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Comparatively Speaking: Traditional vs. Non-traditional Natural Oils

Contact Author Anthony J. O'Lenick Jr., Siltech LLC
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Natural oils are triglycerides made by living systems using enzymes. Traditional natural oils are the majority of natural oils that derive from fatty acids with 18 carbon atoms, both saturated and unsaturated, in the molecule. The 18 carbon acids contain no functional groups except alkyl and unsaturation. The predominate groups are shown in Table 1

Therefore, the structural differences between most oils lie in the ratios of the functional groups and the location of the groups within the triglyceride (see Figure 1).

The relative R definitions, the location, and other minor compounds present are what make the following oils, used often in personal care formulating, different from one another: coconut oil, palm kernel oil, babassu oil, sunflower oil, Japan wax, palm oil, apricot kernel oil, tallow, cocoa butter, andiroba oil, mango butter, avocado oil, cottonseed oil, rice bran oil, shea butter, wheat germ oil, illipe butter, corn oil, olive oil, poppyseed oil, grape seed oil, sesame oil, sweet almond oil, hazelnut oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, walnut oil, canola oil, peanut oil, tall oil, kokhum butter and cupuacu butter.

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One important exception is coconut oil. Coconut oil is a triglyceride rich in C12 content and this difference is important to the surfactant business.

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Table 1. Predominate 18 carbon acids

 Designation Name Formula
C18 Stearic acid C18H36O
C18:1 Oleic acid C18H34O2
C18:2 Linoleic acid C18H32O2
C18:3 Linolenic acid C18H30O2



Figure 1. Triglyceride


The structural differences between most oils lies in the ratios of the predominant carbon acids and the location of the groups within the triglyceride (that is R1, R2 or R3).

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