The two most popular terms used to describe oil as a product, “refined” and “unrefined,” are not at all difficult to decode. A product that has gone through a refining process is labeled as refined, and on the contrary, an unrefined oil product is a 100% pure, natural product that hasn’t undergone a refining process.
The quality of a final product is predetermined by whether or not it has gone through a refining process. However, several other factors also affect the overall product quality. Besides refined vs unrefined coconut oil, there are many other terms that label the product: “virgin,” “extra virgin,” “organic,” “cold-pressed,” “expeller pressed,” “centrifuged,” “fractionated,” etc. Thanks to many creative uses of these terms, it becomes difficult to determine the true origin of the product, its level of quality, and the benefits it offers for skin and hair care. The prices of coconut oils vary, which suggests a difference in types of oils and levels of quality and effectiveness.
In the consumerist world we live in, there are two types of companies in every industry. Those that prefer quality over quantity and offer a credible product for a reasonable price, and those that prefer quantity over quality, to make more profit by selling millions of product pieces at a lower price while ignoring the level of quality they deliver.
With the myriad of brands and products available, how does someone find the purest, high-quality oil that delivers all the well-known benefits of the coconut? Let’s take a look at some factors and considerations.
How to Choose the Best Quality Coconut Oil
Here are the main factors that determine oil type and product quality:
- Material Preparation: The type and quality of the coconuts (coconut meat) used for oil derivation
- Extraction: The nature of the extraction process
- Purification: Refined or unrefined extracted oil
A factor that does not have an impact on the quality of the product yet impacts our ecosystem is sourcing. Responsibly-sourced coconuts from sustainable sources used in the production of oil have a positive long-term impact on coconut-cultivating communities and contribute to the long-term wellness of the planet.
Let’s take a look at all these factors separately and how they affect the quality of the product to conclude which type of oil is best for skin and hair.
1.Material Preparation – Fresh Coconut Meat or Copra
Coconut oil can be extracted from freshly harvested coconut kernels or sun-dried coconut meat referred to as copra.
The oil that is extracted from fresh coconut meat is usually cold-pressed and packed, retaining the purest form of the oil and preserving all the beneficial nutrients of the coconuts. Coconut oil extracted from fresh coconut meat usually does not require any additional treatment.
Another very common practice used in the preparation of the production material is sun-drying the coconut meat intended for oil production. Fresh coconut meat is scooped out and left to dry under the sun, or in some cases, smoke or other methods are used to speed up the drying process. The dried coconut meat is then transported to industrial oil mills for further treatment and oil derivation. The drying process greatly affects the quality of the production material, affecting the aroma, taste, and nutritional content of the coconuts. The oil derived from copra is smoky and can be rancid, thus requiring further treatment in order to achieve a commercially acceptable product.
Organic or Non-Organic Coconut Oil
The term “organic” relating to coconut oil refers to how the coconuts used in oil production were cultivated or produced. The growing process directly affects the quality of the coconut kernels and consequently, the quality of the coconut oil.
What gives organically grown coconuts the credibility of high-quality is the certification that ensures the coconuts were cultivated without the use of synthetic i.e. man-made pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
In ordinary practice, coconuts grown on small, local farms are “naturally” organic. The use of pesticides of any kind is seldom practiced. This is mostly due to the nature of the coconut palms, that unlike other crops, do not depend on industrial farming and the heavy use of chemicals for intensive production. However, when sourced from commercial plantations where the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides is more frequent, a certification guarantees the kernels cultivated are chemical-free.
What is important to note is that the “organic” label is provided by organic certification agencies. Different agencies have different policies, however, most of them distinguish the products according to their cultivation process. A product labeled organic might not be derived from chemically-treated coconuts, but the chemicals might be used in the later stages of derivation and refining. Additionally, an organic label may also refer to organically-grown copra. Therefore, the label itself does not guarantee the product is chemical-free, it only states that the product was produced using naturally-grown coconuts.
Note: Organic certification of coconut oil does not guarantee that the oil is natural and unrefined.
