils and butters vary depending upon differing processing methods. Here’s a quick overview:

1. Unrefined or virgin oils and butters

Unrefined oils and butters are unprocessed and contain ‘impurities’ that have not been removed with processes.

These oils and butters are either cold-pressed or expeller-pressed, which means that they are minimally processed using pressure and low-temperature controlled conditions to extract the oil or butter from the plant.

The oil or butter retains the natural colours and aroma of the plant.  The lack of heat also means that a higher percentage of an oil or butter’s natural antioxidant properties is preserved.

In cold-pressing, temperatures are controlled at 26-32°C.

Expeller-pressed oils and butters are extracted using mechanical pressure and friction. (This friction creates heat temperatures at approximately 49-93°C.)

No further refining or processing is carried out after the oil or butter is extracted.

2. Refined or bleached oils and butters:

Most commercially produced plant oils and butters fall under this category.

Chemical solvents are used during the refining process to bleach the oil or butter so that the colour is more even.

These oils are often used in soaps, body lotions and sometimes sold as cooking oils

3. Deodorised plant oils and butters

Deodorised oils and butters are treated to reduce the natural colour and odour. This is particularly important when formulations for personal care products contain additional scents, as the natural odours may interfere with the formula’s fragrance.

Deodorisation involves injecting steam into melted oils or butters, which pushes out the components that contribute to natural odour. Higher steam temperatures may affect the antioxidant content of the product.

Which is best for my needs?

The nutrient-rich aspect of unrefined or virgin extracts makes unrefined oils and butters an ideal choice for natural and eco-conscious personal care lines. However, unrefined ingredients can be less stable than refined versions, which means that they are more prone to spoiling in a shorter time. A good formulator will be able to mitigate this as much as possible.

Refined oils and butters are often less expensive and have a longer shelf life than their unrefined versions, but do not have the same amount of nutrients. Refined products are ideal for personal care products for the body.

Deodorised, processed oils and butters are necessary when product formulations contain scents (whether artificial or from essential oils).

Image courtesy of Mathilde Elind Kinestherapeaute.

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