28 May 2009

Essential Oil Extraction

It is pretty common in the bath and body products industry to go natural these days. One of the ways that companies have found successful is to eschew fragrances and perfumes, which are, by and large, synthetic and opt instead for essential oils. This results in not only a more natural end-product, but one that is often more delicately scented. However, before we can use essential oils in soaps, lotions, perfumes or other cosmetics, we have to extract them from the source plant, whether it be lavender, chamomile or vanilla. The extraction method has an effect on the essential oil - it can change it, or even contaminate it, in which case the claim of natural cannot be maintained.

There are a number of ways in which essential oils can be extracted. All, except expression are solvent based, however we will separate them out, and refer to the solvent method as using something unnatural, resulting in solvent residue.

Distillation refers to water or steam distillation. The base plant material is permeated with water and essentially boiled at 100 degrees C. Similarly in steam distillation, steam is injected, often under pressure to separate the essential oil from the plant material. This happens at temperatures above 100 degrees C. Because of this, constituents in the essential oils can often decompose into oxidative products. However, this process is considered to be natural and the yield is high, little is wasted.

Expression is often referred to as 'cold pressed'. Olive, coconut and avocado oils are often cold pressed. No heat is used, so volatile constituents remain unchanged. Yield can be low though, so this is often not a very efficient or cost effective method. There are several methods of expression that we won't go into here, but citrus oils are uniquely suited for this extraction method.

Supercritical CO2 is carbon dioxide above 31 degrees C and under extreme pressure (>72.9 atmospheres) that is used as a solvent. The supercritical CO2 bonds with the essential oil constituents in the plant material and extracts them. When the pressure is removed, the CO2 simply evaporates, leaving the pure essential oil. Since no heat is employed, the essential oil is unrefined and in its natural state. Often the scent, potency and crispness of the essential oil are enhanced as compared to steam and water distillates, scenting more closely to the original plant. While more expensive, the essential oil often goes further. The oils produced by this method are, like those extracted through expression, the purest and most natural.

Solvent extraction for our purposes here is where an organic, but not necessarily natural, solvent such as alcohol, petroleum ether or hexane (among others) is used. Often used because of cost effectiveness, it is also used for very delicate essential oils or where the essential oils are found in very minute quantities, such as rose or jasmine. This type of extraction produces a waxy substance called concrete. This concrete is then heated and dissolved into alcohol. This is then distilled in a vacuum, resulting in an absolute. Absolutes are generally very expensive. The problem for the natural community is that after extraction, quantities of the solvent may remain, often in large percentages. Hexane extraction leaves 8-10 ppm of hexane (a petrochemical) in the essential oil. This method is not viewed in the natural community as being natural and is avoided by those companies that are truly committed to natural products.

It is important to know the extraction method of an essential oil to determine not only its quality but if it can still be considered a natural product. Essential oils on an ingredient list do not guarantee natural and are often used in greenwashing exercises. The good news is that the demand for really natural products by consumers has opened up essential oils to serious scrutiny.

18 May 2009

Avocado Oil

We hear a lot about the benefits of this oil or that oil in personal care products. One such oil that I have noticed popping up lately is avocado (Persea americana). So what's good about avocado, besides being delicious in salad or guacamole? Avocado oil is similar to olive oil in that it is not derived from the seed; rather, it is pressed from the flesh around the pit - and strictly speaking it is a fruit oil, very thin and therefore deep penetrating. It is a rich emollient with high concentrations of oleic, linoleic and alpha-linolenic fatty acids. There are many claims that it is also very rich in potassium, vitamins A, B6, C, D, E and K among others. This does not seem to be entirely truthful and much depends upon how the oil is extracted. It certainly does contain A and E as investigated by Bastista et al. Regretfully, many natural cosmetics companies have used avocado data interchangeably with that of avocado oil - there is a difference.

Extra virgin avocado oil is cold pressed (non-virgin being heat and solvent extracted) - which means that the avocado is mechanically pulverised, the resulting constituents decanted and centrifuged. This should leave you with a green coloured oil, because of the remaining chlorophyll. Unfortunately, this sometimes undergoes the refined bleached and deodorised (RBD) process which removes natural peroxides and chlorophyll, leaving a highly stable, but tasteless and pale yellow oil. This is usually done through the use of solvents and high temperatures. Do you know how that avocado oil, that you are using in your cosmetics or on your salad, is processed? Are the benefits still there?

