What are Unsaponifiables?

Unsaponifiables are components found in Plant Oils, along with Fatty Acids and Triglycerides. Unsaponifiables are components of an oil that fail to form soaps when blended with sodium hydroxide. However they are so much more than that! imparting a host of beneficial skin properties. 

The word oil comes from the French oile and Latin oleum which comes from the Greek word for olive elaion. Lipos – is from the Greek term for fat which leads to the word lipid. All oils are lipids, but not all lipids are oils, the main component of an oil between 95-99% is fat. All plant lipids are made up of fatty acids and triglycerides and can be oily or fatty, solid or liquid. Solid oils are referred to as 'butters' some examples include mango or shea butters but these are still classified as oils. 

Understanding The Constituents Of Plant Oils 

Plant oils have long been used on the skin for cosmetic and medical purposes because they have been found to have many positive physiological benefits. Topical application of Plant Oils act as a protective barrier to the skin by an occlusive effect, allowing the skin to retain moisture, resulting in decreased Transepidermal water loss (TEWL) values. Plant oils applied topically, have the benefit of higher bioavailability in the skin and having a localised effect rather than systemic effects. Research has demonstrated that almond, jojoba, soybean, and avocado oils, when applied topically, mostly remain at the surface of skin, without deep penetration into the first upper layers of the stratum corneum. Although triglycerides do not penetrate deeper in stratum corneum, glycerol contributes to the stratum corneum hydration.

Linoleic acid // Has a direct role in maintaining the integrity of the water permeability barrier of the skin, examples Acai Berry Oil // Hemp Seed Oil // Milk Thistle Seed Oil // Red Raspberry Seed Oil // Sunflower Seed Oil.

The different compounds of plant oils, when topically applied, influence skin physiology (skin barrier, inflammatory status, antioxidant response, and proliferation) differently:

Triglycerides // Three fatty acid molecules and one glycerol molecule, plant oils mainly consist of triglycerides and can easily integrate into the natural balance of the skin due to their skin-related chemical structure.

Triterpenes // Have been found in many plant species, this group of compounds contains a wide range of molecules that participate in many biological reactions. Triterpenes may induce cell migration, proliferation, and collagen deposition. Triterpenes have anti-inflammatory properties, enhancing the tissue repair by reducing the length of time for wound closure, and modulating the production of Reactive oxygen species in the wound microenvironment, 

Free Fatty Acids (FFA) // Specifically monounsaturated FFAs such as Oleic Acid, disrupt skin barrier and act as permeability enhancers for other compounds present in plant oils. Examples Acai, Camellia, Marula and Sunflower.

Tocopherols // A form of Vitamin E produced by plants for protection, this is part of the unsaponifiable portion of fats and oils and helps to keep them from oxidising.

Sterols // Are Free fatty acids (fatty acids not bound up in a triglyceride molecule). Sterols moisturises the skin but also has great lipid-replenishing and soothing properties. For example Beta-sitosterol and Cholesterol.

Stanols // Like sterols Stanols are plant's equivalent of cholesterol and are naturally found in plant oil in very small amounts.

Phospholipids // Mainly fuse with the outer lipid layer of the stratum corneum, potentially acting as chemical permeability enhancers, enhance skin barrier and display the anti-inflammatory effect. Even without penetrating deeper into the epidermis, the occlusive effect of the plant oil topical application decreases the loss of water from the Stratum corneum and regulates keratinocyte proliferation.

Waxes // Are lipids composed of long chain fatty acids linked by ester bonds to long chain alcohol. Waxes differ from oils as they do no contain glycerol or triglycerides. Protect agains moisture loss and act as waterproofing.

Squalene // Performs as an antioxidant, preventing age spots and protecting against sun damage. It's emollient properties helps the skin retain moisture along with anti-bacterial qualities protecting the skin while promoting healthy cellular growth. Squalene is a precursor in the biosynthesis of cholesterol. Find out more about Squalene here 

Phenolic Compounds  // Are present in all plant oils, these compounds are very important for the oxidative stability of the Polyunsaturated fatty acid's within the oil.

As whole substances oils are made of various compounds specific to their botanical source. Pomegranate seed oil is made up of characteristic components that are specific and unique to pomegranate. Thus each botanical brings it's own, often unique compounds the to formulation. For example Punic acid is named after the Pomegranate, Punica in which it was found. The Oils are pressed from the seeds of the plant, this can be nuts, grains, kernels or fruiting bodies, which are the part of the seed for example the soft flesh of an avocado is pressed for the oil for cosmetics use. 

Refined OilsWhen plant oils are refined it is the unsaponifiable compounds which are being removed for aesthetic purposes as well as to prolong shelf life of an oil. We choose not to incorporate refined oils, we want the entire profile of the plant oil volatile compounds included that deliver aroma and taste to the oils.This is most pronounced in the seeds that are both pressed for plant oil as well as distilled for essential oils. We love the array of colors, viscosity and aromas these plant oils offer.

Why your skin will love Unsaponifiable Compounds Camellia seed oil from the tea plant

The chemistry of the unsaponifiable components is interesting. It is here that natural plant oils are loaded with incredible vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals, anti-inflammatories and anti-microbial chemicals that give particular oil or butter its specialised functions. They bring their healing, nourishing and restoring benefits to all skins –repairing the skin’s barrier in a exceptionally short space of time. In addition, the unsaponifiable fraction may contain some of the oils UV protective qualities. 

Skin Nourishing Molecules //

  • Unadulterated, unrefined, organic, bioavailable and easily absorbed by your skin for optimal efficacy
  • Improves your skin’s barrier function by increasing the synthesis of key lipids
  • Soothes and repairs a compromised barrier function-making them ideal for sensitive or damaged skin
  • Offer some UV protection.

Plant Oils act synergistically by several mechanisms //

  • Promoting skin barrier homeostasis
  • Antioxidative activities
  • Anti-inflammatory properties
  • Anti-microbial properties
  • Promoting wound healing
  • Anti-carcinogenic properties. 

We incorporate into our formulation for our Hero Product unrefined, Organic plant oils which are high in unsaponifiable compounds, 15 to be exact! So rest assured we have your skin covered - literally.

Until next time

Be human, be kind, be you. 




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  • Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils Tzu-Kai Lin 1 , Lily Zhong 2, * and Juan Luis Santiago 3, (2017)
  • Mack Correa, M.C.; Mao, G.; Saad, P.; Flach, C.R.; Mendelsohn, R.;Walters, R.M. Molecular interactions of plant oil components with stratum corneum lipids correlate with clinical measures of skin barrier function. Exp. Dermatol. 2014, 23, 39–44.
  • Patzelt, A.; Lademann, J.; Richter, H.; Darvin, M.E.; Schanzer, S.; Thiede, G.; Sterry,W.; Vergou, T.; Hauser, M. In vivo investigations on the penetration of various oils and their influence on the skin barrier. Skin Res. Technol. 2012, 18, 364–369.
  • Book: Power Of the Seed - Susan M Parker. (2104)

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