Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride is an emollient, dispersing agent, and thickener that is used in a variety of cosmetics, facial moisturizers, body moisturizers, sunscreen products, and perfume.
Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride is a mixed triester derived from coconut oil and glycerin. This ingredient is often mistakenly referred to as fractionated coconut oil. To understand this ingredient better, below we will explain the difference between fractionated coconut oil and Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides.
The process of creating fractionated coconut oil begins with melting coconut oil and then allowing it to cool very slowly. Doing so will cause the different types of fats in the oil to separate based on their different melting points. This is a physical separation process, no chemical reactions occur. A centrifuge can be used to help in the separation. Fractionated coconut oil simply refers to the liquid portion of the coconut oil that has been separated from the harder fats.
To explain how Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride is different from fractionated coconut oil, let’s first go over some basic chemistry. Oils, also known as triglycerides, are esters derived from glycerol (aka glycerin) and three fatty acids. A fatty acid is a carboxylic acid with a chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms, which is either saturated or unsaturated. The chains can vary in length and are classified as short, medium, or long. Capric and caprylic acids are saturated fatty acids naturally present in coconut oil. They are both classified as medium-chain triglycerides (MCT); capric acid has a length of 10 carbon atoms and caprylic acid has a length of 8 carbon atoms.
There are two primary methods of extracting Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride from coconut oil. One method is called saponification (aka soapmaking). A strong alkali is able to break apart the glycerol group from the fatty acids and react with the fatty acids to create a new compound we know as soap. Another way to split the glycerol from the fatty acids is through steam hydrolysis, which uses intense heat and pressure to break apart the triglyceride molecule. This method is primarily used in industrial fatty acid production.
Once the caprylic and capric fatty acids are separated, they then go through another process called esterification to add the glycerol group back to the fatty acids. You may be wondering why go through all the trouble to separate the fatty acids from glycerol just to add it back on, right? Well, it turns out that coconut oil is composed of many different types of fatty acids, including lauric acid (49%), myristic acid (18%), palmitic acid (8%), caprylic acid (8%), capric acid (7%), oleic acid (6%), linoleic acid (2%), and stearic acid (2%). Therefore, this process provides a “purified” version of the oil that contains only capric/caprylic triglyceride, which is less greasy and more stable since it is all saturated fat.
The primary functions of Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride are as an emollient, dispersing agent, and thickening agent.
As an emollient, caprylic/capric triglyceride is rapidly absorbed into skin, which provides a lightweight and non-greasy barrier of lubrication that helps to increase moisture retention at the skin’s surface. As a dispersing agent, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride helps enhance the delivery of other active ingredients so that they can be fully absorbed by the skin. The oily texture of Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride helps to thicken cosmetic formulations and provides a slipperiness. In turn, products that contain Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride will be easy to spread and also create a smooth feeling on the skin. Additionally, caprylic acid provides potent antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, according to Healthline.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) includes caprylic acid on its list of substances considered Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) as a food additive. The EU Cosmetics Directive allows it to be used in cosmetic and personal care products. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel has reviewed the safety of caprylic/capric triglycerides. Tests involving ingestion, injection, skin, and eye exposure showed the ingredient to have very low toxicity. This ingredient did not demonstrate any potential for skin/eye irritation or sensitization. Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride is known to be compatible with most skin types, making it an excellent choice for use in products for sensitive skin.
References: Chemical of the Day, “Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride Vs. Fractionated Coconut Oil”, 2015, Wikipedia, “Triglyceride”, Wikipedia, “Fatty Acid”, Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Jan; 19(1): 70, FDA, “Caprylic Acid”, 2017, CIR, “Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides”