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What Fatty Acid Profiles in Soapmaking Are the Most Popular?

soap science and info

Back when I wrote how to create the absolutely best soap recipe ever, I had no idea the post would become so popular.

My biggest piece of advice in that article, however, is to learn your fatty acid profiles and that seemed to stump a lot of folks. I'm often asked for a range of acceptable fatty acid profiles, and my response is always: it depends.

I know what ranges I like, but they aren't going to be the same for everyone. So, I decided to poll my subscribers and find out what soapmakers do like!

If you haven't branched out into creating your own soap formulas yet, we have plenty of articles to help:

The Most Popular Fatty Acid Profiles, determined by survey!

The survey asked for the fatty acid profiles of their favorite formulas, as well as if they would classify the formulas as a body soap, facial soap, or specialty soap (so we aren't comparing apples to oranges!) And I closed up the survey by asking soapmakers to rate their favorite formula's cleansing ability, amount of lather, and size of the bubbles on a scale of 1 to 5.

I received a fantastic 99 responses to the survey, and am here to share the results! I've created the following bits and pieces of information from the survey responses that detailed body soap as the formula type. We'll run through each fatty acid individually, so you can compare your fatty acid profiles to popular opinion!

Lauric Acid Percentage in Fatty Acid Profiles

Lauric is a saturated fatty acid that contributes hardness, cleansing, and big fluffy lather. Babassu, Palm Kernel, and Coconut Oil are all extremely high in lauric acid. As we all know, too much lauric acid in a formula can feel drying unless properly balanced with a high superfat or high unsaturated fatty acid content.

And the survey says...

The average percentage of lauric acid in the favorite soap recipes of soapmakers polled rounds in at 15%. Most recipes clocked in at 7% to 20% lauric acid, but there were a few outliers with much higher percentages of lauric.

My favorite formulas tend to fall in the mid teens, between 14% and 17% lauric acid.

Myristic Acid Percentage in Fatty Acid Profiles

Myristic is a saturated fatty acid that contributes hardness, cleansing, and fluffy lather. A lot of exotic oils contain high amounts of myristic acid, such as Murumuru Butter, Tucuma Seed Butter, Monoi de Tahiti Oil, and Cohune Oil. However, there's also a decent myristic acid content in the more common Coconut and Babassu Oils.

And the survey says...

The average percentage of myristic acid in the favorite soap recipes of soapmakers polled rounds in at 7%. Most recipes clocked in at 4% to 7% myristic acid, but there were a few outliers with slightly higher percentages of myristic acid.

My favorite formulas tend to fall in the same ranges, between 4% and 7% myristic acid.

Palmitic Acid Percentage in Fatty Acid Profiles

Palmitic is a saturated fatty acid that contributes hardness and stable creamy lather. Most soapmakers immediately think palm oil (and yes, palm oil contains a boatload of palmitic acid). However, there are plenty of animal fats that contain a heaping serving of palmitic acid, such as tallow, lard, rabbit fat, and duck fat. Not into animal fats? Cocoa butter is a great alternative to palm oil and animal fats for your contribution to palmitic acid.

And the survey says...

Talk about a widespread range, right?!

The average percentage of palmitic acid in the favorite soap recipes of soapmakers polled rounds in at 15%, despite a huge range. Most recipes clocked in at 10% to 20% palmitic acid.

My favorite formulas tend to fall in a much lower range, between 4% and 8% palmitic acid. This is likely due to the fact that I'm a palm-free, vegan-friendly soapmaker who doesn't like cocoa butter because it messes with my nose. (Yes, even when it's deodorized!)

Stearic Acid Percentage in Fatty Acid Profiles

Stearic is a saturated fatty acid that contributes hardness and stable lather in soapmaking, similar to palmitic acid, except that it has a longer carbon chain. A plethora of butters contain high amounts of stearic acid, including Kokum, Illipe, Sal, Mango, and Shea butters. A commonly missed oil that contains a gigantic amount of stearic acid (more than any butter!) is hydrogenated soybean oil (sometimes referred to as soy wax or soy shortening).

