Olive oil, lavender oil, rosemary oil, jojoba oil, and soybean oil—can you identify which ones are non-fragrant plant oils (NFPOs) and which ones are essential oils (EOs)? In case you were wondering, the 1st, 4th, and 5th ones are NFPOs and the 2nd and 3rd ones are EOs.
But how are they different exactly?
Non-Fragrant Plant Oils (NFPOs)
NFPOs are typically non-volatile, meaning that they don’t significantly evaporate at room temperature. Furthermore, they all exist as a blend of mostly fatty acids, with a dash of squalene, and various other compounds that vary from NFPO to NFPO. While these various compounds can have potent capabilities that induce meaningful positive changes such as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ones when taken orally, because NFPOs are stucturally identified by their very high fatty acids content, those other compounds will not be discussed in this post.
These fatty acids fall into two main categories: saturated and unsaturated.
When a fatty acid is saturated, it means that there are no double bonds in the long carbon chains of the molecule. In NFPOs, they are represented primarily by the lauric, myristic, palmitic, and stearic acids.
When a fatty acid is unsaturated, it means that there are double bonds in the long carbon chains of the molecule. In NFPOs, they are represented primarily by the oleic, linoleic, and linolenic acids.
All NFPOs are just blends of these fatty acids in various ratios. For example, olive oil is made up of about 15% saturated, and 85% unsaturated fatty acids. Coconut oil on the other hand, is made up of the inverse: about 85% saturated, and 15% unsaturated fatty acids.
Quick Tip: Therefore, this should tell you that the next time you hear about some of some natural “miracle” oil (argan oil I’m looking at you) that will heal your skin and get rid of all your wrinkles, you won’t be deceived: because there is no “magical” ratio of these fatty acids that will be a cure-all. And though jojoba oil is the most similar in composition to the skin’s natural sebum composition, it’s still just a sebum-substitute. And we all know that if you have acne or seborrheic dermatitis, sebum is NOT your best friend. Anything with fatty acids can actually worsen those conditions. Sure jojoba oil can seriously help those with dry skin types, but will it get rid of wrinkles and do all those other claims seen on advertisements? Absolutely not.
Bottom Line: NFPOs are non-volatile and are made up primarily of fatty acids.
Essential Oils (EOs)
EOs are typically volatile, meaning that they evaporate at room temperature and contain aromatic (think fragranced) compounds. In this sense, they’re the complete opposite of NFPOs! There is nothing similar about these two categories of “oils” except just that, the inclusion of the word “oil,” and that they’re derived from plants.
EOs are fragrant compounds that have been distilled and extracted from various parts of plants, such as from the flowers, leaves, bark, or peels. These compounds are frequently added to skin care products, perfumes, and makeup to produce a distinct smell. But they contain no fatty acid content whatsoever.
Finally, because EOs are hydrophobic, meaning that they don’t mix into an aqueous solution, their typical solvents or “carriers” include ethanol, polyethylene glycol, or even NFPOs, which is why NFPOs are sometimes known as “carrier” oils.
Bottom Line: EOs are volatile and are not made up of any fatty acids.
Conclusion of NFPOs and EOs
I hope you enjoyed this brief topic that causes frequent confusion and are now crystal clear about the differences between NFPOs and EOs.
***Also, I know I’m going to get questions about this, so I’m going to address it now: I don’t believe that EOs have any significant place in modern skin care. Some have demonstrated efficacy in skin care, while other have not. Due to a lack of regulation and general information, I don’t believe in aromatherapy or the use of EOs to treat skin ailments. But if they improve your quality of life, whether skin-related or not, then more power to you! But until more research is done, you won’t see me recommending something like tea-tree oil, which has had some questionable studies demonstrating its effectiveness in controlling acne, as a first line of defense. And even if I did, that alone has no relevancy to EOs as a whole.