Oils and Cosmetic Butters

Learn which carrier oil is best for making your own homemade cosmetics, natural remedies, and natural cleansers.

| January 2019

 Oils-and-Cosmetic-Butters

There are a tremendous variety of oils and cosmetic butters available via the Internet and, increasingly, local stores as well. Sometimes, it’s hard to choose which ones are the best to use.

When you first venture into making your own products, it’s probably easiest to just grab some basic olive, sunflower and coconut oils from your local grocery or health food store. As long as they seem to have a fairly high turnover rate and the oils appear fresh, that’s perfectly fine to do.

As you fine-tune your cosmetic-making skills, however, you may want to branch out into more exotic oils. For those, you can use one of the many vendors to be found online, some of which are listed in the resource section. Although it tends to appear more costly upfront because of shipping and buying in bulk, when you work out the price per ounce or gram, the ingredients obtained online are usually a better bargain and higher quality than grocery store oils.



The shelf life estimates of the oils and butters noted here are only guidelines and will vary widely depending on the quality and age of the oil when you buy it. Store in a cool area, away from direct heat and sunlight, and they may very well last even longer than listed.

Apricot Kernel Oil – a light yet nourishing oil that softens and moisturizes, and is suitable for all skin types. Apricot oil absorbs readily and helps relieve eczema and other itchy skin conditions. Shelf life is around 12 months.

Argan Oil – absorbs quickly and is wonderful for hair and nails. It improves and repairs skin, reduces the appearance of wrinkles and can be used in formulations to prevent stretch marks. It’s expensive, so if it’s out of your budget, try using sweet almond or another easily absorbed oil instead. It won’t have the same array of benefits, but it will still produce a nice product. Shelf life is 18 to 24 months.

Avocado Oil – a rich oil, high in B vitamins and essential fatty acids. It does well in hair care recipes and is useful for those with sensitive or irritated skin. Since it’s pressed from the fruit, avocado oil is an excellent choice for those with tree nut allergies. Shelf life is around 12 months.

 Babassu Oil – a great substitute for those who are allergic to coconut oil. Babassu oil is moisturizing, slightly cooling and good for dry, damaged skin and hair. Shelf life is 18 to 24 months.

Castor Oil – a thick oil that lends a glossy shine to homemade lip balms, protects skin and has mild antifungal properties. Its low comedogenic status means it’s unlikely to clog pores. In soap recipes, it helps boost lather. Shelf life is 24 to 36 months.

Cocoa Butter – rich and creamy, high in vitamin E and other antioxidants, helps soothe and protect skin. The unrefined version has a strong chocolate-like scent that carries through to the finished product. This works really well with some essential oils such as peppermint, but in other cases, you may wish to use a refined version so it doesn’t overpower. Cocoa butter also adds hardness and a creamy lather to soap recipes. Shelf life is around 24 to 30 months. 

Coconut Oil – melts at 76°F (24°C), moisturizes and protects skin. Coconut oil is popular for use in hair masks and treatments, and its antibacterial properties make it a good addition to homemade deodorant recipes. In soap, it contributes to a hard bar and lots of lather. Some people experience redness and dry skin after using coconut oil for an extended period of time, and it has also been known to exacerbate acne. In that case, babassu oil makes a fine substitute in virtually all applications. Coconut oil is available in unrefined or refined form. Unrefined oil is suggested for use, since it may contain beneficial properties lost in the refinement process, but refined can be used equally as well if that’s what you have available. For soap making, refined oil is often the better choice due to cost. Shelf life is 18 to 24 months.

Grapeseed Oil – a light oil that absorbs quickly, without leaving a greasy feeling. It’s suitable for those with oily or acne-prone skin. Grapeseed oil also works well as a massage oil or blended with heavier oils to improve absorption. Shelf life is 6 to 9 months.

Hemp Seed Oil – a rich, nutritious oil that’s excellent for skin and hair care products. It’s wonderful for dry, broken skin and is often used in formulations for eczema and psoriasis. The unrefined oil is a deep green color and should be kept in a very cool area or refrigerated when not in use. Sometimes, confusion exists about hemp seed oil and its connection to cannabis. The oil does not contain detectable levels of THC and is perfectly legal to use. Shelf life is around 12 months.



