Butters & Solid Oils – What To Know & How To Use Them

Butters & Solid Oils - What To Know & How To Use Them

Cocoa Butter

Cocoa Butter is a hard brittle butter that smells just like chocolate. If that odor is not something you want in your products, choose Refined Cocoa Butter. Because cocoa butter is hard and brittle, you’ll want to chop it into chunks before you melt it. Cocoa butter is composed mostly of the saturated fatty acids palmitic (25-30%), and stearic (35%), with the rest is mostly made of oleic acid (30%). Cocoa butter is a heavy, occlusive product, meaning it forms a barrier on the skin preventing trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) and dehydration of the skin. In fact, it is one of the few products officially approved by the FDA as a skin occlusive. (Note: all oils and especially butters have some occlusive effect.) Additionally, cocoa butter has 0.3-0.4% phytosterols. Like most butters, cocoa butter has a long shelf life of about 2-3 years. Cocoa butter has a melting point of 93⁰F (34⁰C).

Products made with a lot of cocoa butter can crystalize and look dull or grainy if slowly cooled. To prevent this, melt your cocoa butter slowly and cool your products rapidly in the freezer, as is demonstrated in our Orange Tub Truffles Recipe. Freezing hardens your products before crystals have time to form. Rapidly cooling your cocoa butter-rich products will also give them a nice shine. This advice applies to shea butter products, as well, which can also be grainy.

Cocoa butter is a great ingredient in foot creams (see our Peppermint Foot Cream Recipe), body creams, lip products (see our Lip Balm Recipe), and bath bombs (see our Bath Bombs from Scratch Recipe). Unrefined cocoa butter is also a great way to make your creations smell like chocolate! Whenever you want a thicker consistency in your products, reach for cocoa butter. For this reason, cocoa butter can be a little difficult to substitute for shea or mango butters in recipes.

Cocoa butter is a great addition to a cold processed soap recipe. Because of its high palmitic and stearic acid composition, it’s great for formulating palm-free and vegan recipes. As little as 2.5% cocoa butter will give your recipes added hardness and a little more creaminess to the lather. I have made soaps with 15% cocoa butter that were really luxurious! You can use up to 25% cocoa butter in a recipe, though these bars will be very hard, and very expensive! Be aware that cocoa butter will speed up your trace, though not as much as unrefined shea butter, in my experience.

Mango Butter

Mango Butter is somewhere between shea butter and mango butter in hardness. Most mango butters can still be scooped with a spoon or ice cream scoop. Mango butter is a little bit draggy in consistency and has a remarkably dry feeling compared to other butters. Mango butter mostly composed of 46% oleic acid, 42% stearic and small amounts palmitic and linoleic acid. Mango butter has a lot of tannins and polyphenols including caffeic acid, gallic acid quercetin and mangiferin which give this butter anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties. These tannins and polyphenols are also what gives mango butter its dry skin feel. Mango butter has a shelf life of 2-3 years. It has a melting point of 86⁰F (34⁰C). The mango butter sold at Elements Bath and Body is refined and odorless.

Mango butter and shea butter are readily interchangeable in most body product recipes, though the consistency will be a little firmer, draggier and have a dry skin feel. Mango butter is a secret weapon for formulating non-greasy lotions. Mango butter is particularly nice in lotion bars (see our Honey Chamomile Bars Recipe), which tend to be a little greasy otherwise.

Mango butter introduces creaminess and hardness to cold processed soaps and are excellent for formulating palm-free, vegan recipes. I recently made a soap with 20% mango butter. The soap batter behaved well and has made a bar with thick-creamy bubbles. It’s the nicest soap I have ever made! Even 2.5% mango butter will improve your soaps. You can use up to 25% mango butter in your soaps, which would be luxurious indeed! Mango butter does speed up trace somewhat, like most hard oils and butters.

Shea Butter

Shea Butter is a very popular butter and it’s easy to see why. This butter is softer than mango butter or cocoa butter and has a greasy/creamy skin fee that is quite luxurious. It has a melting point of 84⁰F (29⁰C). Shea butter is composed of mostly oleic acid (40-55%), 35-45% stearic acid, and small amounts of palmitic acid and linoleic acid. Shea butter contains about 200 ppm of vitamin E and is rich in phytosterols, including cinnamic acid and catechins which offer some antimicrobial properties. Shea butter also contains allantoin, a molecule approved as a barrier ingredient by the FDA as a barrier ingredient (just like cocoa butter), making this an occlusive product. Unrefined shea butter has an earthy smell that you may or may not want in your products. Elements Bath and Body sells both Refined Shea Butter and Unrefined Shea Butter. Shea butter is surprisingly non comedogenic, though it may be too heavy for those with oily skin.

