Plant Oils, Macerates, Butters & Waxes
-What are they, What do they do? Environmental & other Considerations
© by Carolina IJben & Andrew Cox, Magical Naturals
In this description of plant materials we distinguish fixed oils from essential oils. Fixed plant oils are non-vaporous and obtained mostly from nuts and seeds, whereas essential oils are vaporous or 'volatile' and are obtained by distillation of flowers and buds and also of some plant resins. This article is about fixed plant oils.
Fixed plant oils are liquid fats extracted from certain plants. They are also referred to as vegetable oils, base oils and carrier oils. They have been used for thousands of years for food, medicine and skincare. Highly valued by the ancient civilizations of Greece, Persia, Egypt, India, China , as well as by many indigenous tribal peoples, not only for food but also for bathing and anointing the skin. Plant oils are used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine. They are fantastic for human nourishment, beauty and wellness. They are a perfect medium for diluting and applying essential oils, and for blending with the solid butters and waxes.
Different plant fixed oils provide a different range of nurturing, protecting and healing properties. Many are high in a variety of beneficial fatty acids including the Omega 3, 6, 7 and 9 groups and a few contain the rare Omega 7 , which have many valuable roles to play in maintaining good health. Some, such as Evening Primrose oil contain the rare fatty acid called gamma linoleic acid (GLA). Others contain high levels of minerals, vitamins, and proteins such as collagen, that are readily accepted and utilised by the human body.
Some plant oils have excellent antioxidant properties, while others are wonderful alone or in preparations for the treatment of inflamed skin, such as sunburn and some forms of eczema. Others have incredible healing and regeneration effects on the skin. Whatever your skin quality there will be at least one plant oil to help bring it back to optimum hydration, shine and suppleness. Some oils work well to correct oily skin, others to care for sensitive or dry skin. Some restore elasticity to mature or weather-worn skin, others help resolve bruising and for alleviating burns and reducing scar tissue.
Most plant oils, especially when combined with essential oils, form a basis for wonderful massage and body oils, inducing a sense of relaxation or of invigoration, and even for specific therapeutic benefits. Certain oils can also be used to lift mood or provide a sensual, heightened, even aphrodisiac awareness of your body
Some plant oils work best externally applied to our skin and hair while others enhance our wellness via our digestion and assimilation. Please note that not all plant oils are suitable for internal consumption and some should not be used during pregnancy.
We also offer three very special macerated plant oils – Arnica, Calendula and St John's Wort. The Arnica is macerated in sweet almond oil and the Calendula and St. John's Wort in organic sunflower oil. The Calendula and St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) flowers are hand-pick by ourselves fresh from our own herb garden around the time of the summer solstice. We then immediately leave the flowers to soak (macerate) in the oil in the sun for several weeks, turning and shaking the containers daily while thanking the plants for their gifts. This potentiates the special healing properties of the flowers. We also use make a fantastic healing ointment from Comfrey (Symphytum officinale), after first macerating the root of the plant, and gently heating in a bain marie, rather than leaving in the sun.
So which plant oil or macerate should you choose? We hope the notes we have provided with each product featured in the Oils category of our webshop will help you. Otherwise, do email us – we'll be pleased to help you!
Butters & Waxes
Butters and waxes are solid fats extracted from a variety of certain tropical plants. (The one exception is beeswax, which comes from a natural fat substance produced by worker honey bees and mixed in the hive with pollen and propolis from plants). These butters and waxes are solid at room temperature and give consistency and stability to natural skincare preparations.
Butters are obtained by extracting, blending and condensing the natural and highly nutritive fatty components of plant oils. They give natural beauty products a rich, smooth quality, and imparting a wonderful softness to the skin. Plant butters are partially absorbed by the skin, directly nourishing the cells of the dermal layers. As you will see from browsing the specific information our range of butters, they all have slightly different gifts to offer.
Waxes are not absorbed by the skin and so are great to use in preparations that create a protective barrier for the skin. This also serves to maintain the natural hydration of the skin.
Plant Oils - Environmental and Other Considerations
Plant oils, butters and waxes are extracted by a number of methods. Some involve the use of hydrocarbon solvents, such as hexane, followed by further refinement. As far as possible Magical Naturals obtains plant oils that have been extracted only by cold pressing.
Cold pressing is a purely mechanical action that results in a lesser quantity of oil but an oil of higher quality. Most methods of extraction are followed by processes of refining. These can be simple and innocuous, such as the use of a natural filter or a centrifuge to remove debris from the pressing process, or complex involving a series of chemicals such as treating with sodium hydroxide and further filtering through charcoal. As far as possible we obtain cold pressed plant oils with no - or only the very minimum of - refinement.
As with everything we sell and use at Magical Naturals, we strive to ensure our plant oils come from sustainable sources. This means that our oils do not come from vast monoculture plantations that tend to destroy local diversity of species, as is currently happening with palm oil and soya in parts of South America and rapeseed in Canada and other parts of the world.
'Sustainable sources', for us, also means that the farmers involved receive a level of income that ensures they can continue to farm in a sustainable way. This is not always easy to guarantee and to a large extent we depend on the integrity of the claims of our suppliers. For this reason we favour suppliers who share our belief in organic cultivation, sustainablilty and fair trade, and try to avoid those who take a less caring attitude. It is our aim to grow our own company aligned with the core values of permaculture – earthcare, peoplecare, fairshare.
At this time oils from some certified organically-grown plants still tend to be prohibitively expensive, but we keep an eye on suppliers and purchase oils of organically-grown plants whenever the price is viable for us and our customers. As mentioned above, however, we will never knowingly purchase anything from unsustainable sources.
Plant Oils vs Mineral Oils
Many well-known brands of cosmetics and medicinal creams and ointments continue to use a mineral oil base, even while claiming these products are "natural". Mineral oils, such as paraffin and petrolatum, are extracted from rocks, often at huge energy and environmental costs, by drilling and quarrying, and must subsequently pass through many processes of refinement, often involving harsh synthetic solvents.
Far from being healthy for our skin mineral oils contain no ingredients, such as the fatty acids and vitamins so abundant in plant oils, that nourish the skin and support its functions. They even interfere with the natural "breathing" of the skin, by blocking the pores. This can give the misleading impression that they form a protective barrier against a "harsh, polluted environment", when in fact, they prevent the skin releasing natural waste products of metabolism and also from absorbing beneficial agents (the skin is our body's largest organ of elimination and absorption).
Mineral oils are also misleadingly claimed to moisturise the skin; in fact, what they do is impede the normal evaporation of natural toxin-laden moisture from the surface layer of the skin.
So why do big cosmetic manufacturers with massive marketing budgets still use mineral oils? The main reason seems to be that it enables their products to have a long shelf life. Because mineral oils are not living products they keep for many years and this helps fulfil the economic considerations of mass-producing manufacturers.
Plant oil-based products, on the other hand, have relatively short shelf lives – an average of 2 years. This can often be extended a little by the addition of a natural antioxidants, such as vitamin E or Rosemary CO2 extract. As an independent family-owned business, Magical Naturals is not at the mercy of mass production constraints and we make smaller batches more frequently, ensuring optimum freshness.
Regular use of mineral oil based cosmetics or mineral oil based "medicinal" creams and ointments on your skin can be likened to living on a diet of fast food. Eventually your body will protest in the form of symptoms. By comparison, because our bodies have been learning and adapting to living plant components as food throughout our evolution, plant oils are welcomed by our skin for the nourishment and care that they give.
So why not care for your skin directly with Magical Naturals ingredients - as nature intended.