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Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride vs. Fractionated Coconut Oil

There's a lot of confusion between fractionated coconut oil and capric/caprylic trigyceride. Some sources say they're the same thing, while other sources say they're different. To fully understand wherein the confusion lies, and to find an answer to the mystery, let's take a look at how each of these ingredients are made. 

Fractionated Coconut Oil

Fractionated coconut oil is created by melting coconut oil and then letting it cool very slowly. The different kinds of fats in the oil will separate based on their differing melting points. This is a physical separation process, no chemical reactions occur. Sometimes a centrifuge is used to help in the separation. Fractionated coconut oil typically refers to the liquid portion of the coconut oil that has been separated from the harder fats. This liquid is commonly used as a carrier oil for aromatherapy, in cosmetic items as an emolient, and in massage. The solid portion can then be used for further processing to create things like stearic acid, or sold raw to make things like coconut "wax" candles.  

What Are Fats?

To fully understand the difference between capric/caprylic triglyceride and fractionated coconut oil, let's first understand a little bit about the chemistry of fats.  

Oils (triglycerides) are made up of two components: a glycerol group (aka glycerin) and fatty acids. Fatty acids are chains of carbon and hydrogen and can vary in length. (You may have heard of short-chain, medium-chain, and long-chain fatty acids.) Different lengths of fatty acids all have unique names. In a fat, the glycerol group holds three fatty acids together, kind of like a hand with three fingers. (This is where the name *tri*glyceride comes from.) 

a typical triglyceride molecule

Capric and caprylic acids are saturated fatty acids naturally present in coconut oil. They are considered to be medium-chain fatty acids. Capric acid (also known as decanoid acid) has a length of 10 carbon atoms. Caprylic acid (also known as octanoic acid) has a length of 8 carbon atoms. 

Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride

To make capric/caprylic triglyceride, you first have to separate the capric and caprylic fatty acids from the glycerol group in the raw oil. There are a number of ways to do this. One way is through saponifications--aka soapmaking. A strong alkali is able to break apart the glycerol group from the fatty acids (that's why there's glycerin in a natural soap) 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. Intense heat and pressure is applied to break apart the triglyceride molecule. This is typically the method used in industrial fatty acid production.

So, once the caprylic and capric acids (the fingers) are separated from the glycerol (the hand) they then go through another process called esterification, to add the glycerol group back to the fatty acids. Wait, what? We just went through all that effort to remove the glycerol group--now we're putting it back on? What would be the purpose?

Well, in raw oils, a triglyceride will contain more than one type of fatty acid. (We might have a triglyceride with two chains of stearic acid and one chain of lauric acid. We might have another triglyceride with two chains of capric acid and one chain of oleic acid, and so forth.) So, when we're able to break down the oil and separate the fatty acids from the glycerin, we can then separate and isolate all of the different fatty acids. Then we can put the oil back together with only capric and caprylic acids and then have a "purified" version of the oil that we're now calling capric/caprylic triglyceride. (Also known as glyceryl tricaprylate/tricaprate.) This new purified and standardized oil has different physical properties than the original oil it came from. It feels dryer, less "greasy" and is highly stable because it's all saturated fat, the more unstable fatty acids having been removed. 


So, is capric/caprylic triglyceride *technically* a fractionated version of coconut oil? Well, yes, when the original material is made from coconut oil. The fatty acids have been separated, fractionated, and then put back together in to an oil. BUT, the term fractionated coconut oil refers to just the raw oil that has been separated through physical means. Capric/caprylic triglyceride refers to this new, standardized, fractionated oil that has been created through chemical reactions. capric/caprylic triglyceride safe? Yes. Just as much as any other oil would be. Is it comedogenic? Well, that depends on your particular skin. Any oil has the potential to be comedogenic because it imparts an occlusive barrier on the skin. So it depends on how your particular skin handles oil. However, the oil doesn't turn solid until it gets down to around 40 degrees F, so it doesn't harden on your skin and clog pores in that way. 

To make matters even more confusing, capric/caprylic triglyceride is now being marketed as a supplement known as MCT Oil. (Medium Chain Triglyceride Oil.) The health benefits of MCT oil vs extra virgin coconut oil is a discussion for another day. 

