Let’s say you’ve found a tempting recipe for body oil on the internet. It features Sunflower oil, Jojoba oil and Sweet Almond oil together with essential oils. But what if you’ve no Sweet Almond oil. Could you swap it for another oil and if so which one? You find some Safflower (Thistle) oil on our cupboard shelf and you know it’s a good, nourishing oil for the skin. Would that do?
Well, the answer is both yes and no. Let me explain!
The body oil recipe above contains a nice balance of ingredients that would suit a range of skin types, that would absorb at a medium rate and not feel too heavy, and that would give a lasting soft-skin feel. If you change the recipe, you might or might not get a product that suits your skin type and lifestyle needs.
This is where it’s interesting to know a bit more about how the oils feel on YOUR skin, and what the fatty acids are that make up the oils.
1. What does my skin need: - knowing about fatty acids
Fatty acids are the fats making up oils and butters, and there are many different types, but in vegetable oils, the commonest fatty acids are linoleic and oleic fatty acids. Most vegetable oils contain these in various proportions.
What are linoleic and oleic acids and what on earth do they do? Well, these fatty acids help to replenish the fatty acids in our own skins, which decline over the years. The decline tends to cause dry skin, scaling skin, loss of elasticity and general ageing.
Oleic acid is an Omega 9 fatty acid that is very effective in boosting the skin’s ability to retain moisture. Oleic acid is also skin cell regenerating, anti-inflammatory, and very easily absorbed. It’s important for dry and damaged skin in particular, so it could be important to include this in your recipe.
Linoleic acid is an Omega 6 essential fatty acid. An essential fatty acid is one that can’t be made in the body but must be absorbed from food or through applying to the skin. Essential fatty acids are vital to the healthy functioning of the body. For instance, it’s been shown that deficiencies in linoleic acid lead to problems such as eczema and dermatitis. But when you apply oils rich in linolenic acid to the skin they can help to correct these problems, as they help the skin to repair and maintain itself. Linoleic acid helps to reduce water-loss from the skin, retain moisture, reduce skin-scaling, and also reduce irritation and inflammation.
You need a variety of fatty acids in your skincare products, as they each perform a slightly different task.
So you swap Sweet Almond oil for Safflower (Thistle) oil. What happens?
You’ll still have a body oil, right? Yes you will, but by changing the recipe, you’ve changed the balance of the fatty acids in the recipe. This might or might not suit your skin type. So instead of a body oil that contains oils high in both linoleic acid (Sunflower oil) and oleic acid (Sweet Almond oil), together with the lovely Jojoba oil (which is high in other beneficial fatty acids), you now have a body oil containing two oils with high linoleic acid content (Safflower and Sunflower) and no oil with a high oleic acid content. This body oil mixture might be good for oil-rich skin but it won’t be so protective for very dry skin due to its reduced oleic acid content.
2. What does my skin need: The feel of the product
You’ve also changed the feel of the body oil by taking out Sweet Almond oil, which feels rich, smooth and very softening on the skin, and substituting Safflower oil. Whilst a versatile blending oil and nourishing to the skin, Safflower oil feels thinner, drier and slightly rough if used in too high quantities.
3. What does my skin need: The absorption rate
Your new recipe will absorb very fast – good for people wanting to get dressed in a hurry after the shower perhaps! Not so good if you’ve dry and mature skin and want an all-day feeling of softening and protection.
And what might be a closer substitution for Sweet Almond oil? Try Apricot Kernel or Olive oil. Both have a high oleic acid content and would, in addition, preserve the product-feel and product-absorption qualities that Sweet Almond oil would offer to the body oil recipe.
So there we are, 3 things you need to know when substituting oils in a recipe. Think about your skin type, the effects you want, and how long you would like those effects to last. Then choose an oil to match.
Over the next few blogs I’m going to be delving into the profiles of popular skincare oils, so that you can learn more about them and judge what you do and don’t want in your own store cupboard. First off the block will be the wonderful and hard-working Jojoba oil. See you next time for more skincare secrets!