Food, cosmetics, therapeutics… Vegetable oils are fatty substances represented in various fields of application. For many people, vegetable oils are primarily raw materials in their daily diet. For others, they are cosmetic products, with nourishing, soothing and protective properties, while some use them mainly for their therapeutic effect, in addition to aromatherapy, for their medicinal properties. It is not possible to separate these different areas of application since the same vegetable oil can have different applications. This comprehensive guide aims to better understand vegetable oils, their uses, their benefits, but also their intrinsic composition and quality, in order to use them correctly whatever the area of ​​application.

This article was updated on 14/12/2022

Which vegetable oils to use in aromatherapy?

Vegetable oils are often used alone or in addition to essential oils for their many therapeutic properties. The fatty acid composition of vegetable oils allows the dilution of essential oils. In addition, they are the majority constituents of the skin, so they are easy to apply, penetrate the skin more or less deeply depending on the vegetable oil and are generally very well tolerated by everyone.

Top 4 vegetable oils in aromatherapy:

  • THE arnica oily macerate : a must. Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, Arnica soothes muscle and joint pain in addition to being circulatory. He is the more effective in cases of: Aches, Muscle cramp, Muscle pain, Tendinitis, Joint pain, Edema, Bruise, Hematoma, Contusion, Sprain.
  • L’nigella vegetable oil : thanks to its thymoquinone composition, numerous studies have looked into its therapeutic properties. It is thus anti-inflammatory, anti-infectious, immunostimulating, bronchodilator, anti-oxidant, etc. It is a very powerful vegetable oil in its own right. Most effective in cases of: Respiratory allergy, Asthma, Allergic asthma.
  • L’calophyll Inophyl vegetable oil : also called Tamanu oil, it is recognized for its circulatory, tonic, blood thinning properties, etc. Most effective in cases of: Rosacea, Redness, Rosacea, Varicose veins, Hemorrhoids.
  • L’argan vegetable oil : its composition similar to that of skin lipids makes it an excellent dilution medium for essential oils. It quickly penetrates the skin while providing a nourishing effect.

Which vegetable oils to use in cosmetics?

Vegetable oils represent cosmetic ingredients in their own right and they are increasingly used alone, as is, as the sole ingredient in beauty care. For good reason, fatty acids are structural elements of the skin. Unsaponifiables are powerful active ingredients conferring properties from a 100% natural product, for complete cosmetic care with a single product. All vegetable oils are emollient and protective of the skin thanks to their biochemical composition and their physicochemical quality. To learn more about the cosmetic characteristics of vegetable oils.

Top 4 vegetable oils in cosmetics:

  • L’sweet Almond vegetable oil : Sweet Almond vegetable oil is ideal for sensitive and fragile skin due to its soothing properties. It is often recommended for sensitive subjects such as babies or pregnant women. Most effective in cases of: Diaper rash, cradle cap
  • THE Shea Butter : it is essential in cosmetic care. Its buttery texture provides nourishing, moisturizing and protective properties. Most effective in cases of: Cracks, Chapped
  • L’coconut vegetable oil : ideal for dry and brittle hair, coconut oil will also be very effective for dry or sensitive skin thanks to its nourishing, hair strengthening, moisturizing and softening properties. Most effective in case of: Dry hair, Damaged hair, Frizzy hair, All skin types, Dental abscess, Teeth (whiten)
  • L’macadamia vegetable oil : as a neutral, skin protective oil, with a dry touch, it is suitable for all skin and hair types, therefore versatile for all cosmetic treatments.

For skin care

Dry skin, oily skin, sensitive skin, irritated skin or mature skin: there is a suitable vegetable oil for each skin type. The fatty acids, but also the unsaponifiables and active ingredients which compose them provide this specific care.

Top 4 vegetable oils for skin care:

  • L’jojoba vegetable oil : ideal for combination to oily skin, Jojoba oil has the ability to regulate and maintain a perfect balance thanks to its sebum-regulating and pH-regulating properties. Softening and protective of the skin, it revitalizes dry skin and protects skin cells.
  • L’apricot Kernel vegetable oil : rich in carotenoids, vitamin E and omega 6 and 9, it is suitable for the care of mature skin, but also as a make-up remover. It is a neutral and protective oil suitable for everyone.
  • L’rosehip vegetable oil : Rosehip vegetable oil is ideal for all cosmetic treatments. Applied to the face as a day cream or night cream, it is the ally of wrinkled and damaged skin thanks to its firming, skin regenerating and healing properties.
  • THE carrot oily macerate : orange in color, rich in provitamin A, it has a healthy glow effect in addition to its skin protective effect.