References (2)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (14)

great, informative information! thank you.
I would love to know, if caprylic acid IS better than extra virgin coconut oil for brain just discovered this site and love it! thankyou.

Mon, March 16, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercyn

Even if I do not speak Emglish so well, I understood perfectly: Big compliment and thank you

Thu, May 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterelisabeth

Thank you for this.

I've almost sent myself spare trying to explain these differences and the processes involved to people who should know better (raw material suppliers, but also certain bloggers who consider themselves 'experts' in the science of these matters).

This is an excellent breakdown (no pun intended) of the differences between CO, FCO and Capric/Caprylic Triglycerides - and I couldn't have worded it better myself.

Thank you again. I hope those who are in error might stumble across this post and cure themselves of ignorance.

Sun, September 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGabrielle

Stephanie it was pure pleasure to go through the article that you have cleaved so perfectly, fantastic is an understatement for it!!!!!!

Sun, January 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterWaheed

Thank You! There is so much miss informational, ignorance and hype among cosmetic co. Pris

Fri, February 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPris Gauthier

So can Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride be classified as a NATURAL ingredient in cosmetics or is it just natural derived? Because of the process it goes through can it still be called 100% natural I wonder?

Sun, June 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBob

Hi! Found your website searching capric triglyceride. I seem to be allergic to ANYTHING I put on my face containing the following: the above ingredient, dicaprylic acid, glycerol caprylate, dicaprylic triglyceride. So what gives? This is just a simple stabilizer/emolient, right? Ppl think I'm crazy, but I literally read every chemical on boxes. Sometimes I miss it (eyesight's going), but as a cosmetic and skin care junkie, this is really problematic! Just today I got a free sample of foundation, put it on, and within a minute was burning and itching ( maybe the glycerol caprylate)? If I hadn't washed it off, it would cause itchy tiny bumps--mostly around my mouth and nose. So weird. Can you help me understand this? It doesn't seem to matter on my body, only my face!!

Wed, August 24, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterChantalize

Where can I purchase organic FCO as opposed to MCT coconut oil?

Mon, January 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKim

I am interested in the comment by Chantalize:
I have recently been using a Nivea Hydrocare Lipsalve and have been experiencing tingling/burning sensations around my lips. This contains the stuff talked about.
Perhaps I am allergic to it.
I shall stop using it, for a while, and see whether the sensations diminish/disappear.

Sat, February 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCM

The two above comments on allergies caught my attention. I've had the same lip reaction (tingly, burning, bumpy lips) to two different lip products and the only common ingredient was capricylic/caprice triglycerides.

Thu, July 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDolce4ami

To the two allergic individuals on this post:

I found this thread while searching for information about Caprylic/capric triglyceride. I have a pretty severe coconut allergy, and was trying to find out what ingredient in a product was coconut derived. When I come in contact with coconut, or even just get near enough to inhale it, I break out with small bumps around my mouth, my lips tingle and swell, and I get short of breath. If I ingest coconut, I go into anaphylactic shock and have to go to the hospital. It's a pretty miserable allergy, and it has gotten worse over the years. If you are having similar issues with this ingredient, please be careful around any coconut products or foods. :)

Sat, December 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBJ

Very interesting and well explained. thanks

Fri, April 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

I am allergic to a host of things including phenoxyethanol, ethyl hexyl glycerol, sesquiterpene lactone mix, cocamidopropyl betaine, benzalkonium Chloride just being a few. I am in need of a shampoo, hand wash, body wash & face cream. Would any of your products work for me. At this time I’m using a LUSH shampoo bar in Honey. Something in it is causing a rash on my scalp and hair line around my head Skin Safe has it “safe for me”. I’m not too sure of that. Thanks so much for all your help.

Thu, January 31, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

While reading the ingredients of a popular crisp rice marshmallow treat I came across the aforementioned as part of the ingredients. I have yet to find any article to support its use in food. Should I be concerned that yet another product is being manipulated and islipped into our potential food options?

Tue, February 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVirginia

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