Shea butter is great in bath bombs, hand creams, foot creams, body lotions and even facial products for those with mature skin. You can balance the greasy feel of this oil by blending it with a drier feeling liquid oil such as jojoba or hempseed oil.

Shea butter is a popular choice in cold processed soap and is another great choice for making palm-free vegan bars. If you make a soap with 100% shea butter, you will observe very low, lotion-like lather. Shea butter makes soaps quite a bit harder. Soaps made with even 10% shea butter have a creamy lather that is a little lower and creamier than recipes made with palm oil or lard. You can use up to 25% shea butter in the oils in a soap recipe. Be aware, that in my experience, unrefined shea butter speeds up your trace more than any other oil or butter. You can mitigate this effect by including plenty of olive, sweet almond, apricot kernel or sunflower oil in your recipe.

Coconut Oil

If you make and sell cold processed soap, you probably have a 50 lb. bucket of this oil in your soap room. Coconut Oil is mostly composed of the medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) lauric acid (48%) and myristic acid (18%) and has small amounts of other fatty acids. Virgin coconut oil has a lovely, tropical scent that sometimes carries through in body products. This oil has a long shelf life (2 years). Coconut oil has a very greasy skin feel and melts at 72⁰. Creams made with coconut oil are thick, yet melt in contact with the skin. Coconut oil is loaded with polyphenols, including the antioxidant ferulic acid. Coconut oil is considered to be comedogenic and acnegenic, so you might want to steer clear of this oil in face products. (Some people do successfully use this oil on their faces, so this is by no means universal!)

You can use coconut oil in and body or lip product, but where coconut oil really shines is in hair products. Because lauric acid is smaller than other fatty acids, some studies have shown that it can penetrate the hair shaft instead of just coating it. Coconut oil also contains 18-methyl eicosanoic acid (18-MEA), a lipid found in the cuticle healthy, glossy hair.

Most coconut oil has a melting temperature of 76⁰F (24⁰C). Your bucket of coconut oil may be liquid in the summer if your house is very warm. You can also coconut oil that has been hydrogenated with a melting point of 92⁰F (33⁰). If you want to make body butters and lip products that can withstand summer heat, you should seek out the 92⁰F version. Though some report otherwise, I have found no difference in the hardness of cold process soap using 92⁰F coconut oil versus 76⁰F coconut oil in testing hundreds of pounds of soap. Scooping the 92⁰F coconut oil is a lot more difficult, so keep that in mind.

It’s hard to imagine making soap without coconut oil. Coconut oil makes big, fluffy lather in soap and is quite cleansing, albeit somewhat drying. This is because saponified lauric and myristic fatty acids are smaller than other saponified fatty acids, thus are more soluble. You can make 100% coconut oil soaps if you increase your superfat to 15-30 percent (I like 25%). All-coconut oil soaps are very hard and white with excellent, creamy lather. They are not nearly as long-lasting as balanced recipes, however. In most recipes, I like to use 25% coconut oil in soap. If you have dry skin, you may want to decrease this to 15-20%. Coconut oil does speed up trace somewhat, but not as much as palm oil or shea butter.

Palm Oil

Palm Oil is a thick, greasy oil that is solid at room temperature. It is composed of 48% palmitic acid, 40% oleic acid and small amounts of stearic, linoleic and myristic fatty acids. It is rich in tocotrienols, compounds that retard rancidity in oils contributing to its long shelf life (2 years). Palm oil has a melting point of 95⁰F (35⁰C). I don’t use palm oil in body products because it is so thick and greasy, and not in a pleasant way like shea butter.

You may notice a batch of palm is grainy throughout. This leads to an inconsistent product. To prevent this, you must completely melt and stir your palm oil before you use it in a recipe. Alternatively, you can gently melt your palm oil and stir it in an ice bath until it is completely cool.

Palm oil is the foundation of many soap recipes and is a great vegan alternative to lard. 100% palm oil bars are very hard with stable, creamy lather. Some say these bars are somewhat drying, though. Typically, palm oil is used at 50%, or less in a soap recipe. I generally use 25%. Like other hard oils, palm oil will speed up trace.

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