20 BEST Oils & Butters for Your Homemade Skin Care Products (What are the Pros & Cons of Different Oils & Butters?)
When I first started making my own salves, butters, balms, and ointments for our family's skincare needs, I often asked the question, "How much oil or butter should I buy...and what kinds of oils should I keep on hand all the time? What are the best oils and butters to use in my soap and salve making?”
I was overwhelmed by all the options there are for the kinds of oils and butters you can buy nowadays.
Although it was exciting to realize how many oil and butter choices there are for making your own skin and body care products...it was hard to know what oils and butters I should start out with for making salves, creams, and soaps? It was quite the problem. I didn’t want to just stick with boring old olive oil! I wanted to branch out into some “cool” oils.
Perhaps you're like I was:
Questions raced through my mind:
Which is the best oil to use for acne?
Which is the best oil for infusing herbs?
What butter should I use for super dry skin?
How long do these oils last (shelf life) before going rancid, anyway?
What are the oils that will dry out skin and not work for my skin?
And do I REALLY need all these oils?
Besides not knowing very much about the characteristics and properties of different oils when I first started dabbling around 10 years ago, the other trouble I ran into was the cost.
Some oils are very expensive, and the recipes I was using or that I wanted to try often called for a wide variety of different oils. Could I substitute them?
Or, the recipe called only for small amounts of oil, leaving a great deal left over. It's a terrible thing to purchase a $20 bottle of Kukui Nut Oil, use just a little bit, and have most of that bottle sitting around until it goes rancid.
WASTE! Ahem...Ask me how I know.
After creating many body care products, including soaps, salves, balms, serums, and more, I thought I'd share a quick list of my 20 favorite oils and butters I like to have on hand.
NOTE: My favorite places to purchase quality oils and butters are Starwest Botanicals (I try them first), then Amazon. I prefer to use organic products, so be sure to add that word to the search. However, for Coconut Oil and Olive Oil, I go to Costco! **The links in the body of this article are to Amazon for your convenience.
FTC Disclosure: There are affiliate links scattered throughout this article, and if you click through and make any kind of purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you
What are the BEST Oils to Buy for Making Salves, Whipped Butters, Creams and Soaps?
Here are my top recommendations for oils and butters you might want to consider starting out with, especially the first ones listed.
I separated my top seven out for you just to make things easier. These are the oils or butters I use most often, and definitely don't want to run out of!
Unless you go hard core and start experimenting like a crazy mad-scientist (like I did there for awhile), there is no reason to purchase a large number of different oils when you first start out.
Start small, experiment; then change things up little by little. Be sure you take notes for all of your experiments in your soap and salve recipe journal! (You have one right?)
BEST Seven Oils & Butters for Handmade Products:
I'm sharing a bit about the characteristics of the following oils and butters for soap making purposes, as well as for their skin care properties for use in both salves, creams, and soaps. Hopefully this will help make your decision making easier!
These are in no particular order, but these first seven are my main go-to’s:
1) Benefits of Castor Oil
Castor oil is useful for creating that shiny gloss in lip balms. It's also wonderful to use in handmade soap because it's what helps create a very good lather. Some soap makers don't like using more than about 15% in their soaps because they say it can cause a sticky soap. Yuck.
Castor oil stands on its own when it comes to properties. Most soap recipes that include castor oil do so to enhance the lather.
2) Benefits of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is one of the first choices many people new to creating body care products and soap try and use. Indeed, the benefits of coconut oil are touted practically everywhere you turn.
However, some of us are highly allergic to it! How do I know this? Well, when I began creating my first body creams using coconut oil, I had terrible itching and even dry skin! I couldn't figure it out. Wasn't coconut oil supposed to be this wonder oil?
After doing some research, I discovered that my symptoms were caused by an allergy to it. DOH! I was SO bummed. I love coconut oil. But I am one of the people who can't use it in body creams or lotions.
However, the saponification process during soap making must change the molecular structure enough that it doesn't bother me in handmade soaps. So, I cook with it, and I use it in making soap---but I personally no longer use it in body lotions or creams.
Coconut Oil is high in lauric acid, and in soap making it provides terrific lather. Coconut oil is also highly cleansing, which in soap making can cause extra dryness to skin. It's a common oil to combine with Olive Oil for a wonderfully moisturizing and cleansing soap.
3) Benefits of Cocoa Butter
I LOVE this stuff! Cocoa Butter is absolutely hands down one of my very top favorite oils/butters, and I always keep it on hand. Cocoa Butter is actually a solid fat that comes from cocoa beans. It adds a really nice hardness to your soap bars, but you don't want to use more than about 15% in any recipe. In your body butters and balms, it also adds hardness, so you'll need to plan to temper it with a liquid oil.
The unrefined cocoa butter will give you that amazing chocolate scent! If you don't want the chocolate scent in your products, just purchase refined cocoa butter.
