Aromatika is regularly asked about the difference between refined and unrefined oil. In this blog post I will shed light on the differences between the two, that so that you can make an informed decision and find the right base oil for you.
“Cracking” oil into refined oil
Examples of oil refineries are the large factories in Moerdijk and Pernis. There, petroleum is “cracked” as it’s called. The process of cracking entails breaking up the oil’s long-chain fatty acids into shorter chains. Vegetable oils also consist of fatty acid chains, which is why terms refined and unrefined oil are familiar. What is the reason behind this oil “cracking”? The process of oil refinement happens in a maximum of four steps, each of these steps has its own advantages and disadvantages.
As mentioned earlier, oil consists of fatty acid chains; a combination of saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids. In short, unsaturated fatty acid chains are good for our health. This is their main advantage. The disadvantage of unsaturated fatty acid chains is their sensitivity to oxygen, which quickly renders the oil rancid. This problem can be solved by neutralising the oil.
Some oils naturally have a very dark colour. This dark colour alone is not worrisome, it’s even a sign of healthy oil. However, I can imagine that oil stains are undesirable when you put on your white skinny jeans after a nice massage. Using dark oil for a pristine white wedding cake is also not ideal. In cases such as these, decolourising oil is desirable.
Coconut oil has a specific smell that sometimes just isn’t desirable, just like the dark colour of certain oils. Smell and taste are inextricably linked and oils used for cooking and baking are often deodorized to prevent unwanted flavours.
4) Cool down
The composition of some oils can change when kept in the refrigerator. This is due to the fact that certain substances called triglycerides have a higher boiling point but also make the oil darker at lower temperatures. For that reason, oil is sometimes cooled and then filtered to minimise the risk of an unpleasant surprise.
All in all, oil refining is meant to enhance the user-friendliness of the oil. A beautiful, long-lasting, easily processable oil of which only the appearance has been modified. Compare it with apples. Do you want a perfect, glossy apple, or a 100% pure, natural apple with a bruise here and there? Everything has its pros and cons, the choice is yours.
So what is the difference?
The advantage of unrefined oil is that the oil is cold-pressed and has not undergone any refining process. Thanks to mechanical pressing, it retains all its beneficial nutrients such as essential fatty acids and non-essential fatty acids. However, unrefined oil is less resistant to oxidation and is less stable than refined oil. As a result, the vitamin content will drop below the level of refined oil within a few weeks or months. Moreover, unrefined oil often still contains some pesticide residues. These residues do not occur in refined oil, or in negligible quantities.
Refined oil is more stable, which means the active substances will be present for longer. Another advantage of refinement is the longer shelf life of the oil, since it will not oxidise as rapidly. Refined oil does undergo a chemical process to “crack” the oil. During this process the oil is heated and treated with chemicals, which does not always benefit the quality of the oil.
Which base oil should I choose?
That is a legitimate question and at the same time one that is not easy to answer. Do you decide to opt for all-natural, unrefined oil with all the original, natural nutrients which will benefit the skin, but is less stable and less durable at the same time? Or do you prefer the refined oil, which has a longer shelf life and is more stable, but which has been processed and is no longer in its ‘original’ state? Our advice: try both oils for yourself. Your choice, your experience!