For hair care

Dry hair, brittle hair, curly hair, fine hair or frizzy hair: there is a suitable vegetable oil for each type of hair and each hair problem.

Top 4 vegetable oils for hair care: 

  • L’broccoli vegetable oil : it is particularly suitable for curly, frizzy and wavy hair.
  • L’mustard vegetable oil : it is a sheathing, hair strengthening and stimulating oil. It is ideal for hair loss, fine hair, no volume and dull hair.
  • L’avocado vegetable oil : particularly nourishing and oily, it provides care for dry, brittle and damaged hair.
  • L’castor vegetable oil : nourishing and strengthening, Castor oil is widely used to strengthen eyelashes and hair but also to strengthen nails. It will therefore be ideal for dry, dull hair that tends to fall out.

To make your own soaps

Classic saponification corresponds to the following chemical reaction to obtain soap: fatty acid triglycerides + soda → soap + glycerin. During this reaction, a fatty substance, combined with a strong base, often soda, makes it possible to obtain soap, but also another product, glycerin.

Cold saponification is done using vegetable oils. It is a natural and artisanal method which respects and preserves both the properties of the oil and the initial plant, but also the skin. The glycerin produced after the reaction is natural, from the oil. In addition to this cold saponification, vegetable oils can be added in excess, that is to say as “surgras” to provide additional care. This addition will not be saponified.

Vegetable oils widely used for cold saponification:

  • Coconut vegetable oil: for its foaming qualities
  • Shea Butter: for a creamier appearance
  • Olive Oil: for a compact soap

Which vegetable oils to use in health nutrition?

From a nutritional point of view, when we talk about vegetable oils, it is the term “lipids” that resonates. Fatty acids constitute the basic units of lipids and can be classified into three categories: saturated, unsaturated discussed above, but also trans fatty acids. They are omnipresent in our food, which is why it is essential to know how to distinguish them and understand their functions.

  • Saturated fatty acids : they are most often found in products of animal origin such as cream, butter and cheese, although they are present in all vegetable oils in greater or lesser proportions. They should be limited in the diet because they promote cholesterol deposits in the arteries and therefore increase the risk of cardiovascular pathologies.
  • Unsaturated fatty acids : among them, we find the well-known omega-3, 6 and 9. They are mainly present in oils and plant products, but also in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines or herring. These are the fatty acids to favor in the diet since they are essential for the proper metabolic functioning of the body. In addition, omega-3 and 6 are called “essential” because our body is unable to synthesize them. They are the majority constituents of our cell membranes and participate in the synthesis of certain hormones.
  • Trans fatty acids : unlike the previous fatty acids, trans fatty acids, also called hydrogenated fat, are of industrial and not natural origin. More stable, they were created to promote better preservation of foodstuffs. Be careful with hydrogenated oils which are used in the composition of ultra-processed industrial products, such as industrial cakes, cereals or even prepared or canned meals. They should be banned because they pose a risk to the cardiovascular system. They reduce HDL (good cholesterol) levels and increase triglyceride levels, conferring an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

If we were to consider an ideal ratio of our dietary fat intake, it would be as follows: more than 50% omega-9, a 4/1 ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 and an omega- 9/omega-6/omega-3 close to 10/2.5/1. Saturated and trans fatty acids should be limited.

