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What's the Difference Between Coconut Oils? Virgin Coconut Oil vs. Refined, 76 Degree Coconut Oil vs. Fractionated

If you've been making soap, or any skin care product for that matter, you've most likely used coconut oil.  It makes a great hard bar of soap, a moisturizing lotion, and hair treatments to die for.

When I started making my own soap and skin care products, many moons ago, I was surprised to learn there are different types of coconut oil available. I was confused too. What makes fractionated coconut oil different from 76 degree coconut oil? When should I use virgin coconut oil over refined?

Here's a quick description of each to help you decide which coconut oil will be the best fit for your needs.

Virgin (Unrefined) Coconut Oil
You'll often find this at the grocery store and specialty markets, most virgin coconut oil is pressed from the fresh meat of the coconut, without high heat or solvents. In general, coconut oil labeled "virgin" or "unrefined" retains all the qualities of the coconut -- so it smells and tastes like coconut.  

But, because there is no industry standard for "virgin" or "extra virgin" coconut oil, this isn't always the case.  Basically, companies can label their coconut oil however they like. If you're keen on keeping that coconut taste and flavor, whether it be for cooking or for your handmade skin care products, you might have to try a few brands to make sure it lives up to your expectations.  

Virgin coconut oil is solid at cool temperatures and liquid at warmer temps. It is typically the more expensive option of the bunch.

Choose this coconut oil for...
Although it can be used in all DIY skin care products, virgin coconut oil works best where the flavor and scent can really shine -- lip balms and scrubs, body butters, lotion, and body scrubs. It can be used in soap but it's expensive compared to other types of coconut oil, and the scent won't hold through the saponification process.

Refined Coconut Oil
This type of coconut oil is made from the dried meat of the coconut. It's then steam refined or refined with chemicals to remove any impurities from the oil.The refining process also takes away the coconut scent and taste.

This can be to your advantage, though. You can cook with refined coconut oil without adding coconut flavor to your foods. You can make your skin and hair care products without your fragrance oils having to compete with coconut scent. 

And if you're buying your coconut oil in bulk for soap making and skin care treatments, this is probably the coconut oil you'll want simply because it's less expensive than virgin coconut oil.  You're still getting all the skin-loving properties from this coconut oil without the larger price tag.

Choose this coconut oil for... 
This is generally the go-to coconut oil for handmade skin care products, including soap.

76 Degree Coconut Oil
What's up with the 76 degree?  This just refers to the melting point. Coconut oil, whether virgin or refined, has a melting point of about 76 degrees (unless it's been hydrogenated, but more on that in a minute).

When you see 76 degree coconut oil, it just means that your oil will be solid white at temps lower than 76 degrees, and will melt super easily above this temperature. This sometimes takes people off guard when they buy coconut oil that is liquid only to find a solid white mass in the jar a few days later, or vice versa. This is a normal, natural way for coconut oil to behave, so don't worry.

This is an important quality to think about, though, when you're formulating your skin care recipes. That coconut oil based lip balm that is the perfect texture in the cool winter months may turn into a melty mess during the summertime.
Choose this coconut oil for... 
Because refined coconut oil and 76 degree coconut oil is one-in-the-same, it's a great oil for the majority of handmade skin care products, including soap.

92 Degree Coconut Oil
Need a coconut oil with a higher melting point? Ninety two degree coconut oil is for you. FYI, there is also a 100 degree coconut oil available.)

These oils are hydrogenated to give them a higher melting point. Just like with 76 degree coconut oil, the "degrees" indicate at what temperature the oil will melt. So, 92 degree coconut oil melts at 92 degrees, 100 degree coconut oil melts at 100 degrees.

Choose this coconut oil for...
These are great options if your product (like the lip balm we talked about earlier) needs to be less sensitive to fluctuations in temperature, like lip balms, whipped body butters, bath bombs and bath melts. It's OK for soap too but the 76 degree is less expensive, so save yourself a few bucks.

Fractionated Coconut Oil
Fractionated coconut oil is oil that never goes solid. This is because the long chain triglycerides, mainly lauric acid, have been removed to keep it in liquid state, no matter what the temperature. Because these components have been removed, you can consider fractionated coconut oil as just a portion of the entire oil.

Fractionated coconut oil does have its benefits. Although it's very rarely used in cooking, it's a common addition to skin care.  Fractionated coconut oil is less greasy on the skin than regular coconut oil, and some studies show it's less likely to clog pores. It makes for a good massage oil, or carrier oil for essential oils, because it won't solidify.

Choose this coconut oil for... 
Fractionated coconut oil can be used when you want to add the benefits of coconut oil without worrying about it solidifying. It's especially good for facial oils, serums, sugar scrubs, moisturizers, lotions, massage oil, and as a carrier oil for essential oils.

You can use it to make soap, just be aware that fractionated coconut oil has a different saponification value than 76 degree coconut oil. But it doesn't give any additional benefits to soap and, because it's so much more expensive than regular coconut oil, I'd personally not use this in soap making.

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