In my opinion, besides the incredible moisturising value of avocado oil, the two most exciting properties are those of the unsaponifiable components and glutathione. Unsaponifiable constituents seem to inhibit lysyl oxidase activity and thus cross-linking in collagen - resulting in better skin tone, texture and strength. Glutathione, an amino acid with incredible anti-oxidant properties recharges spent vitamins C and E, neutralises free-radicals, is critical to the immune system and even assists in DNA repair. Unfortunately, glutathione levels decrease as we age. Thus, since your skin is a huge sponge, what better to moisturise with than avocado oil, and at the same time reap these added benefits.


Batista Cedeño, A., et al (Persea americana, M). Valor nutricional y composición. Alimentaria, 1993; 63: 63-69.


10 May 2009

Thank you!

We had a great turnout at the Open House Event this past Thurs, Fri and Saturday - thank you to all who made it out. We had a great number of walk-by customers who saw all the fun and decided to come in and see for themselves. Over 80 people who had never been in the store discovered natural at Rocky Mountain Soap over the past three days.

The make-your-own brown sugar scrub was quite a hit. Everyone had fun mixing up their own to take home. For those interested, here is the recipe that we used:Natural Brown Sugar Body Scrub

1 cup (250mL) granulated light brown sugar
1/4 cup (63mL) sweet almond oil
3 – 5 drops of your favourite essential oil

1. Combine sweet almond oil and the essential oil(s) in a bowl.
2. Add the sugar and mix thoroughly. Scoop mixture into a glass jar with lid.

• Almond oil is a skin softener. The amount of almond oil you use will depend on your personal preference and skin type, experiment with more or less oil until you get your perfect mix.
• You can substitute sweet almond oil with pure un-roasted sesame oil, extra virgin olive oil or any other oil you like that is suitable for the skin.
• You can substitute the brown sugar with white sugar, but brown sugar is preferable for sensitive skin and exfoliates better.
• Choose an essential oil to enhance the mood you’d like to create:
Orange, lemon, or rosemary for a stimulating energy boost. Lavender for relaxation. Lemongrass for a refreshing lift.
• Optionally, you can add a little honey for extra moisturising on dry skin.
• Optimally use within 2 weeks. Store in cool, dark environment.

• Do not use a body scrub on face or irritated skin (sunburned, a rash, or open cuts)
• Avoid sun exposure for 12 hours after you use citrus essential oils (eg: orange, lemon). This could result in burns or discoloured sun spots.
• If you are pregnant, it is best not to use essential oils or consult with the aromatherapist for safe essential oils during pregnancy.

Rocky Mountain Soap Company carries sweet almond oil and a variety of top grade pure and natural essential oils.
We had spearmint tea from Silk Road and a variety of cookies that were a hit with the kids - and Scott. Many of you got to try a couple of the iterations of Awake and Sleep aromatherapy roll-ons that are currently under development, thanks for the feedback! Jane, from Rocky Mountain Soap in Canmore, came out to lend a hand and she was quite the chatterbox - entertaining our customers with testimonials to natural, we were sad to see her leave on Sunday - thanks Jane!

A heartfelt thanks to everyone that helped make this event a success and again to our valued customers who had the time to drop by.

05 May 2009

INCI names - what are they?

You might have noticed that on your personal care products that there is a bunch of Latin in the ingredient list. In short, that's INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients) naming which assures consumer safety because everyone is on the same page with respect to a particular ingredient and so the consumer can look up essential oils, preservatives and other components of a cosmetic product easily and compare them with others, even if they come from different provinces, regions or countries. It is required under the law to have the INCI name for ingredients on cosmetics and personal care items in Canada, the USA, Japan, the EU and many other countries.

For example, on the label of Rocky Mountain Soap's Foot Butter, the ingredients are:

Vegetable oil, Alberta beeswax, cocoa butter (Theobroma cacao), and carrot tissue oil (Daucus carota sativa root extract), with essential oils of grapefruit (Citrus grandis), fir needle (Abies sibirica), patchouli (Pogostemum cablin) & lemongrass (Cymbopogon schoenanthus)That is, the common name in vernacular use is listed first and in brackets the INCI name, based on scientific, Latin and English components. Whatever the language, the INCI name will be the same. This also relieves the confusion of which species is being used in a product. For example there are over 50 species of lemongrass. In the Rocky Mountain Soap Foot Butter, we can easily verify that the lemongrass used is one of the varieties that is found in N. Africa through to India and South Asia.

As a consumer, if you are confused about what an ingredient is, simply google (or use some other search engine) the INCI name and you will easily find information on that ingredient. Alternately you can consult the
International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary and Handbook, which is available at research libraries - most manufacturers have a copy handy too - which lists all ingredients with their common name and INCI name. It is in its 12th edition as of 2008, and at over 5000 pages and listing 15,000 INCI names, cross-referencing over 60,000 common names, it isn't a light read.