If you turn a cosmetic product around (whether it is organic or conventional), chances are you will see one of these ingredients: caprylic/capric triglyceride or coco-caprylate caprate. These ingredients are some of the best known and most used esterified oils in the cosmetic industry.
However, many in the natural cosmetic sector denounce the use of esters (even if they are of natural origin). Some consider them to be pointless, only used to “water down” the products or to save money. We are going to add to this discussion and try to share our own analysis.
First of all, what are esters?
To explain things the simplest way possible, the esterified oils we are referring to are ingredients derived from vegetable oils (organic or not). These vegetable oils go through various chemical and mechanical processes in order to extract the desired ester.
The result is an oily ingredient with an aspect and a texture that are very different from the unmodified vegetable oil; most of all, its properties (benefits to the hair and skin) have nothing in common with the original.
That is precisely the problem!
True. An esterified oil will no longer have all the properties naturally present in the vegetable oil it is derived from. Say ‘Goodbye’ to the vitamins and nutrients! But all is not so dark because in a well-written formula, each ingredient plays a very precise role.
So what are esterified oils used for?
They are generally used for their texture, their potential volatility and their silky touch. Mixing a vaporous ester with an oil as tacky as castor oil will help balance the touch to give it a more velvety feel. One must not forget that the use of a cosmetic product is not limited to results. The experience as a whole, touch and feel included, must be pleasant to the user. At least that is what we aim for with Antonin .B.
Are esters used to save money?
That is what some people believe but it is quite far from the truth. A quality esterified oil can be very expensive. Coconut alkanes, for instance, cost more than some good organic vegetable oils like borago seed oil.
Esters should not be opposed to pure vegetable oils. On the contrary, they should be considered for their own benefits. In other words, their properties must be analyzed in order to integrate them in the formulas at the right amounts to obtain a comfortable and pleasant texture.
That said, in no case should esters replace real, pure and rich vegetable oils. Esters should always leave enough room for natural, unmodified ingredients to fully express their properties. Therefore, INCI lists where one can only find esters, waxes, emulsifiers and other texture agents should be shunned. However, in reasonable amounts, esters play a very legitimate role.