And the survey says...

The average percentage of stearic acid in the favorite soap recipes of soapmakers polled rounds in at 7% (is anyone else noticing a trend here?!) The two super high percentages of stearic acid completely bumped the average out of proportion, most recipes clocked in at 3% to 8% stearic acid.

Now, this is where I make up for my low palmitic acid content! My favorite formulas tend to fall in high ranges, too, between 11% and 16% stearic acid.

Oleic Acid Percentage in Fatty Acid Profiles

Oleic is an unsaturated fatty acid that contributes to the conditioning/moisturizing abilities of a soap. Oleic acid is what makes olive oil loved by soapmakers far and wide. Ironically, there are plenty of oils that contain far more oleic acid than olive oil does, including high oleic Sunflower, Safflower, and Canola oils and the more expensive luxury oils like Hazelnut, Marula, Moringa, and Buriti oils.

And the survey says...

Again, we see a huge range of values, which actually surprised me a bit - especially those lower percentages!

The average percentage of oleic acid in the favorite soap recipes of soapmakers polled rounds in at 36%. Most recipes clocked in at 32% to 41% oleic acid.

My favorite formulas tend to fall in the low end of that range, between 30% and 34% oleic acid. I don't tend to use olive oil or any of the other high contributors to oleic acid content, though!

Linoleic Acid Percentage in Fatty Acid Profiles

Linoleic is an unsaturated fatty acid that contributes to the conditioning/moisturizing levels, and is often a contributor to the silkiness of the lather. Luxury oils like Evening Primrose, Passion Fruit, Watermelon, Wheat Germ, and Hemp oils are loaded up on linoleic acid, but are usually too expensive to use in high amounts (and have ridiculously short shelf life.)

And the survey says...

The huge spread of numbers hitting above 15 surprised me, honestly. One of the early "rules" (I'm using some air quotes here!) I learned about fatty acids in soapmaking is to limit your linoleic and linolenic sum to 15% or less, as you have an increasingly larger risk above 15% to see DOS. As I've said about soapmaking rules before, there are no real rules (except safety practices!!!!), there are just guidelines. ;)

The average percentage of linoleic acid in the favorite soap recipes of soapmakers polled rounds in at 10%. Most recipes clocked in at 7% to 14% linoleic acid.

My favorite formulas tend to fall in the high end of that range, between 10% and 14% linoleic acid.

Linolenic Acid Percentage in Fatty Acid Profiles

Linolenic is an unsaturated fatty acid that contributes to the conditioning/moisturizing levels, and is typically very low in soap formulas. (Linolenic is not the same thing as linoleic!) Again, it's found in high percentages in luxury oils such as Pomegranate Seed oil, but it's also found in Flax, Kukui, and Hemp oils. There's a small amount of linolenic acid in common soapmaking oils, such as Olive, Rice Bran, Canola, and Sunflower oils.

The average percentage of linolenic acid in the favorite soap recipes of soapmakers polled rounds in at 1%. Most recipes clocked in at 0% to 1% linolenic acid.

However, there's a survey flaw here: the survey was limited to whole numbers. This definitely is going to affect the results of such a small percentage of a formula, but hey! It's better than nothing.

My favorite formulas tend to hit around 0.2% to 0.5% linolenic acid.

Ricinoleic Acid Percentage in Fatty Acid Profiles

Ricinoleic is an unsaturated fatty acid that contributes to the conditioning/moisturizing levels, and the stability of lather. Many soapmakers feel it adds a little slip and glide to the lather. Castor oil is the only readily available soapmaking oil known to contain ricinoleic acid, and it's a super high 90%!

The average percentage of ricinoleic acid in the favorite soap recipes of soapmakers polled rounds in at 5%. Most recipes clocked in at 4% to 7% ricinoleic acid.

My favorite formulas tend to fall in the high end of that range and above, between 6% and 10% ricinoleic acid. Yup, I love me some castor oil in soap.

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