I know what you're thinking...
Why Fractionate Coconut Oil?
The main reason for fractionating coconut oil is to extract lauric acid, which coconut oil happens to contain a healthy proportion of. Lauric acid is interesting and special because it converts into a fat called monolaurin in the body. Monolaurin is interesting and special because it "may be useful in the prevention and treatment of bacterial infection" (read more here) and is otherwise only found one other place in the entire world – human breast milk! Lauric acid is therefore particularly useful for foodstuffs such as baby formula. It also has medical applications.
What Happens to the Rest
After the lauric acid is removed, the remaining oil is (often) referred to as caprylic/capric triglyceride. In case you're wondering (I know you are), caprylic/capric triglyceride is a medium-chain triglyceride oil consisting of 8-carbon medium chain caprylic and 10-carbon capric acids. It is this fractionated part of the coconut oil that you find in numerous cosmetics.
What Does it have to Offer (Now That All The Good Stuff is Gone)
Fractionated coconut oil is tolerated by all skin types – even sensitive – and has a very long shelf life. It functions as a skin conditioner by providing a protective layer that helps lock in moisture. It also adds 'slip' to products as well as some thickness. In make-up it adds a silky feel. In short, is a wonderfully neutral oil that is easy to partner with other ingredients. It is only within the last year that I have worked with fractionated coconut oil, so my experience with it is, as yet, a bit limited. It is unquestionably the runniest and mildest oil I have ever worked with.
Look, Scent and Feel
The Look: completely colorless and crystal clear. In the bottle, you'd swear it wasn't oil but some kind of 'slightly thick water'. It doesn't bring any color to a mix.
The Scent: is.. well, not there. There's simply no discernable scent. Having an ingredient that is so neutral it doesn't have to be 'taken into consideration' when being added to a formula is a pleasant change for me.
The Feel: as neutral and 'quiet' as the look and scent. It is non-greasy and just seems to melt right in, leaving a silky smooth feel.
The Positives and Negatives
Fractionated coconut oil is neutral to the point of being invisible. Even though it cannot function as a stand-alone and doesn't bring vitamins or any nourishing extras, its ability to take a back seat to everything else in the mix has me reaching for it more often than I expected. I've tested it in several of my own personal oil blends, a couple of creams, and as part of the binder for my pressed eye shadows. It has delivered every time. I realize it will never be the star ingredient, but it is quickly becoming a trusted staple for 'background use' and I understand why it is so popular in the world of commercial cosmetics.
The safety of caprylic/capric triglyceride has been checked thoroughly by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel. They have evaluated data on 2 occasions (that I have been able to find info on) – most recently in 2001. Both times the conclusion was that fractionated coconut oil was 'safe as a cosmetic ingredient in the present practices of use'.