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The Foundations of Natural Skin Care - Knowing Which Fats and Oils to Use

by Kolbjørn Borseth of Aromantic

In all instances it has been natural for people to use fatty substances to moisturize dry hands after work or to protect them from the soil, water, plants etc. Mixed with herbal extracts they have been used to heal damaged skin or as bases for aromatic or medicinal substances; not to forget the role they have played as beauty products for the rich, the Pharaohs, queens etc. They also used the same natural raw materials for cooking, soap making, healing and skin care in products such as lotions.

Different cultures used the raw materials native to their region. In Africa they used and still use Shea Butter and Coconut Butter. In Europe however, because of the climate, we had to rely on animal sources like Lard and Tallow.


Lard is the name used to describe the soft fat in animals, primarily the fat obtained from the animal's insides (peritoneum, around the kidneys), and most often comes from pigs. The melted lard is washed with water and dried at a low temperature. Lard is solid at room temperature. The animal fat absorbs most of the heavy metals and pesticides in the body so it is definitely not recommended for eating or skin care! Anti-oxidants are often added to prevent it from going rancid. Lard is used in ointments and can be used in modified form in e.g. emulsifiers. Apart from this it is used for example in cheap margarine - of the kind used in baking - which is found in breads and many refined foods such as cakes, biscuits etc.


Tallow is a fat derived from sheep and slaughtered animals. It is then refined through a process of melting and filtering. Tallow is a solid fat which melts at 45-50C and has a white or off- white colour. It contains 50-55% Oleic acid and 45-50% Stearic and Palmitic acid.

Tallow comes in different grades. In food making it is also used in margarine, often used in mass produced bread and cakes. Industrial tallow is used in the making of soaps (shaving foams and soaps), candle-grease, emulsifiers, lipsticks, detergents and thickening agents for detergents. Because of the high content of heavy metals and pesticides in the fat, it is not recommended for use in skin care products or food.

Cocoa Butter INCI name: Theobroma Cacao

The Cocoa tree is a tropical evergreen about 5-12 meters high. It is one of the world's most important cultivated plants and it is grown in South America and Africa. The flowers are connected directly to the stem and from these develop the cucumber like fruits (up to 25cm long) which range in colour from gold to brown. Inside the fruit are hidden 20-40 flat seeds, or cocoa beans. These are fermented to remove their bitter taste. After that they are roasted and ground.

The Cocoa Butter (about 45% of the cocoa bean) is extracted through hot pressing at 60C and it contains mostly mono- unsaturated and saturated fatty acids and keeps very well. It is a yellow, solid fat which melts at 32-35C, i.e. at skin temperature. The fat is used in ointments, lipsticks, lip balms either together with or instead of bees wax, and in creams to give them consistency. It makes creams firmer. It is a mild fat and most people tolerate it well. It is especially good for dry skin and it nourishes, softens, soothes and protects the skin.

Coconut Butter INCI name: Cocos Nucifera

Coconut Butter extracted from coconuts grown on palm trees which grow to a height of 20-25 meters in Asia. Coconut butter is solid and melts at 25-28C. The fresh butter is pure white, with its own characteristic slightly sweet taste and smell. It goes rancid easily. Coconut butter is treated to remove the smell.

Coconut butter is used in food production, skin care products such as massage oils, sun products and is transformed by the industry into an emulsifier for making creams and lotions. Soap makers use it to make soaps and the detergent industry transform it to good or even harsher detergents such as Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES). You can even drink the coconut milk.

Palm Oil INCI NAME: Elaeis Guineensis

Palm Oil comes from the cultivated oil palm Elaeis Guineensis. Every year the oil palm bears about ten enormous stands of fruit, each of which contain 200 plum sized fruits with a single 'stone' seed. The oil is present as drops or clumps in the outer fruit pulp (palm oil) or inside the stone kernel (palm seed oil). The oil from the fruit (palm oil) is pressed and is an orange-yellow fat coloured with Carotene. It contains 29mg of d-alpha TE (Vitamin E) per 100g.

Palm oil saponifies easily and is used mainly in the saponification process both in the manufacture of solid and liquid soaps. 40% of the oil consists of Palmitic acid which is extracted from Palm oil and is called Cetin or Cetyl acid. Palmitic acid is used in candle making, together with Stearic acid. The fatty acid Palmitic acid is also found in large quantities in sperm whales, different waxes, tallow, lard and butter.

The oil from the palm seed is considered to be a finer oil than that derived from the fruit. Palm seed oil is white and is used in the making of washing agents and soaps because of its high content of the Lauric acid. It is also used together with Coconut oil in the production of margarine, ice-cream and as an emulsifier.

Shea Butter INCI name: Butyrospermum Parkii

The Shea tree grows wild on the savannah in several of the West African countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Mali. The tree can grow to be 20-25 meters high and has deep roots (20 meters), enabling it to withstand long periods of drought. The first fruits appear after 8-12 years and peak productivity is reached when the tree is about 40 years old, although it can continue to bear fruit for up to 150 years. Each tree produces approximately 50 kg of fruit every year. The tree blossoms from December to February. The fruit resembles a small avocado or a plum, with fruit pulp and a stone. The fruit is green or yellow, is sweet and 3-5 cm long. The stone is 2 cm long, oval and contains 50% oil ('butter'). The fruit is harvested from May until August.

The Shea tree's fruit are an important raw material for West Africa and for hundreds of years the local people have used it for food, medicinal, decorative and cosmetic purposes, and as a protection against the sun and bad weather. The stones (nuts) are crushed and the butter is pressed out. It is then purified and the free fatty acids and substances prone to oxidization are removed leaving a fat which is stable and pure. Shea butter is white and has the same consistency as cocoa butter. It has a mild smell and melts at 35-38 C (skin temperature).

The non lathering part consists of up to 65% of Cinnamic acid esters which gives Shea Butter its healing properties, and 5-10% Phytosterol which is known to be active in stimulating the formation and growth of new cells. Shea Butter is known to be a good carrier of different active ingredients (medicines) which are released more quickly than in other oils and fats. Shea Butter is a very skin-friendly fat which helps the skin to heal more quickly. It has mildly anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, good moisture retaining properties and protects the skin from drying out and from the sun. It has a sun factor of 2-3 and is well suited for use in products which need to contain protection against ultra-violet rays.

Shea Butter is well tolerated by nearly everyone. It is good for dry skin prone to eczema and psoriasis. It is also suitable for use on damaged skin including stretch marks during and after pregnancy. It can be used in any product where a softer consistency is required. Shea butter affects the consistency of a final product (makes it slightly firmer) but melts and becomes soft on contact with the skin. Unpurified Shea Butter is often sold but it can become rancid very quickly.

Recipe for Massage Oil for Dry / Mature Skin

15gr Shea butter melted in a Bain Marie

Then add:

25ml Macadamia Nut Oil
30ml Jojoba Oil
25 ml Thistle Oil
5 gr. E-vitamin oil

Finally add 25 drops of essential oils for every 100ml to the blend.

The Shea butter adds body to the blend. Use for whole body massage.

Article reprinted with permission from http://www.aromantic.com
© Copyright Aromantic 2002-2004

About the Author:

Kolbjørn Borseth of Aromantic specialises in empowering people of
all levels in making their own highly effective natural skin care
products. Through his website customers are able to access many
free resources as well as being able to order all the raw
materials, equipment and know-how required to make aromatherapy
products, creams, shampoos, soaps and cosmetics.

Visit Kolbjørn's Natural Skin Care web site at:

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