There are several acids that make up vegetable oils. Oleic acid, even named after olive oil, is highest in olive oil. Canola oil is very high in oleic acid too. Both of these oils make very mild soap that can be used even for babies. Coconut oil is high in different acids, lauric and myristic acids, which makes it very cleansing and strips the oils from skin, and will make soap that will lather in salt water. Grapeseed oil is high linoleic acid, as is hemp seed, evening primrose and rose hip oil.
So, what does that mean for skin. Well, it appears that the oils with a lot of linoleic acid are quickly absorbed into the skin and leave no oily trace. Some are so absorbed that they make the skin feel dry. With overproduction of sebum, pores can become clogged and blackheads and blemishes result. Soap that will strip the oils, such as most commercial detergent soap and coconut and palm oil based soaps, cause the skin to produce even more oils to compensate. But, cleansing with a drying oil, such as grapeseed, or pumpkin seed, draws out the clogged sebum and does not leave the skin parched and wanting to produce more oil. Yet, it is dry, as in not oily. This does not make sense until you look closely at the chemistry behind it, which I won't go into here.
So, a few years back when I had the green lifestyle store, I made some skin serums. One was for acne or red skin and included a few of these drying oils in an airless pump. The oils with a lot of linoleic acid are very stable with long chains of the fatty acid and are slow to rancidity, therefore have long shelf lives too. Combined with skin loving essential oils, a serum, or combination of oils, will definitely help the skin, but not all skin. The serum could have been used for skin cleansing with oil, but at that time, I just recommended it for moisturizing and protecting. I was on to something then.
The oils that are best for mature skin are different. Mature skin has already ceased much of the excess sebum production and the skin often feels dry. Oils that hydrate the skin and create a moisture barrier to keep the water in are those necessary for older skin. Cis-5-eicosenoic acid is found in only some vegetable oils, such as meadowfoam. It is one acid that is wonderful for mature skin. The high oleic oils are also good, that is like olive and canola, and sea buckthorn with alpha-linoleic acid is exceptional.
Basically, the verdict is still out as to whether or not the process of mixing oil with lye allows any benefits of the oils to stay in the soap. One thing that soapers do though, is add more fat than the lye can absorb, called superfatting. Soap can be safely superfatted up to 45%. That would mean that 45% of the fat (oil) has not reacted with the lye and it would be like using the oil on the body and face in its natural composition. This is new though, and the longevity of the soap would only be as long as the oil would remain stable. The option would be to formulate facial serums for different skin needs using the scientific knowledge base of the chemical composition of the oils.
In addition, there are many other valuable ingredients in a vegetable oil, such as vitamins, minerals, free radicals and such, that help the performance of the oil on the skin. The raw oil is always best, since refining removes the goodness of the plant. Deodorizing is similar in that the oil is subject to a solvent to remove the compounds that create the typical odor of the oil, such as in cocoa butter, which in a raw form smells like chocolate, since that is its source.
Stay tuned for some oil serums and face cleansers based on my new knowledge combined with what I already knew and understood for the skin. This should be fun!