Top 4 vegetable oils in health nutrition:

  • Rapeseed vegetable oil: a very good performer in terms of its ideal composition for health, thanks to a ratio close to the ideal. In addition, it is a fairly stable oil, although its use in seasoning should be favored over cooking. It is also an inexpensive oil. However, you should choose a virgin and organic oil, and not a refined oil to preserve the fatty acids.
  • L’perilla vegetable oil : for its richness in omega-3. We currently know that the consumption of omega-3 is too low compared to other fatty acids. It is important to promote an oil rich in omega-3 as a seasoning. In addition to Perilla, rich in more than 60% in linolenic acid, we find Chia oil, Linseed oil, Sacha Inchi oil and even Hemp oil, oils very rich in omega- 3.
  • L’Peanut vegetable oil : rich in omega-9 for use in cooking. Peanut oil is very rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, omega-9, which make it a very stable oil when cooking. Its smoke point, that is to say the temperature at which smoke is detected, is very high: 160°C for virgin quality. Other oils such as Olive oil or Hazelnut oil are interesting for the same reasons.
  • Toasted Argan vegetable oil: for an exquisite taste. The composition of an oil is essential, but in cooking, the important thing is also the taste. With previously roasted seeds or fruits, we obtain vegetable oils with unique flavors, very appreciated in gastronomy. Toasted Argan, Toasted Peanut or Toasted Sesame vegetable oils are simply exquisite!

What is vegetable oil made of?

Vegetable oils come from so-called oleaginous plants, that is to say whose seeds, fruit pulp or even nuts are rich in lipids and produce an oil. They consist offatty acids at 98%, free fatty acids at 1% and unsaponifiables around 1% depending on the oil in question. A fatty acid is a chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms, with a COOH carboxylic acid function at one end. Depending on the length of the carbon chain and the configuration of the hydrogen and carbon atoms, there are several types of fatty acids: unsaturated fatty acids and saturated fatty acids. Among the unsaturated, we find omega-9 (monounsaturated), omega-3 and 6 (polyunsaturated). Fatty acids confer numerous cosmetic, therapeutic and also dietary properties to vegetable oils. Please note that as a fatty substance, vegetable oils are neither miscible in water nor in alcohol.

In addition to fatty acids, vegetable oils are composed of unsaponifiables: active ingredients from the initial plant, fat-soluble and conferring anti-oxidant properties to the plant. Among them, we find in particular vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K, including carotenes (provitamin A), but also tocopherols, sterols and other active substances depending on the oil in question; for example thymoquinone from Nigella vegetable oil.

The valuable properties of vegetable oils

There are thousands of oilseed plants on our beautiful planet, and just as many potential vegetable oils. Today, around fifty of them (complete list) are used on a daily basis for their multiple properties :

  • General or cutaneous anti-inflammatories (omega-3, sterols, etc.): Andiroba, Hemp, Camelina, Flax, Shea, Avocado, Argan
  • Anti-infectives (active ingredients specific to each HV): Neem, Nigella, Andiroba, Sesame
  • Anti-oxidants (vitamin E, polyphenols, vitamin A, etc.): Wheat germ, Pomegranate, Argan, Grape seed, Moringa, Acai
  • Soothing (omega-3, specific active ingredients of each HV): Calendula, Shea, Mango, Coconut, Cocoa, Apricot
  • Healing (vitamin E, omega-3, etc.): Rosehip, Prickly Pear Seeds, Shea
  • Circulatory (active ingredients specific to each HV): Calophyll Inophyle, Arnica, St. John's Wort
  • Make-up removers: Apricot kernels, Jojoba
  • Detoxifying: Milk Thistle
  • Emollients: All
  • Immunostimulants: Nigella
  • Laxatives: Castor
  • Nourishing: Shea, Argan, Mango, Coconut, Castor, etc.
  • Skin protectants: Carrot, Karanja, Buriti, Raspberry, Shea
  • Repellents: Neem, Andiroba
  • Tonics, astringents: Daisy, Borage, Evening Primrose, Rosehip, Prickly Pear Seeds

How to choose a good quality vegetable oil?

There are different qualities of vegetable oils. In order to guarantee the quality of your vegetable oil, whatever the end use, several criteria must be checked:

Mentions and certifications 

In the context of therapeutic, cosmetic or nutritional use, ensure that you only use Check the quality of vegetable oil

How is vegetable oil obtained?

Vegetable oils are most often obtained mechanically, following the pressing of oilseeds or fruits. The method known as “ first cold pressing » is an ancestral and traditional technique, as natural as possible, which respects the quality of the raw material. The seeds and fruits are sorted before being subjected to mechanical cold pressing, that is to say without heating, at room temperature. Several types of presses exist; the screw press, which pushes the seed or fruit into a cylinder, is most often used. The oil comes out through the openings and the pressing residue (called cake) remains in the cylinder. The oil obtained is virgin, it does not undergo any chemical treatment or refining, it is only filtered of potential organic residues.

