Emollients you will love: Palm and palm kernel oil

I was fiddling around with a basic cosmetic certification test from a guild, and again and again these two oils showed up as part of a lotion bar, body melt, and lip balm. These aren’t oils I’ve encountered as a bath & body product maker, but I know both are used quite a lot in soap making. (I used it in the formulas Michele from Windy Point Soap and Jen from Lotioncrafter taught me last year.) I thought it would be interesting to take a look at these oils and see if they have a place in the workshop of us cosmetic maker types.

Palm trees offer us oil in two ways: Through the pulp of the fruit as palm oil, and through the kernel as palm kernel oil. Check the INCI of what you’re planning to buy to ensure you’re getting what you want. These oils are, along with coconut oil, used as the starting point for so many ingredients we use. Lauric acid is the base for things like lauryl alcohol or sodium lauryl sulfate and other surfactants.

There’s a Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) that certifies manufacturers of these oils, so look for that designation if this is an issue that concerns you. In my travels on-line, I haven’t seen anyone selling non-certified oils, but keep this all in mind when shopping.

Palm kernel oil (INCI: Elaeis Guineensis (Palm) Kernel Oil) is chock full of 4% capric acid (C10), 48% lauric acid (C12), 16% myristic acid (C14), 8% palmitic acid (C16), 3% stearic acid (C18), 46% oleic acid (C18:1), and 2% linoleic acid (C18:2).

The version I had from Voyageur Soap & Candle has a melting point of 106˚F or 41.1˚C, which is higher than cocoa butter , mango butter, or shea butter, and more like kokum butter. If you want to use it in bath & body products, it’s a good substitute for any of these butters, but note that it’ll be quite hard.

When used in soap, it creates a bubbly lather. (Click here for more about using it in soap!)

Shelf Life: 2 Years
SAP: 220
Converted Sodium Hydroxide SAP Value: .155
Converted Potassium Hydroxide SAP Value: .218

Palm oil (INCI: Elaeis Guineensis (Palm) Oil) comes from the fruit of the palm tree, and has a fatty acid profile of 1% myristic acid (C14), 40% to 48% palmitic acid (C16), 3.5% to 6.5% stearic acid (C18), 36% to 44% oleic acid (C18:1), and 6.5% to 12% linoleic acid (C18:2). It has a melting point of around 35˚C, and a density of 0.914.

The iodine value is 49 to 55, and the saponification value is 190 to 209. It has a shelf life of up to 24 months. It’s rich in tocotrienols, which help retard rancidity and slow down oxidation of the oil, and it’s a significant source of this

This contains a ton of fatty acids – 42.5% oleic and linoleic to 56% on the high end – that we don’t normally see in solid oils or butters, which is why it has a lower melting point than palm kernel oil. It’s more on par with coconut oil or babassu oil than palm kernel.

The version I have from Voyageur Soap & Candle is deodorized with a saponification value of 190 to 205, and is from Indonesia. It contributes to “a nice, stable conditioning lather” in soap and makes the bar harder. (You can learn more about how to use it in soap here…)


Scrutinising waxes and butters by Anthony C. Dweck

Composition of common oils and fats

Cosmeceuticals & active cosmetics

Modern Soapmaking 

Join me tomorrow as we take a look at a few ways we can use palm oil in our bath & body products.