Fractionated coconut oil vs virgin coconut oil

Green fractionated coconut oil bottle versus blue FussyBody virgin coconut oil jar

Fractionated coconut oil sucks because it's not as natural as virgin coconut oil? It's true that fractionated coconut oil is refined. It's also true that it carries much lesser health-beneficial properties than virgin coconut oil. But you might not know that fractionated coconut oil actually provides certain benefits that virgin coconut oil cannot match up to.

Why don't we compare their properties side by side so that you can make a smart decision on which one to choose for your needs?

PropertiesFractionated coconut oilVirgin coconut oil
TypeRefinedUnrefined
ContentMCTSCT: < 1%
MCT: 50% – 64%
LCT: ~ 35%
AKAMCT oil
Liquid coconut oil (LCO)
VCO
Extra-virgin coconut oil
Saturation level100%Saturated: 80 – 90%
Unsaturated: 8 – 10%
Melting / freezing point 5 to 25 °F
(-15 to -4 °C)
76 °F
(24.4 °C)
Smoke point320 to 350 °F
(160 to 177 °C)
350 °F
(177 °C)
Color (liquid)Colorless (like water)Colorless (like water)
Color (solid)Snowy whiteSnowy white
OdorOdorless
(subtly pungent)
Coconut scent
UsesSkin care
Hair care
Carrier oil
MCT oil (food-grade)
LCO (food-grade)
Food
Skin care
Hair care
Shelf life2 years
(up to 5 years, unofficially)
2 years

It seems that the only common characteristic between fractionated and virgin coconut oil is their color.

Note
High quality fractionated coconut oil should look colorless. Low quality may appear yellowish due to the moldy impurities or other colored contaminants not completely removed in the manufacturing process.

Other than that, everything else is different. And their differences mean that their uses and benefits on your health and skin will be different.

1. Health benefits

Let's zoom in on the fatty acids both fractionated and virgin coconut oil carry. They're the keys that determine how much health benefits you can gain from the oils.

Fatty acidsFractionated coconut oilVirgin coconut oil
Caproic acid
(Medium-chain)
0~ 0.5%
Caprylic acid
(Medium-chain)
35 – 75%~ 7%
Capric acid
(Medium-chain)
25 – 45%~ 6%
Lauric acid
(Medium-chain)
0 – 31%~ 42%
Myristic acid
(Long-chain)
0~ 17%
Palmitic acid
(Long-chain)
0~ 9%
Stearic acid
(Long-chain)
0~ 3%
Oleic acid
(Long-chain)
0~ 6%
Linoleic acid
(Long-chain)
0~ 2%

Fractionated coconut oil composes mainly of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). Which are indisputably very much healthier than long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs).

But that doesn't mean fractionated coconut oil is relatively better for your health. Look at the types of fatty acids it carries – caprylic acid and capric acid (plus some lauric acid that occurs only to certain brands sold in the name of Liquid Coconut Oil and MCT Oil).

It's true that caprylic acid and capric acid convert very quickly to energy, and they do not require special enzymes to transport them into cells, unlike long-chain fatty acids. For this reason, ingesting food-grade fractionated coconut oil (MCT oil) can boost your exercise performance and help reduce your body fat .

Note
Fractionated coconut oil comes in 3 different names – Fractionated Coconut Oil for skin care and other external uses, MCT Oil for use in hospitals and as special dietary supplement, and Liquid Coconut Oil for cooking.

Do you work out a lot and need to max up your performance? Are you seriously overweight that you need to burn lots of excess body fat? Then you need this MCT fractionated coconut oil.

But if having a strong immunity is a much greater concern to you, then virgin coconut oil would be your best choice. This is because about half its content goes to lauric acid, and lauric acid is an exceptionally powerful pathogen killer.

With some or no lauric acid in fractionated coconut oil, you'll have to depend largely on your own body's immune system to fight off any hardcore invading microbes.

Of course, caprylic acid and capric acid do hold antimicrobial properties too. But they're good at combating certain strains of bacteria and viruses only. Unlike the broader range of bacteria and viruses (such as HIV, measles virus, sarcoma virus, influenza virus, leukemia virus, H. pylori, chlamydia pneumoniae etc) that lauric acid covers.

