Ingredient Profile: Sunflower Oil

Sunflower oil is pressed from the seeds of the sunflower (Helianthus annuus), which is a flower native to the Americas and often seen both in cultivation and growing wild in the prairies of my home state of Kansas, of which it is the state flower. We are, in fact, the Sunflower State.

Sunflower (from Wikipedia)

One thing I have learned in the time I’ve been in business, one way or another, is never, ever underestimate the value of serendipity. When I was first setting out to develop what would become my standard soap recipe, I was looking for an ingredient list which would accomplish several simultaneous goals: First and foremost, I wanted to make good soap, obviously; without this there is little point in even bothering to continue the list. Secondly, I wanted to make soap whose ingredients celebrated Kansas, and thirdly I wanted to keep the cost of ingredients low enough to be able to sell the soap for a reasonable price.

 Well, as it happens, I hit on #1 pretty solidly in a very early try when casting about for solutions to #s 2 and 3; sunflowers are a symbol of Kansas, which made that a logical place to start for #2 (I also considered several other oils for this – we grow plenty of corn and soybeans here, for instance – but the symbolism of the sunflower is compelling on this count, matched only by the bison, and I was hoping to stay away from using animal oils (I suspect bison tallow would make pretty excellent soap, though)). And while sunflower oil is far from the least expensive soapmaking oil available, it’s less expensive than most grades of olive oil while, as I soon found, being at least as good if not better in most respects.

There are two main forms of sunflower oil available, defined as “high linoleic” and “high oleic” based on their fatty acid profiles. The high linoleic variant is moisturizing and beneficial in multiple ways to the skin, useful especially in lotions and creams for its possible acne-reducing effects as well as anti-inflammatory properties, but can have a somewhat short shelf life.  The high oleic variant has a longer shelf life and is closer to olive oil in many ways. Both have their benefits, but the most readily available form of sunflower oil is high linoleic. The shorter shelf life of this variant can be somewhat extended by adding vitamin E or other antioxidants to formulations which include it, which is obviously an additional benefit to the eventual product as well – though sunflower oil has lots of vitamin E already, so this is not as vital as it is for some other oils.

In soap, sunflower oil produces a mild but slight lather and results in a somewhat soft bar of soap. Soapmaking experts recommend you keep sunflower oil below 25% of your final formulation, but I have found that this is not strictly necessary – I use nearly 80% sunflower oil in my soap. I’ll talk later about the process I went through to come up with the final formulation.

In lotions, creams, oils, and similar products, sunflower oil provides a veritable cornucopia of benefits. It is readily absorbed by the skin, non-comedogenic and light-feeling, and some research suggests it may have a significant skin-protective effect. And this in addition to the effects from the high vitamin E content of most sunflower oils, which brings anti-inflammatory effects as well as a significant bonus to skin softening and moisturizing.

In short, my state pride led me to select an oil I might never have ended up trying – and certainly would never have used so extensively – in other contexts, and which has proven to be incredibly well-suited in nearly every context in which I go looking for a cosmetic oil. See what I mean? Serendipity!

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About Amy Young

Founder of Foam on the Range soaps. View all posts by Amy Young

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