2.Extraction – Cold Pressed/Raw or Heat-Generated Oil
There are two main approaches to oil extraction:
- An extraction process that uses high heat (or chemicals)
- An extraction process that does not use heat
Exposure to heat during the derivation process negatively affects the quality of the oil. Therefore, the lower the temperature used during derivation, the higher the quality of the oil.
As the name implies, cold-pressed coconut is derived by applying high pressure to extract oil from fresh coconut meat without the use of high temperatures. High heat is avoided by using machines such as a hydraulic press or cold-pressed oil expeller. “Cold pressing” does not designate the type of pressing machine used, however, oil labeled as “cold-pressed” should not have been exposed to high heat before or after pressing. The cold-pressed or raw coconut oil should not be heated above 96° F, the temperature point at which the oil starts losing its naturally occurring enzymes. Avoiding reaching this temperature to preserve all the beneficial nutrients and enzymes is hard to achieve and results in a costly product.
Aside from cold pressing, there are many other types of extraction processes, however, they all require higher temperatures or chemicals and solvents for the purpose of oil derivation, thus negatively affecting the quality of the oil. As mentioned before, the application of heat ruins the nutritional content of high-quality material. However, these types of processes are mainly used with copra where the oil derived requires further treatment with solvents and chemicals. This is to separate the oil from debris, remove its unpleasant aroma, and to bleach it to achieve a clear white color. Expeller pressing and chemical extraction are the most common methods that are used to extract a high quantity of oil. This oil goes through a refining process that includes bleaching and deodorizing to achieve a commercially acceptable product.
3.Purification – Refined or Unrefined Coconut Oil
Whether or not the oil goes through a refining process is greatly determined by the two aspects mentioned previously — the quality of the product (material) used for oil derivation and the type of derivation process. These two factors affect the density of the nutrients preserved in the oil and thereby, the benefits the final product provides for the consumer.
Unrefined coconut oil is commonly known as “virgin” or “extra virgin” coconut oil, which are two similar terms used to refer to the same type of product. It encompasses oil derived from fresh coconut meat that was cold-pressed, meaning minor treatments were used to retain purity, smell, and taste in natural ways. No harmful solvents and chemicals are used during this process and the oil can be labeled as a virgin, extra virgin, unrefined, cold-pressed, raw, and 100% pure natural oil.
Refined coconut oil is an oil that has undergone a certain treatment during or after the process of extraction. Moreover, depending on the quality of material in the first place, followed by the level of roughness of the extraction process (temperature and amount of solvents used), and the additional chemicals used after derivation for the oil to appear odorless and clear, the oil can deliver different levels of quality and effectiveness. Comparing and evaluating the material used, the extraction process, and refining process will place them in a different position on the quality scale. However, they will always be second to an unrefined product.
The lowest quality oil would be ones derived from copra, treated in oil mills with high temperatures and chemicals and bleached and deodorized after extraction. This type of oil has lost most of the nutrients and natural enzymes, therefore, unable to deliver the well-known benefits of coconut oil, while additionally including harmful chemicals.
What Type of Coconut Oil is Best for Skin and Hair Care?
The main difference between refined and unrefined coconut oil is that unrefined oil is always pure and clean and won’t include any unsafe additives. However, with refined coconut oil, evaluating the level of purity and number of harmful chemicals is essential. The only advantage of refined coconut oil may be the higher smoke point when cooked.
When choosing coconut oil for a beauty care routine, the only acceptable product is organic, raw (cold-pressed), unrefined (virgin) coconut oil. This is the only type of coconut oil that is nutritionally dense and has preserved all the natural enzymes in order to deliver all the benefits for health the user is expecting.
Kapuluan Raw Organic Coconut Oil is produced to provide exceptional benefits for your skin and hair. Our products are cold-pressed, organic, and virgin, and come in solid form with a beautifully subtle coconut aroma and no impurities. You’ll absolutely love what it does for your skin and hair care.
The last and most important factors to consider before your purchase include product sourcing and impact on the ecosystem. With Kapuluan, you can count on making a positive impact on our world. As a member of the Kapuluan community, you will directly help improve the livelihood of coconut farmers, while contributing positively to the environment by planting a coconut palm tree for each item you purchase.