Oils come to us in a wide range of colors from pale yellow and clear to bold dark reds, greens, golden yellows, and sometimes almost black or dark purple. And it is these color compounds that hold so much of the beneficial skin-repairing antioxidants we find in oils. These are the unsaponifiables, also known as the healing fraction.

Nature has a complete pallet at her fingertips.

Antioxidants in Oils in the form of Carotenes and Lycopene

We find this pallet in the form of carotenes named for carrots – or perhaps carrots are named for carotenes?

Either way, carotenes are powerful antioxidants that will nourish and protect the body from free radical damage.

Another antioxidant in the carotenoid group is the beautiful reds from lycopene.

What does the term Antioxidant Really Mean?

So what does ‘antioxidant’ mean? Sometimes we can hear words and think we understand them but in a vague kind of way and antioxidant can be one of those terms.

It’s pretty complicated and I’ve tried to wrap my head around it. Here is the process as I understand it.

Oxygen is both life-giving and life killing. Oxidation is a kind of decay, turning apples brown and aging our skin.

But we can’t live without it. Literally.

So an antioxidant is working against oxidation.

Oxidation causes destabilization of atoms or groups of atoms by robbing their outer ring of electrons triggering a free radical cascade.

A free radical is an unstable atom or group of atoms that have missing electrons. So the when we give our bodies anti-oxidants, they give unstable atoms and groups of atoms that make up our cells the electrons they need to return to a stable condition.

That’s the simplified version. Click here for a more scientific paper on this whole process! It’s fascinating and complex.

Nature makes thousands of antioxidant compounds in a wild and colorful mix in fruits, foods, oils, grains, leaves and more.

We need oxygen to live but too much is damaging.

Nature makes these protective compounds to maintain the health and life cycle of plants and other living beings. And we can find these protective antioxidants in oils, especially the ones with intense color.

Back to Carotenoids and Antioxidants in Oils

Carotenoids are not always orange.

And there are over 600 of them!

Yellow, orange, and red colors are common colors for carotenoids but this group also includes xanthophylls which are green.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are two xanthophyll compounds that contribute to the greens and yellows in nature and in our oils.

antioxidants and other unsaponifiables (healing fraction) shown in oils in a range of colors
Antioxidant-rich oils from left: Açai Oil, Unrefined Avocado Oil, Guava Seed Oil, Rosehip Seed Oil, Hibiscus Seed Oil and Grapeseed Oil.

4,500 Flavonoids

Flavus is the root word of the flavonoid group of antioxidants. Flavus being the word for yellow in Latin. In this group of antioxidants, there are over 4,500 different types but not all forms are yellow.

These flavonoid compounds are also anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergenic.

Blue and Yellow Makes Green

The green colors in nature and in our oils are also made by mixing the cyanidins which are blue and purple compounds with yellows in Flavus and carotene groups.

Notice this group of words and the single word that shows up in each of them – cyanidin, pro-anthocyanidins and anthocyanidins or anthocyanin.

Cyan is that name for a shade of blue, a kind of sky blue color and we find it in each of these terms for different flavonoids.

So when you find a dark green oil, it’s a good indication of a big dose of flavonoids and carotenes.

So this very brief introduction to the color of oils and shows us that oils are far from just oily! They also have life protecting antioxidants like carotenoids, flavonoids, and other vitamins and minerals, along with the necessary fatty acids that our skin needs to stay supple and healthy.

Unsaponifiables and the Healing Fraction

The term unsaponifiable comes from soap making and is all the compounds in oils that don’t turn into actual soap (saponification). The unsaponifiables are all these antioxidants that we’ve been discussing.

Healing fraction is another term for this portion of the oils and indicates the healing nature of these powerful compounds in the oils.

When you are looking for a carrier oil or a combination of carrier oils, you have this vast palette to work with.

a selection of antioxidant rich oils in a range of colors displayed in a cupboard
The rich colors in oils give us an idea of their unsaponifiable compounds.

When combining carrier oils or looking for oils for a facial serum or body oil, you want to look at the fatty acid composition and the unsaponifiables or healing fraction. And when you start putting all these factors together, the results are wonderfully healing, nourishing and potent and the combinations nearly limitless.

So what is the best carrier oil to use? with so many colors, fatty acid compositions, shelf life considerations and more there is no one best carrier oil, there are hundreds.

Working with oils is both science and art.

What combinations are you working with right now? Leave a comment below and let me know what you’re working on.