4) Benefits of Olive Oil, Extra Virgin, Organic (EVOO)
Olive oil is just absolutely wonderful for your skin. There's really not many other oils better than olive oil. It's rumored Sophia Loren slathered it on every day, hence her lovely, glowing skin even into old age.
I love to use olive oil to infuse my herbs in for salves and soaps. I've found that not only do the medicinal properties of the herbs work on my skin, but the conditioning effect of the olive oil is very helpful too.
Soaps high in olive oil create a nice hard bar of soap, but the lather isn't that great, to be honest. This is why adding lathering oils like castor or coconut oil retains the moisturizing properties of the olive oil while still providing the lather you want.
I am SO glad I'm not one of the people allergic to olive oil. If you are, I have heard you can substitute rice bran oil, although I have not personally tried this.
Have you heard of Castille soap? This is soap made from 100% olive oil. It's prized in Italy and elsewhere in the world.
5) Benefits of Shea Butter
Shea butter is a softer butter than cocoa butter. It contains nutrients that are not affected by the saponification process when making soap--so you can be sure your skin will benefit from this butter being included in soap recipes.
Like Cocoa butter, Shea butter is also a solid fat that comes from the nuts of the shea (karite) tree. It helps add some hardness to soaps too. Shea butter is one of my favorite butters for creating body care recipes such as deodorants, body creams, and just using alone.
6) Benefits of Sweet Almond Oil
Almond oil is very high in Vitamin E, and even though it is fairly emollient, it's also highly moisturizing. What a great combination!
Almond oil is my second favorite oil to infuse herbs in for medicinal purposes, making salves or soaps.
7) Benefits of Sunflower Oil
Sunflower oil doesn't have the shelf life of other oils, so if you plan to use some in a recipe, you should also plan to get it used up within about six months or so. Rancid oils are really pretty gross.
Sunflower oil is high in Vitamins A, D, and E, and your skin will love some of that sunflower oil! This is another oil to use somewhat sparingly in soaps, but is great to use in body care products that will be used relatively quickly.
Additional Useful Oils & Butters to Consider:
These additional oils and butters are also some of my favorites. However, because they may be 1) expensive, 2) used only in small amounts, 3) not the main oils in most recipes, these are farther down the list:
8) Apricot Kernel Oil
Apricot Kernel Oil is a great substitute for Almond Oil if you are allergic to tree nuts. If you decide to substitute out the almond oil in a soap recipe for apricot kernel oil, be sure to run your numbers through a soap calculator. I'll provide links at the end of the article and address this a bit further.
Apricot Kernel oil is highly moisturizing, too.
9) Argan Oil
There's been a lot of hype about Argan oil in recent years, and for good reason. It is said to help promote hair growth, and it is anti-aging and anti-inflammatory for skin care uses.
Argan oil can be pretty expensive, besides creating a softer bar, so only 10% or less should be used for making soap. Use it as you wish for skin creams and butters! It's just lovely.
10) Avocado Oil
Avocado oil is rich in fatty acids. It comes from the fruit, so if you are allergic to tree nuts, it's a great choice for both soap and salve-making. It's incredibly good for your skin, however, the greenish color may effect the final color of your soap or salve.
11) Babassu Oil
Babassu oil comes from a kind of palm in South America, but it is not the same palm species that is being ecologically affected by overproduction of palm oil. Babassu oil is high in lauric acid, just like coconut oil, and it can make a good substitute if you are allergic to coconut oil (as I am) in your skin care products.
It's more expensive, though---and remember, the saponification process during soap making changes the structure of the oil, so many who are allergic to coconut oil in lotions and creams can still take advantage of it in their soap. I know this from first-hand experience. For those with extreme allergies, perhaps Babassu oil would be a great one to try!
The highly cleansing properties of Babassu oil also can cause dryness in some people, just like coconut oil.
12) Grape Seed Oil
Grape Seed oil is a lightweight oil that is very high in anti-oxidant plant compounds. It's slightly astringent and emollient, meaning it soaks into your skin well. Some people believe it has good anti-aging properties and it may also speed wound healing of the skin.
It's widely used in many cosmetics and skin care products, and I think it's a great oil for use in making salves, etc., especially for people with oilier skin.
Grape Seed Oil is also a common culinary oil, and you may just have this popular oil hanging around in your kitchen!
13) Hemp Seed Oil
Hemp Seed oil is quite high in fatty acids, making it quite helpful to the skin. It heals and soothes, and may be a wonderful addition to a soap recipe. Like avocado oil, it has a green color, and may affect the final color of your soaps and balms.
14) Jojoba Oil
Jojoba oil is actually a wax that has similar properties to the surface layer of oil on human skin. It provides a wonderful protective barrier for over-washed hands or dry skin. It's great for both dry and oily skin types.
You can see how and why I use jojoba in my best foaming hand soap recipe.
