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What Fatty Acid Profiles in Soapmaking Are the Most Popular?

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!

What fatty acids are most popular in soapmaking

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!

Pouring soap oils and soap batter

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…

lauric acid in soapmaking

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…

myristic acid in soapmaking

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…

palmitic acid in soapmaking

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…

stearic acid in soapmaking

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…

oleic acid in soapmaking

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…

linoleic acid in soapmaking

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.

linolenic acid in soapmaking

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%!

ricinoleic acid in soapmaking

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.

Ready to join the master class when it comes to creating soap recipes? Snag Modern Soapmaking’s Formulating Soap Recipes on-demand eclass.

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74 Responses

  1. Hi Kenna, I would like to talk to you about the results and the way they are presented (statically talking). I am going to be at the Workshop this weekend. I would love to have the data to show you different ways to look at the results in order to have more conclusions. Thank you for taking the time to compile this data.

    1. Hi Natasha,
      Your comment was very interesting and intrigued. Could you please describe the conclusions you have come up from the data above. Recently I am studding and experimenting with various fatty acid’s combinations and every bit of information is valuable.
      Thanks

      1. Dear Kenna,
        Thank you for sharing your knowledge. My name is Ann im in South Africa.
        Since after the COVID’19, im jobless and being the breadwinner it is really not easy. I decided to do the Detergents course, but Im very worried about the dishwashing liquid soap, it doesn’t give enough foam and im doing it as per the directions from my training course. Do you perhaps also do something like a sunlight liquid soap. Im worried that i might lose my client because of this problem. Some of them have already mentioned that. Please assist if you can. Thanks again.

  2. I love this survey. Thank you for doing this. I’m able to measure my recipe’s fatty acid profile against the mean average, as well as hear your preferences. Learning more soapy sweetness every day.

    Michele

  3. Wow, What a well written and informative read!

    With this quality of the free stuff, behind the pay wall access is worth the admission ticket.

    You rock Kenna, as usual.

  4. Thank you Kenna for this wonderful survey. As a new soap maker I did contribute to the survey and now have compared my fatty acid stats to your findings report here. I am happy that my recipe stats are looking good for mthe most part. More importantly, you have answered my bewilderment as to why one of my soaps looks like it may have DOS! And I wondered what , why and how i can try avoid it. Your report here today clearly identified the culprit as having greater than 15% linoelic or linolenic acid. And sure enough that one recipe had 18% linoelic! THANK you . I can now rectify and that is empowering! I Am looking forward to the facial report. Thanks for your valued time !

    1. You’re very welcome, Crystal! I’m glad the tidbit about linoleic acid helped you – I don’t find it to always be true, DOS can take time to show up, but I think it’s a good guideline!

    1. Rice Bran is tricky, as the fatty acid profile varies depending on where it’s sourced by a large margin, and the different lye calculators have different fatty acid profiles. But you can always ask your supplier for FA ranges on your oils. 🙂

  5. This was really interesting. I took a look at my favorite recipe, and it falls within the preferred range for most of these profiles at 12% lauric, 5% myristic, 19% palmitic, 5% stearic, 5% ricinoleic, 42% oleic, 8% linoleic, and 0% linolenic. I think the facial soap profile will be interesting to see. My hunch is we will see more oleic. My own facial soap (which I use on my own face) is not terribly different from my usual recipe in profile, though the oils I use are different. My facial soap has a lower amount of stearic at 3% and a slightly higher amount of oleic at 43% and linoleic at 9%. it isn’t especially formulated for dry or sensitive skin, so I checked the soap I made that IS especially formatted for dry, sensitive, or mature skin and found it is 7% lauric, 3% myristic, 14% palmitic, 5% stearic, 5% ricinoleic, 48% oleic, and 14% linoleic (0% linolenic).

    1. Interesting!

      My facial soaps tend to be higher in lauric than my body soaps, but I have oily skin. 😉 Looking forward to compiling those results!

    2. Wow. I found this article HUGELY edifying. THANK YOU!
      I found it by googling for what oils are high in stearic content. Couldn’t be happier it led me here.

