Skip to content

Selecting a good oil – I only wear edible oils

February 5, 2014

Following on from yesterday’s post looking at how we as brand owners and as a public choose our cosmetic oils I thought I’d have a more detailed look at what we eat or more specifically what ‘food grade’ actually looks like.  Now I must admit that food standards are not something that I’m all over like a rash,  BUT I have worked in the food supply chain and do know that there are certain standards that apply that might be worthy of a look.

So when we say that we only want to use ingredients that are good enough to eat and ‘if I can’t eat it, I don’t want it on my skin’ what does that actually mean?

I didn’t have to look too far to find evidence that ‘food grade’ is a broad term indeed. In fact I only had to look into my own kitchen cupboard.


I am not quite sure what possessed me to purchase the spray can of oil but I did and I have used it once or twice to cover my roast potatoes when out of Olive Oil. Reading the back of the pack I see that this vegetable oil is propelled out of the can with the help of a bevy of gasses all petroleum derived – Butane, Propane, Isobutane.  I also see that it contains an emulsifier – 322, lecithin from soy.

If this can of oil was a cosmetic product it would not pass any natural or organic certification standard.   That’s not surprising as it was never designed to be sold as either natural or organic but it is designed to be sold as a vegetable oil.  It is also promoted (by the tick box claims on the front) to be ‘healthy’ – High in Omega 9, Vitamin E and Cholesterol Free. It is also edible so food grade can include ingredients that have come from non-renewable resources, GMO’s (I don’t know if the soy is GMO or not to be honest) and other chemical constituents.  This isn’t exactly ‘news’ as I already knew this and am sure you do too but I must admit that on thinking about it (rather than just accepting it as the ‘norm’ it does start to make me think………

Based on this alone it looks like the ‘good enough to eat, good enough for my skin’ philosophy is a very broad one chemically speaking.

But this oil in a can is a finished product, not just an oil so is it fair to even be judging this?  After all we know that there is food and there is food – junk food, fast food, pre-packaged food, home-made food, organic food, health food, low-fat food, gluten-free food and so on and so forth.

Maybe we should just stick to looking at oils.

I mentioned in my previous post that oils can be refined either chemically or physically. There are standards for these processes and I found the FEDIOL website most helpful in explaining these.    Looking at this you can see (as I explained before) that hexane is used in the chemical processing of vegetable stock to food grade oil.  While the hexane is all removed prior to the oil going onto the market  the processing may make some pure vegetable oils unsuitable for ‘natural’  or ‘sustainable’ cosmetics depending on the brand owners definition of those terms.

See how one simple turn of phrase can uncover layer upon layer of detail?

With that in mind I thought I’d look at other terms that we see banded about in food and now in cosmetic circles  to see what they mean.

Virgin Oils – can be created with or without additional chemicals.

From what I can find out the term ‘virgin’ originates from Olive Oil pressing and referred to the first press of the oil.  As the industry grew quality standards were put into place to ensure that Virgin oil met strict quality guidelines.  Extra Virgin is one step above this in terms of chemical footprint and is seen as superior.  Nowadays many oils come in standard or virgin qualities due to the fact that we as consumers have adopted the word as being synonymous with high quality.

As you might expect there is a huge industry behind Olive oil and a global acceptance (from what I can see) of the standard behind the term ‘virgin oil’.  But this isn’t always the case for other oils.

It is possible to buy virgin  Apricot, Coconut, Argan, Grapeseed, Help Seed, Almond, Pumpkin Seed, Safflower, Jojoba, Macadamia and Walnut oil (and possibly more) although in some of these cases the definition of ‘Virgin’ isn’t quite as clear cut and organised as it is for the Olive and from what I can see the standards range from being company owned (private in-house type of standard such as Ecocert,  brand-owned standards or private organic bodies) to being little more than vague marketing.

As I mentioned above, Virgin olive oil used to just mean first pressed but the standard has long since moved on and  it is no longer enough to just be cold pressed – the oil has to meet a chemical standard, the pressing has to be of a certain quality and so on and so forth.  I am starting to wonder if the term has been bastardised……

Cold Pressed – can be refined with or without chemicals.

Olive Oil

This seems to be a ‘must have’ term for cosmetic oils and that is again probably due to marketing rather than science.  Sadly not all vegetables drip oil from their seeds and some seeds have to be heated to help ‘crack’ them.  Once heated the oil can be extracted in a ‘cold pressing’ I guess so is this yet another term that doesn’t always mean what we think it means.  I found this on the Green Mile website:

“The term cold pressed oil is subject to different regulations, depending on the part of the world in which it is made. In the European Union, for example, oil which is labeled as cold pressed must be produced in an environment which never exceeds a certain temperature. The temperature varies, depending on the oil, but is generally around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius). In the United States, oil labeling is not regulated, so “cold pressed oil” may not actually be cold pressed oil at all. Consumers will need to smell, taste, and see the oil to determine whether or not it is truly cold pressed”

Another can of worms?  Maybe but maybe it is just more important to concentrate on the quality and purity of the oil that comes out than be hung up on how it is processed……

Refined – can be refined with or without additional chemicals. 

The refining process again differs between standards (organic, natural, food grade etc) but basically involves taking the crude oil and doing something to make it more elegant.  I put a link to the Fediol website that explains refining – chemical and physical at the top of the article.  It is possible to refine an oil without exposing it to foreign chemicals – this forms the basis of the Organic oil standard.

Organic – should be additional chemical free. 

It pays to remember that while the philosophy behind the term ‘organic’ when applied to foods or cosmetics is well accepted (grown without pesticides etc) the implementation and certification process differs between certifying bodies.  There isn’t one overarching standard of what an organic oil should look like or the quality it should adhere to.  This may or may not matter depending on your philosophy and what you intend to do with the oil.

So as you can see from the above  the term ‘food grade’ is broad indeed and makes the whole ‘I only wear edible oils’ seem quite a vague statement.

One of the key messages I try to get through to my readers is that sometimes even the simplest of statements are loaded with detail.  My business exists in that detail, in marrying your ideals and philosophy with the processes and science that sings your story.  It isn’t about being pedantic, it is about being authentic.  It is about truth.

I don’t think any of these processes are inherently wrong or bad, just different.

Amanda x

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: