Ancient olive oil press, Beit Guvrin, Israël

Ancient olive oil press, Beit Guvrin, Israël

The technique used to obtain vegetable oils from raw materials (olives, coconuts, jojobas, almonds, etc.) will strongly influence how effective cosmetics are for your skin. 

There are two main ways to extract them: 

1/ Chemical extraction

Chemical extraction, the method used industrially, is actually a form of stripping using solvents. The main solvent used in the industry is hexane, a mixture of liquid hydrocarbons. Hexane is added to the plant raw material to extract all the oil. Fortunately, at the end of the process, they are separated again to collect just the oil.

Once extracted, these oils are then refined, and thus made uniform: same colour, same fragrance, same flavour.

First, all the free fatty acids (oxidants) are removed by neutralisation using caustic soda. The colour is then removed using activated charcoal or calcareous clay. Then the fragrance is removed by injecting 180-degree steam under vacuum conditions.

As a result of these refining processes (neutralisation, decolouration and deodorisation), the oil loses its teguments, small fibres, lecithin and vitamins.

Note that there is a new supercritical CO2 extraction method. Although it is still not widely used, there are fewer studies on it, and little feedback available, it seems to preserve the plants’ microelements better than the standard chemical method.


2/ Mechanical extraction

All physical extraction methods (crushing, trituration and pressing) involve some form of grinding followed by separation, without chemically modifying the molecules.

Percussion, hydraulic or screw presses are used for this form of extraction.

When the resulting virgin oils come out of the press, they are rich, thick, colourful and cloudy with pulp residues that can be removed using filter paper.

These are what are known as “cold-pressed oils” or “virgin oils”. They maximise the preservation of benefits for the skin (and for the rest of the body when eaten) as the molecules are not broken by solvents, the vitamins are all still there, and all the microelements are preserved.


Thus a fundamental difference arises between cosmetic products using these oils as ingredients:

  • Those that use oils which have been chemically extracted and refined have fewer, weaker and much less effective ingredients. Their production costs are much lower, and they are easier to handle industrially as they have a uniform colour, texture and fragrance.

  • Those that use quality virgin oils maximise the transmission of the plants’ benefits to their formulas. They cost more and are more difficult to handle – which is made up for by artisanal manufacturing and formulation know-how – and offer living formulas that are not always 100% uniform.

Unfortunately, you cannot tell the difference between chemically extracted/refined oil and virgin oil as the name (in Latin) of the ingredient, which has to appear on the label, is the same no matter how it is obtained...


It is already difficult – although vital – to ask consumers to read and understand their cosmetics’ formulas, but in this case, an essential source of information is missing, making it impossible to objectively assess the quality of a cream, mask, serum or soap.

All we can do is trust brands whose fundamental values include respect for nature, the desire to create products of outstanding quality without compromising on the ingredients and not systematically trying to minimise manufacturing costs.