To top it off, virgin coconut oil contains several other fatty acids (like caproic, myristic, palmitic, stearic, oleic and linoleic acids) with each targeting different types and strains of parasites, viruses, bacteria and fungi, giving an extra boost to your immunity.

What's more, after energy conversion you're left with little caprylic and capric compounds to kill pathogens if you were to take fractionated coconut oil. Hence, fractionated coconut oil can't protect you against pathogenic microbes like virgin coconut oil.

Note
Virgin coconut oil also contains trace amount of fat-soluble nutrients such as iron, vitamin E and vitamin K. You can't find them in fractionated coconut oil because of the moderately high temperature process it has gone through that destroys the nutrients. Though these nutrients do not benefit you much since they come in very small quantity, a little more from virgin coconut oil is better than none in fractionated coconut oil, agree?

2. Skin benefits

If you have both fractionated and virgin with you now, try rubbing a dab of each on your skin. You'll feel that fractionated coconut oil seeps in faster, right?

This is because fractionated coconut oil comprises 100% MCFAs. MCFAs are so small and light that they can effortlessly and quickly penetrate your skin cells to help moisturize your skin. This makes you feel less greasy on your skin.

Virgin coconut oil, on the other hand, is more viscous and hence, absorb relatively slower into the skin. Why? Because of the presence of about 35% LCFAs.

However, virgin coconut oil can topically defend you against harmful germs more effectively. Thanks to its more robust set of antimicrobial compounds as mentioned just now.

Note
Upon application, friendly bacteria on your skin will help to break down the triglycerides into fatty acids. They achieve that by eating up the glycerols that tie the fatty acids together.

As a result, lauric acid, capric acid, caprylic acid and other fatty acids (as well as their monoglycerides) are released to form an army of antimicrobials that layer over your skin to fight off any invading bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi and other germs right on the spot.

So, what's your focus?

If you have dry skin and you need some oil treatment to wet your skin so it looks supple and bouncy, use fractionated coconut oil.

Note
An oil is an oil. It does not hydrate your skin like water does. Its purpose is to help prevent the loss of moisture in your skin.

But if you're not so particular about getting the oil absorbed quickly and all you want is protection against health-detrimental germs, then you need virgin coconut oil.

Your skin will still absorb virgin coconut oil though. It's just that the rate of absorption is relatively slower.

If you want to have the best of both worlds – use fractionated coconut oil first to help moisturize your skin followed by virgin coconut oil to get you protected.

You can also mix them both together to form a "hybrid" before application. I do this sometimes. They blend well with each other since fractionated coconut oil is actually a subset of virgin coconut oil.

The rate of absorption for this hybrid would then be somewhere in between fractionated and virgin coconut oil. And the antimicrobial properties, of course, will be much better than fractionated coconut oil alone.

Please be warned that if you use the topical fractionated coconut oil for mixing, then the mixture is not fit for consumption. If you want to use the mixture for both skin and consumption, you should use the food-grade fractionated coconut oil, which is either MCT oil or liquid coconut oil.

Speaking of that, if you want to keep it simple and make your life easier, just use virgin coconut oil for both skin care and consumption. For that matter, virgin coconut oil does a pretty good job as a "one size fits all" solution for both health and skin care.

I know you might feel a little awkward to have something that goes into your mouth putting on your skin too or vice versa. But that's what you can do with virgin coconut oil. It's simply versatile.

3. Convenience

Fractionated coconut oil is always there for you anytime you need it. Even in places where ambient temperature falls to 32 °F (0 °C).

This means that you can refrigerate the oil and it'll still stay liquid (but don't put in the freezer as it'll turn solid eventually). And when you need to use it for skin care, massage therapy, cooking, or add it to food you do not need to warm it. Just take it out and you can pour right away.

I say that because virgin coconut oil begins to turn cloudy at temperature below 76 °F (24.4 °C) and becomes as hard as rock as temperature falls way further. It'll drive you banana if you intend to use virgin coconut oil at such low temperature. You'll have to at least soften virgin coconut oil by melting it a bit before you can start using.

If time is critical to you, you would appreciate fractionated coconut oil for its low freezing point.

Note
This low freezing point of fractionated coconut oil enables it to be kept in narrow-mouth bottles that you can effortlessly pour out or spray out the content with a pump.

Virgin coconut oil, on the contrary, is normally kept in jar that got a big mouth for easy scooping. However in tropical regions like Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore etc where the ambient temperatures are mostly above 76 °F (24.4 °C), it's not surprising to see virgin coconut oil packed in narrow-mouth bottles.