  6. I see liquid soaps made with 100% of linseed oil. Wonder how DOS showes itself in a liquid soap? Are we free to use unsaturated fatty acids in a “liquid soap”?

    We could add Rosemary Oleoresin and Vit-E in it, but how much would that help? As I know, the added preservatives also just effect the water-phase of the liquid soap.

    What do you think? A Liquid Soap should get rancid, too..

    1. I’m not a huge liquid soap person, and have limited knowledge to draw on. I do know that early liquid soaps tended to be 100% linseed because it was cheap/readily available, but the soap itself was used very quickly. If I remember correctly, the glycerin method came from labs making quick liquid soap with linseed.

      Kevin Dunn did a white paper on antioxidants in soapmaking, but I believe it was sodium-based soaps, and not potassium. ROE and Vit E did alright, but tetrasodium EDTA worked much better.

      I know liquid soap goes rancid, just like bar soaps, it smells bad. 😉

  7. Thank you so much Kenna, for sharing your insights, knowledge, and surveys! As a fairly new soap maker I find this information so valuable. Can’t thank you enough.

  8. Kenna – Thank you for being the soapy superstar that you are! You can’t imagine how much I’ve learned from you….please keep on soapin ! SEE YOU AT THE WORKSHOP!

  9. Hi Kenna, Thanks for sharing this helpful information! What’s the best way to calculate the percent of these fats in a recipe?
    I use soapcalc.net. But I’m not sure that it’s determining the percent of these fats. The column with the types of fats doesn’t add up to 100%. The recipe I prepared based on your tips, adds up to 94. It actually doesn’t say if the numbers next to the various types of fats is a percent–or what. There’s no label.
    However, on one page, it says “Fatty Acids The approximate percentage of each fatty acid in the oil.”
    Thanks! Mary

    1. It is approximate, as fatty acids in oils vary from origin, growing conditions, and season. It’s also important to remember that some oils have unsaponifiables and other parts besides the base fatty acids, so it’s not unusual to have less than 100%. Hope that helps!

    1. It was opened to my email list of soapmakers, who are all over the world. A good majority are from the US, but this was an informal research survey, so I didn’t ask for demographics or any other finite details.

  10. I love having awesome posts like this to recommend to our students who want to start diving into the details of advanced soap formulations. Can’t wait for your Formulating/Troubleshooting class in June, where I bet you’ll dive into this topic even more!

  11. Hello Kenna,
    Thanks for an amazing website! I use soapcalc.net and for the longest time couldn’t figure out what all the numbers meant. Wish I saw this article years ago!
    Your survey took a lot of time and work. You are amazing!

    1. You’re welcome, Marilyn! I’ve always been intrigued by the chemistry side, and learned how to calculate recipes on my own long before I found Soap Calc. It certainly is nice to know your numbers! 🙂 Thank you for the very sweet compliments! 🙂

  12. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing your results. I’m having fun exploring your site and look forward to hearing you speak in July in Florida.

      1. Hi. I want to know about making of laundry soap . process and some useful recipes. kindly help me in this regard. thanks

  13. I’m just getting to this post NOW (must get control of my inbox!) and definitely glad I held on to it! Thanks SO much, Kenna, for sharing all of this detail and letting us know what those mysterious terms meant! So worth reading your posts, even if I don’t get to them for a couple of months! 🙂

  14. Thank you so much for compiling and presenting such meaningful data for us, Kenna! As soon as I saw this post, I immediately got out my favorite recipes to compare and contrast. I’m sure more experimentation will ensue as a result. Thanks again for the extremely helpful post!

  15. Kenna,
    Thank you so much for this! It was really informative. I sat down with my recipe and tweaked it a bit to work within the numbers. I can’t wait to see how it changes my outcome!

  16. Hi Kenna 🙂

    So this pourcentage I can try for face, body and hair soaps ?

    I already tried a carrot soap with these pourcentage and it’s amazing my friends my family love it but I want to be sure that I can applied this formulation for every soap 🙂 .