Jojoba Oil – a liquid plant wax that closely mirrors how our skin’s sebum performs. Because of this, it’s outstanding for hair, scalp and skin care. Jojoba is considered non-comedogenic, making it excellent for problem skin, while at the same time able to soften and soothe very dry skin. Jojoba oil is quite stable, with a shelf life of at least 3 to 5 years.

101-Easy-Homemade-Products-cover
Cover courtesy of Page Street Publishing

Kokum Butter – a hard and flaky cosmetic butter. Combine it with other oils and ingredients to help treat dry, cracked, inflamed or damaged skin. It also makes a good substitute for cocoa butter. Shelf life is 18 to 24 months.

Mango Butter – rich and creamy, moisturizes and softens skin. It can soften the appearance of wrinkles, so it is often used in antiaging products. It can usually be interchanged with shea butter in recipes. Shelf life is 18 to 24 months. 

Meadowfoam Seed Oil – has a long shelf life and helps extend the shelf life of other, more fragile oils in a product in which it’s included. Meadowfoam seed oil is moisturizing and softens hair and skin. It makes a good substitute for jojoba oil. Shelf life is 36 months.

Neem Oil – a strongly scented and powerful oil, used for treating skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis. It has antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal and antiparasitic properties and repels lice, ticks, mosquitoes and other pests. Because of the strong smell, it’s recommended to use neem in small amounts. If pregnant or nursing, consult with your midwife or health care provider before using neem-containing products. Shelf life is 18 to 24 months.

Olive Oil – a readily available oil that works well in most cosmetic recipes and with most skin types. In the supermarket, olive oil is available in grades ranging from dark green extra virgin to a more refined, light-colored oil. All types of olive oil will work for the recipes in this book. Be aware that many store-brand light olive oils are cut with canola oil to reduce costs and are often past their prime. They’ll still work in your soap recipes, but your bars may yellow or go rancid sooner than if you purchased a higher quality product from online shops that deal specifically in soap making supplies. Shelf life is 12 months.

Rice Bran Oil – excellent for use in eye creams and serums, since it may help reduce the appearance of dark circles and under-eye puffiness. Rice bran is also a good choice for shampoo bars and hair care recipes. Shelf life is around 12 months.

Rosehip Seed Oil – a premier antiaging oil that helps smooth the appearance of wrinkles, regenerates skin and reduces scars. It’s light, nongreasy, absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave your skin feeling oily. Rosehip seed oil should be stored in a cool location or your refrigerator. Shelf life is around 6 to 12 months.

Sesame Seed Oil – a medium-weight oil that’s high in vitamin E and may be useful for dry skin. Shelf life is 12 months.

Shea Butter – high in vitamins A and E, ideal for treating dry, weathered or damaged skin. Unrefined shea has a rather strong scent that some find unpleasant. If that’s the case for you, look for a refined version that hasn’t been processed with bleach or chemicals. Avoid extreme temperature fluctuations and overheating, or your shea butter may develop graininess. Shelf life is 12 to 18 months.

Sunflower Oil – a light, non-comedogenic oil that’s high in lecithin and vitamins A, D and E. Sunflower is one of the best oils for applying to broken, damaged or aging skin. Shelf life is 9 to 12 months.

Sweet Almond Oil – suitable for most skin types. It’s high in fatty acids, anti-inflammatory, softens skin and may help improve hair health and growth. It makes for a good massage or after-bath oil. Shelf life is around 12 months.

Tamanu Oil – a quality, unrefined tamanu oil has a distinct, deep scent. If you have tree nut allergies, consult with your physician first to determine if you should use tamanu oil. It’s remarkable for treating scars, sores, stretch marks and a variety of skin conditions. Its antibacterial properties make it a good addition to acne formulations, and with its anti-inflammatory traits, it’s a nice addition to sore-muscle salves and balms. Shelf life is 12 to 18 months.

More from 101 Easy Homemade Products for Your Skin, Health & Home:


Reprinted with permission from 101 Easy Homemade Products for Your Skin, Health & Home by Jan Berry, Page Street Publishing Co. 2016. Photo credit: Jan Berry.

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