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Difference Between Coconut Oils: Virgin vs. Refined, 76 Degree 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.

Spend a bit of time shopping for coconut oil, and you might be surprised that there are different types available.  Here's a quick description of each to help you decide which is the best coconut oil for you.

Virgin 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.  So, 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 the expectations.     

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

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.

76 Degree Coconut Oil
What's up with the 76 degree?  This just refers to the melting point.  All coconut oil, whether virgin or refined, has a melting point of about 76 degrees.

This means that your coconut oil will be solid white at temps lower than 76 degrees, and will melt super easily anything 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.

It's important to remember that coconut oil has this quality, though, when you're creating your skin care recipes.  That lip balm that is perfectly textured in the cool winter months may turn into a melty mess during the summertime!

FYI, there are also 92 degree, 100 degree, etc. coconut oils available.  These oils are more refined to give them a higher melting point.  For all of my soaps and skin care products, I use the regular 76 degree oil.

Fractionated Coconut Oil
Fractionated coconut oil is oil that never goes solid.  This is because the long chain triglycerides, mainly lauric acid, have been chemically removed and the oil hydrogenated to keep it in liquid state, no matter what the temperature.

But, because these components have been removed, you're not getting all the coconut oil "goodness" from fractionated coconut oil.  In fact, you can consider fractionated coconut oil as just a portion of the entire oil.

This isn't to say there aren't benefits to fractionated coconut oil.  It's very rarely used in cooking, but often used in skin care.  Because the long chain triglycerides are removed, fractionated coconut oil is less greasy on the skin than regular coconut oil.  It makes for a good massage oil, or carrier oil for essential oils, because it won't solidify.

You can also use it to make soap, just be aware that fractionated coconut oil has a different saponification value than 76 degree coconut oil.  The cost is higher too.  

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