    Thank you very much for your answer.

  17. This was very very helpful. Im a newbie and trying to make sure my recipe is ok and will work, i just kinda compared my recipe to what the average levels were to make sure in pretty good range.
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  18. Wow!! Just discovered your site!!!! Kenna thank you!!
    My soaps are very high in linolenic and kind of low in oleic. Maybe it is because of the oils I can find here in Ecuador. Also high in cleansing (above 22, average 29) hardness is ok but it is no “rock” hard. I’ve never had DOS. Lavender bar is: Lauric 18, Myristic 6, Palmitic 9, Stearic 4, Ricinoleic 13, Oleic 18, Linoleic 26, Linolenic 2. Great info, have to make some adjustments regarding everything ha ha! Greetings from the middle of the world!!!!

  19. Hi, thanks for doing this survey. It’s very helpful. I am a little curious though as to how one of the results came in at 60% lauric acid, when according to soapcalc, the fat highest in lauric only comes in at about 50% (Babassu). Is there something I’m not understanding? An additive that would bring up that number maybe?

  20. This is a fabulous article, Kenna. So great that I printed and popped it into my soap formula binder! Speaking of printing: I’m so grateful that you format your articles for print (if printed from the printer icon at the top of the page–don’t know if the print stylesheet works using the browser’s file->print menu or control/command P cause I haven’t tried it.) I just hate printing out scores of pages on blog posts! Thanks for both the article and the print feature!!!

  21. please I’m Kaiser, a Ghanaian. A student entrepreneur who produce liquid detergents.
    I really need your mentorship.
    thanks.

  22. Kenna,

    I’m late to the table on this article, but it has been so helpful. You have made the process of formulating for specific results much simpler. I was reading your article on Understanding SoapCalc Soap Quality Numbers and clicked on this one when I was finished. My chemistry less is complete. Both are printed for my reference binder.

    Thank you for your willingness to share your experience and knowledge.

    Lynn

  23. Thank you for this article! I’ve been making soap for almost a year and HAD no idea about what any of these properties meant. I knew to habe a better understanding and craft the perfect bar of soap, some research wss necessary. Beautiful article and well written!

  24. I was wondering where I might find a source that lays out the fatty acid profiles of the most common oils used in soap making. As a side note, how do waxes such as jojoba, lanolin and bees wax factor into ones formula? A new soaper just looking for resources. Thank you.

  25. I absolutely love “Modern Soap Making”. One of THE BEST (probably the best) soap making sites on the net (and I’ve looked at hundreds!!). I have learned SO much as a newbie soap maker—and thanks to your incredible resources my first two batches of soap turned out just GREAT—-now I am totally hooked. THANK you so very much Kenna for your expertise and generosity.

  26. Thank you so much! Before discovering your site, and this blog in particular, I was lost! I took a Udemy course on soap making where I learnt the basics of soap making, how to do it etc.. But I had no idea how to make a soap recipe of my own. Soapcalc was a foreign language. I’ve officially put my own recipe together and ran it through the soap calculator. Just waiting to see how it turns out now :)!

  27. I do not understand the notion of percentages as you use them as a measure of each of the fatty acids.

    Can you explain [or maybe you already have and I missed it somewhere] how the percentages are calculated?

    Thanks.

  28. Has there been any additional data added to the survey in the past few years? I’d be interested to see if there had been any updates!

  29. I’m a beginning soap maker, and would like to try fully hydrogenated soybean oil in one of my formulations. One major stumbling block I am encountering is finding a supplier/vendor. Would you be able to help?

  30. Awesome article. I especially like the functions of each fatty acid in soapmaking. But there are two more fatty acids that should up in my soap calculator. Caprylic and Capric acids. What are they for in soap?

    1. Typically caprylic and capric are in such low quantities that they don’t affect soap qualities in a noticeable way. They are similar to lauric and palmitic, but more conditioning.

  31. Great informative article, 1 question where would you say argon oil fits into this acid profiling categories? Thank you for this.

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