Please note that cold pressing may prove unsuitable for certain seeds that do not contain enough oil. Long inefficient pressing would increase the oil temperature during mechanical friction and degrade the intrinsic quality of the oil. This is why there are other methods of extracting vegetable oils.

Other extraction method sometimes encountered: supercritical CO2 oil extraction. Supercritical is the state in which CO2 is found: beyond a certain temperature and pressure threshold, it finds itself in an intermediate state, between liquid and gas, making it a solvent of choice. It is a method presented as very natural, because in this state the CO2 is neutral and respects the composition of active ingredients of the oil.

Vegetable oils, vegetable butters and oily macerates: what are the differences?

When we talk about vegetable oil (VH), we generally include, through abuse of language, all fatty substances of plant origin, namely oily macerates (MH) and vegetable butters.

THE vegetable butters have a texture and a solid appearance at room temperature unlike oils, in particular because of their higher content of saturated fatty acids. Among the best-known vegetable butters, we find Shea butter and Cocoa butter.

Not all plants are oilseeds, so they cannot provide vegetable oil. To get around this obstacle and still naturally benefit from their benefits, producers have found an alternative: oily macerates. The part of the plant of interest is immersed in a neutral oil, liquid at room temperature, often Sunflower or Olive oil. This complex of neutral oil and plants is exposed to light to promote the transfer of active ingredients from the plant to the neutral oil. Once the maceration is complete, the neutral oil is no longer neutral, and is full of the benefits of the plant. The oily macerate obtained is therefore an organic oil loaded with active ingredients from non-oleaginous plants. The flowers are generally used, such as the oily macerate of Arnica, but it is also possible to macerate roots, for example carrots. The plants are most often dried before maceration in order to avoid microbial development during maceration in oil. To know more : how to prepare an oily macerate?

Precautions for using vegetable oils

If essential oils are powerful products that must be handled with care, vegetable oils are much gentler, and therefore much easier to use. They are generally very well tolerated by everyone. It is still advisable to respect certain precautions for use and to be aware of the associated risks.

The main risks of vegetable oils:

  • Allergy: Although dependent on the user, some vegetable oils can cause allergies after application. It is recommended to do an allergy test on a small area before applying the vegetable oil to a larger area.
  • Comedogenicity: certain oils are called comedogenic, that is to say they can promote the appearance of imperfections such as pimples or blackheads. Each vegetable oil has a comedogenicity index, 0 being “non-comedogenic” and 5 being “very comedogenic”. It is advisable to check this index, especially for people with skin problems.
  • Phototoxicity: this concerns St. John's Wort, it is not recommended to expose yourself to the sun for 8 to 12 hours following its application. 
  • In the case of anti-coagulant treatments: certain vegetable oils are thinning, they should be avoided in the case of anti-coagulant treatments. This is the case of Arnica, St. John's Wort, or Calophyll Inophyle in particular.

Ways of using vegetable oils:

  • All vegetable oils are used by dermal, however, for some more powerful or fragrant ones, dilution is sometimes required: Neem, Nigella, Mustard, Borage for example.
  • By oral route, a large part of vegetable oils can be used for their nutritional benefits but not only that. It is also through this method of use that the therapeutic properties of vegetable oils can be of interest. Be careful however, certain oils are contraindicated orally due to their composition of potentially toxic substances: Mustard and Broccoli for their erucic acid content for example.

The users :

With few exceptions, vegetable oils are suitable for all users. Find out carefully on a case-by-case basis for sensitive users (babies and pregnant women).

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Bibliography

Work : de la Charie, T. (2019). Treat yourself with essential oils. Why and how does it work? Editions du Rocher.

Work : Clergaud, C. (2003). Vegetable oils: health and beauty oils. Amyris.

Work : Pobeda, M. (2011). The benefits of vegetable oils, learn to know them and use them, for health and beauty. Editions Hachettes Livres (Marabout).

Work : Zahalka, J. (2022). Complete dictionary of vegetable oils: 90 vegetable oils 10 oily macerates. DOLPHIN.