However in massage therapy, some licensed massage therapists do prefer using virgin coconut oil to fractionated coconut oil. This is because solidified (but still soft and scoopable) virgin coconut oil (at room temp) never gets knocked over and stains carpets or clothing. And it's easy for them to melt the exact amount they need in their hands.

4. Cooking

Different companies produce liquid coconut oils (edible type of fractionated coconut oil) that have different smoke points, ranging from 320 °F (160 °C) to 350 °F (177 °C). Virgin coconut oil, in general, has a more stable smoke point at 350 °F (177 °C).

What does that tell you?

If you get a liquid coconut oil that smokes at 320 °F (160 °C), its chemical structure will break down earlier than that of virgin coconut oil. Which means that its health properties will be destroyed. In such a case, I'd rather use virgin coconut oil for cooking.

Of course, if your liquid coconut oil can withstand up to 350 °F (177 °C) before it smokes, just like virgin coconut oil, then we'll have to look at how your food will be affected in terms of flavor and texture.

Note
Both are not suitable for high heat cooking where temperatures range between 450 °F and 650 °F (232 °C and 343 °C).

To me, virgin coconut oil can help to enhance the flavor of my food, making it tastier and more delicious. What about you? Do you like the natural coconut scent virgin coconut oil carries?

If you think the coconut odor virgin coconut oil gives off is too strong for your liking, then use liquid coconut oil that emits a lighter, more delicate scent.

Texture wise. Virgin coconut oil tastes more natural because it is truly a dietary oil. Liquid coconut oil, on the other hand, is lighter and more watery. It somehow makes me feel weird in terms of mouthfeel. Honestly, I don't quite like cooking my food with liquid coconut oil. I prefer adding it raw to beverages.

5. Expiration

Because fractionated coconut oil comprises 100% saturated fatty acids (all its MCFAs are saturated), it can stand against oxidation very effectively, even when heated (of course, below its smoke point).

If left unopened and zero moisture inside the container, you can keep fractionated coconut oil beyond its 2-year expiration period – up to 5 years or even longer.

But once you open it for use, unless you really handle it very well and keep it away from any potential contact with moisture, bacteria and other germs, the life span of the oil can still hold up to 5 years before it spoils.

On the other hand, virgin coconut oil may not last up to 5 years due to its natural inclusion of unsaturated fatty acids (about 8%) that may start to gradually oxidize over time. Its expiration period is normally given as 2 years. But again, if you handle it properly even after opened, it can last for a few or several months more.

But honestly, I don't keep virgin coconut oil for that long. In about 2 weeks we would finish off half a liter. Even the fractionated MCT oil that I use regularly for oil pulling and skin care lasts for only a couple of months.

If you're serious about using them for your health or skin care, you wouldn't store them for that long. Unless you really buy them in gallons and have to stock them up for quite some time. But I would not suggest doing that.

Just buy the amount you need for 3 to 6 months and replenish your stock as soon as they're almost finish. That way you can make sure the oils are still in pretty good condition and you won't run out of stock so easily. That's what I do.

6. Price

Don't you think that fractionated coconut oil is cheap just because it is synthetically made. It is produced via a very complex industrial process. This involves money, so it's not cheap though.

Which is why sometimes you can see fractionated coconut oil selling at a higher price than virgin coconut oil for the same volume. For example...

Fractionated coconut oilVirgin coconut oil
Fractionated coconut oil 16oz by Life-flo
16 oz (473 ml) for US$13.64
(Price may change)
Organic virgin coconut oil 16oz by California Gold Nutrition
16 oz (473 ml) for US$8
(Price may change)
MCT oil 32oz by California Gold Nutrition
32 oz (946 ml) for US$22
(Price may change)
Organic virgin coconut oil 32oz by Jarrow Formulas
32 oz (946 ml) for US$18.21
(Price may change)

For the same amount with relatively much lower price, virgin coconut oil gives you more health benefits. It offers you stronger protection against health-damaging super germs too.

That said, I don't see why you should use fractionated coconut oil unless you really have a specific purpose. Like massage therapists who need it as a carrier or massage oil, or bodybuilders who need MCT oil to help reduce their body fat without losing their hard-earned muscle mass.

That's my take, what's yours?