15) Kukui Nut Oil
Kukui Nut oil is thought to be one of the oils very useful in treating difficult skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. It is highly moisturizing, too.
15) Lard or Tallow
Lard is GREAT, especially if it has been minimally processed. If you know someone who renders their own lard, and you can get some of this, I highly recommend it! Lard is a solid fat that comes from pigs. (Tallow most usually comes from cows, and is also fabulous for your skin.)
If you are using lard for making soap, it is one of the oils you can use in larger amounts, as it contributes a good lather along with skin conditioning and a bit of hardness.
I haven't tried lard for use in salves, butters, or balms, and unless we are in a SHTF situation, I really don't plan to. Just saying.
Here is a recipe for Pine & Cedar Soap made using lard. This is a great soap to gift during the holidays, too!
16) Macadamia Nut Oil
Macadamia Nut oil is wonderful for you, both inside and out. It's a light oil with a pale yellow color, and is extremely sensitive to heat and light. It will turn rancid more quickly than other oils, so if you plan on using Macadamia Nut oil, you might want to purchase it in smaller amounts---or plan on cooking with it.
Macadamia Nut oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, and like jojoba oil, it is similar to the natural oils created by our own skin.
17) Mango Butter
Mango Butter is solid, but is also a soft butter. In your soap, it will not create a great deal of hardness, so it's best combined in small amounts with other typical oils, such as coconut and/or olive oil. Mango Butter is wonderful for very dry skin.
18) Meadowfoam Seed Oil
Meadowfoam Seed oil is great for using in salves, balms, etc. It's a very stable oil, and can help lengthen the shelf life of a product. Meadowfoam seed oil is high in anti-oxidants and can be helpful for mature skin. It also is absorbed quite quickly. I like using it in homemade beard oils.
19) Pumpkin Seed Oil
Pumpkin Seed oil is high in fatty acids, and it's one of the oils that is great for both oily and dry skin. It is quickly absorbed, doesn't clog pores, yet is highly moisturizing at the same time. Besides the fact that it is a great oil to consume for your health, it's wonderful for use in creating skin care products too.
20) Rosehip Seed Oil
I love this stuff! Rosehip Seed oil is exceptional for aging and mature skin. Due to its high cost, however, I generally only use it in creating body care creams, butters, salves, lip balms, etc. I personally think it costs too much to add to soap, but if you can afford it, I say go for it!
Quick Tips for Using Butters and Oils in Your Homemade Skincare
Here are some other tips I’ve learned over the years I’ve spent creating our own skincare products:
1) If it is an expensive oil, don’t buy a lot. Buy the smallest amount you can to be sure it’s worth the cost.
2) Buy organic if you can. This is just best practice no matter what you’re purchasing. You don’t want pesticides in your skincare products, right?
3) You can substitute many oils across recipes. For example, sunflower oil, avocado oil, and almond oil are all great substitutions for each other.
4) When in doubt, keep it simple. Choosing the “boring” oils like olive oil or coconut oil is not a bad idea! These oils, although very common, are common for a reason. They work.
5) Be sure to do your research on your butters and oils. Check into how they are processed. Often, unrefined oils will be quite strong smelling. For example, carrot seed oil is just wonderful for your skin, but it packs a powerful scent many people don’t care for. If this is a concern, try to find a place to test scents before buying if you can.
6) Don’t buy too much. Yes, you can get your oils and butters cheaper in bulk….but if you end up not using them up, they may go rancid or bad before you can get to them. You may end up wasting money anyway!
7) Have fun! Go about creating your skin care products with a joyful scientific mind. Experiment. Try things. Will they all work? Nope. But the learning process is fun, and if you enjoy it, you’ll keep at it.
8) Be sure to keep a journal! I can’t stress this tip enough. There have been a few times I’ve created a WONDERFUL lotion or balm….but I didn’t write down exactly what I did as I went. When I discovered I couldn’t recreate it exactly….what a bummer. Journaling and keeping a notebook are absolute musts.
Final Thoughts on Different Oils and Butters for Making Skin Care Products
I hope this little rundown of oils and butters was helpful. It's so hard to know which oils and butters to start out with. We all heard how great coconut oil is for us (and it certainly is), but nobody back then ever said a person could be allergic to it on the surface of their skin! Yikes!
We are all different, with different body make ups and compositions and needs. It's a great idea to play around with different oils if you are able to---and this way, you'll find the perfect combination for you and family.
Hopefully by giving you this little start, it will help you narrow down your options a little bit, though. It's incredibly how many useful kinds of oils and butters are now available to us for our use!
What do you think? Do you have an oil or butter you like to use a lot that I should add to the list? Or maybe you have a comment about one of the oils I mentioned in the list? I'd love for you to leave a comment in the comments section!
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Hugs, Health, & Self-Reliance,
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P.P.S. Don't forget to check out Starwest Botanicals for your natural body products, herbs, and essential oils for making soaps & salves!