Virgin, Refined or Cold Pressed?

Which oil should you be using?

Natural oils

The benefits of using natural oils for skin care remains indisputable – for your  well being, and for the environment, and there are lots of great options available today. From the well known Almond, to the recently discovered Broccoli, and from established brands, to mom and pop stores, the varieties available are mind-boggling. So how do you choose what’s good for you? Choosing the right oil is about understanding your need, and then selecting the right type based on what it is made of, and how it is made.

This post tells you more about the different methods of producing oil, so that when you read a label that says ‘Cold Pressed’, you know what you’re getting.


First thing to know is that Oils don’t grow in their natural form and need to be extracted from plants, seeds, nuts or from a whole fruit itself. The methods for extraction are usually one of the three: Rendering, Chemical Extraction using solvents or Mechanical Pressing.

Rendering: This method of extraction involves the use of heat only – the harvesters pile up up the oleaginous (oily) fruits like Olive into huge heaps exposed to the sun. The oil that is exuded is thereafter collected. In case of palm, the fruit is boiled and the oil is skimmed off the surface of the water.

Chemical extraction: When done chemically, the oil-bearing seed, nut etc. are dipped in chemical solvents like Hexane or Ethanol to extract maximum oil from them. The oil is then heated to separate the oil and the chemical solvent. The solvent in the oil evaporates, leaving the oil behind. This process yields the maximum amount of oil from the seed or nut.

Mechanical Pressing:

  1. Expeller pressed mechanical pressing: When done mechanically, there is sufficient force used on the seeds, fruit, nut etc. to extract the oil. The oil extracted is derived without heating, though there can be frictional heat produced during pressing of the fruit, nut itself.
  2. Cold Pressed mechanical pressing: This process uses the same method as the expeller press method barring the fact that there’s controlled heat provided to the oil. The temperature is monitored to not exceed 49 degrees Celsius, ensuring that the oil retains its retains its natural fragrance, flavor, and nutritional value of its source seed, nut or fruit.

That’s about how the process works at the back end. What you see at the front end or on the label, are terms like Refined, Unrefined, Extra Virgin or Virgin. Refined and Unrefined are broadly the two categories of oils that are available, while Virgin or Extra Virgin are variations under Unrefined oils.

Refined: Once the oil is extracted, it may be put through a refining process. This is done to make the oil cleaner. Refined oils are bleached and deodorised after extraction to make the oil more uniform and gives it a longer shelf life. However the process of Refining also strips the oil of its natural fragrance along with some of the nutrients. 

Unrefined Oil: Are oils that do not go through a bleaching or deodorizing process.

Virgin, Extra Virgin, Raw, or Pure are terms used to describe mechanically pressed, unrefined oils and are meant to convey the purity of the extracted oil. Extra Virgin oil is what you get by cold pressing the olive or other oleaginous fruit in the first instance of pressing. This oil is considered then purest form and is free of any impurities.

And finally, there are Organic Oils: These are Oils extracted from fruits, seeds or nuts that have been grown without the use of any chemicals or pesticides. The term ‘Organic’ is related to the pre-processing stage, and so you’re likely to see a label that says ‘Organic Cold Pressed’ Or ‘Organic Refined’, or another such combination.

If you’re interested in truly enjoying the benefits of a particular Oil, it’s evident that Cold Pressed oils should be your first bet since they retain the most of the natural goodness of the source. While you’re taking care of your skin, go an extra step and opt for Organic oils that not only ensure your Oil is chemical free, but that the original source has also been grown in an eco-friendly manner. Finally, don’t bother buying expensive international brands, look for home grown, local options for these products – that way you know exactly where your Oil is coming from, and you’re conserving energy otherwise consumed in the transportation of products.

There are lots of chemical free skin care brands today that use a combination of oils to address different needs. Try one out today!


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