With my ADD and OCD for homemaking crafts, I knew I wanted to try to eventually try to make soap. My research into soap making, turned out to be research into oils and fats. I certainly learned a couple things about the various interpretations of natural, and the importance of thoroughly reading labels.
I wanted to start with a castile soap first, so I began my research of olive oil. It's a mono-unsaturated fat, so it's good for you right? Uh.. well.. here's what I've discovered.
Cold Pressed: No chemicals or heat were used to extract the oil in the first press, preserving the integrity of the beneficial vitamin E, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. In EU countries it must be under 27 degrees Celcius. In non - EU countries, there may or may not be regulation to assure this.
Extra Virgin: The best quality olive oil from the first pressing. It is usually cold pressed within 24 hours of picking to retain the most beneficial vitamins, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. It has a free fatty acidity < 0.8%
Virgin / Ordinary Virgin: Lower quality oil from the first pressing. Olives are more ripe, and more oxidation occurs causing loss of some of the beneficial properties found in the extra virgin oil. It's basically a defective extra virgin olive oil. Virgin has a free fatty acidity < 2%, ordinary virgin < 3.3%.
Now it starts getting worse..
Lampante: From the first pressing, but an inferior oil not fit for human consumption. Made from bad fruit or processing. This accounts for over 50% of the olive oil produced in Europe. The free fatty acidity > 3.3%
Refined Olive Oil / Pure Olive Oil: Virgin lampante oil which has been refined to make it fit for human consumption. Refined by chemical and physical processes. No solvents are used, but little benefit remains. Some countries have banned it, because of lack of taste.
Olive Oil / Light / Extra Light: Refined olive oil which has varying amounts of virgin oil blended back in. Light and Extra light refer to the colour and taste, not the fat or calories.
Here's the really ugly part..
Pomace Oil: Least expensive. The leftover mash of olive fruit and pits is treated with solvents to remove the remaining oil. This oil is not fit for human consumption. There are no remaining benefits to this oil and it may actually be carcinogenic and mutagenic due to the use of solvents.
Refined Pomace / Pomace - Olive Oil (blend): Refined pomace oil, or a blend with first press oils. Banned in several countries, it is technically fit for human consumption. Yikes.
And then the deceptive business practices..
Mislabeling: There have been many incidents of mislabeling in the olive oil industry, especially on oil exported to North America (where we generally have a less refined taste for the stuff). Oils may claim to be a higher grade than they are, or adulterated.
Adulterated Oil: This is when olive oil is combined with oil of a lower grade, or of another type altogether. Olive oil has been blended with other oils such as hazelnut or sunflower, and mislabeled. This is more likely to occur in countries without regulating bodies.
"Bottled in ____": Always look for the olive's country of origin. "bottled in ____" means that the olive oil was imported from other countries where the oil may have been mislabeled or adulterated.
So what I've learned from all of this..
Thoroughly read the label. If the company has certain practices that would be of benefit to it's marketing, of course they're going to tell you about it. I would definitely recommend buying a "Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil" from a company that states the olive's country of origin. If you can find "Organic" or "Non-GMO", bonus! Get that one. What do you know about the bottle that simply says "Olive Oil, Imported by ______" It could be corn for all you know. Like everything else, real food isn't cheap, sorry. Fillers are.
Then so as not to destroy the efforts of cold-pressing and the extra money spent, don't store your oil in plastic, keep it dark, and don't use your extra virgin oil at high temperatures, if you want to benefit from it's wonderful, natural qualities.
Well then, back to soap.
Often soap makers call anything that has 50% or more olive oil, "castile". So, if you're looking to buy a castile soap, and want 100% olive oil, you have to read the ingredients. They don't like making 100% olive oil soap because it takes several hours before it can be molded, especially using the cold process, then 8 weeks before it can be used.
Pomace oil is often used in "natural" olive oil soaps due to profit and ignorance.
What's the difference? It's soap, it washes off.
Not true. All soaps have extra oil in varying amounts for lye safety and to moisturize. Our skin is not plastic, it absorbs what we put on it (think nicotine patches). I will be using the cold process for my soap, and I think it's clear which olive oil I will choose.