This deep golden oil is an edible oil pressed from the fruit of the Persea americana (avocado). It is used for lubrication and in cosmetics where it is valued for its regenerative and moisturizing properties. Rich in nutrients, amino acids, and essential fatty acids, this nutritional oil is excellent for enhancing hair health. It supplies vitamins A, B, D, and E to nourish both hair follicles and the scalp. Vitamin E also acts as a protective antioxidant. It has natural humectant properties, adding and locking in moisture. The monounsaturated fatty acids will give hair a glossy shine and silky texture. The amino acids will promote the growth of new hair cells.
There are a lot of confusing terms out there when it comes to oils, but quality and process do matter. A bottle of avocado oil from the cooking aisle will be a pale yellow color, but a higher-quality, expeller-pressed version of avocado is a rich green color that has many more of its critical fatty acids intact. Lower-grade oils are often extracted with chemicals or heat, both of which can damage the more delicate compounds found in the oil. When looking for a quality oil, there are several terms that are helpful to familiarize yourself with:
- Expeller-pressed— The basic idea behind expeller-pressed oil is to force oil out of something, most often a nut, seed, or vegetable, with only mechanical strength. In more ancient times, this was done by with mallets or crank-style apparatuses, but today it is accomplished with hydraulics that allow for oil to be expelled in much greater quantities. These quantities, however, are still smaller than those achieved by heat or chemicals, making these oils more expensive but of higher quality.
- Cold-pressed—Very similar to expeller-pressed, except that the oil is expressed under temperature-controlled conditions. During the expeller-pressing process, heat is generated through friction as the machine’s plates press and rotate against the nut or vegetable being crushed, and cold-pressing seeks to minimize this. Cold pressing is most seen with very delicate oils whose composition is adversely affected by heat, such as grapeseed or olive oil.
- Organic—Organic oils are made from nuts, seeds, or vegetables that have not been treated with pesticides or herbicides that are not approved by the USDA Department of Organic Agriculture (or similar governing body in other nations). It is nearly impossible to remove all traces of pesticides and herbicides before processing, so trace amounts may end up in the resulting oil.
- Non-GMO—Means that the oil has come from a source plant that has not been genetically modified. Although it’s common enough to see labels certifying oils as free from GMOs, those labels are not actually produced by the government. Rather, certification is a process conducted by private companies. In order to be certified as GMO-free, less than one percent of a food’s ingredients can be genetically modified.
- Hexane-free—Hexane is sometimes applied to nuts and vegetables before extraction because it yields higher returns in expeller-pressing. Most oil manufacturers try to minimize or eliminate the hexane residue that could make it into the finished product but can rarely guarantee purity in the resulting oil. Even in trace amounts, the compound can cause sleepiness, nausea, and headaches. Chronic hexane inhalation, which can occur when the oil is heated, may also result in cramping and muscle weakness or deterioration. Thankfully, these effects often go away after exposure ends, but they are nevertheless off-putting to many people.
- Refined vs. Unrefined—Refined oils have gone through processing to reduce flavor and odor. Unrefined oils are less processed and are often higher quality, but they go rancid more quickly. Using the refined version of an oil may also let you enjoy oils that you find you dislike the smell of in their unrefined form.
- Therapeutic grade / aromatherapy grade / medicinal grade—While most commonly seen applied to essential oils, these terms have begun to creep into carrier oils as well. No governmental agency or generally accepted organization “grades” or “certifies” oils or essential oils with these terms, and there is no formally approved grading standard used consistently throughout the essential oil or carrier oil industry. At best these terms are confusing marketing terms, at worst deliberately misleading to justify charging more for a product that is not of certifiable higher quality. If you come across a company that uses any of these terms, look for other key indicators of their essential oil quality and attempt to assess their particular intent is behind their use of the term.