Pouring argan oil on bottle to make hair serum

Carrier Oils Fatty Acids in Depth: About Unsaturated, Polyunsaturated & Saturated Fatty Acids

In this entry we’re going to look at fatty acids in more depth.

1. Unsaturated fatty acids

I’m leaving below Wikipedia’s table of contents list for easy access to the fatty acid molecular species (mono-unsaturated, di-unsaturated, tri-unsaturated, tetra-unsaturated, pentaunsaturated and hexaunsaturated). Just click on the link per each acid and it should take you straight to Wikipedia content. Here’s the link to the page.

1.1 Monounsaturated Fatty Acids

These acids have only one double bond. The fatty acid hydrocarbon chain is not fully saturated with hydrogen atoms so these oils are in liquid form, as opposed to saturated fatty acids which are somewhat solid (think butters: cocoal, shea, mango, etc).

Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid and a constant, very common acid to find in oils. Oils only have one double bond where the oxygen can attach so there is some resistance to oxidation (as opposed to acids with more double bonds). Oxidation will make the oil go rancid.

The most common monounsaturated fatty acids are:

  • Oleic acid: Omega-9 unsaturated fatty acid. Naturally found on our skin; in fact, 30% of our skin and sebum are made up of oleic acid. This is the most common fatty acid found it most oils that are liquid. As it doesn’t absorb that quickly it provides a thin layer to the outer skin thus helps prevent moisture loss. Adds suppleness, protects and nourishes; it is also anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antifungal. Good to prevent skin infections caused by fungi or virus. This acid is well suited for dry skin. The almond tree and the olive tree produce oleic acid. This acid is often used as a penetration enhancer. Oils high in oleic acid are: camellia seed oil (80%), olive oil (75%), hazelnut oil (75%), marula oil (75%), sweet almond oil (65%), apricot kernel oil (65%), plum kernel oil (60%).
  • Palmitoleic acid: Omega-7 unsaturated fatty acid. Our skin produces palmitoleic acid but as we age the process slows down so oils high in palmitoleic acid are beneficial for products that are garteget at ageing skin. Some examples of oils high in palmitoleic acid are: sea buckthorn berry (25%), macadamia (17%) and avocado (22%). This acid has antibacterial properties so it is good for products aimed at fighting skin infections. Jojoba oil, hazelnut oil and grapeseed oil have trace mounts of this acid. An interesting article here.

Here’s a list:

ω−nCommon NameLipid NumbersΔnStructural FormulaTrans or CisNaturally Occurring in
ω−3α-Linolenic acidC18:3Δ9,12,15CH3CH2CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CH(CH2)7COOHcisFlaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts [1]
ω−3Stearidonic acidC18:4Δ6,9,12,15CH3CH2CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CH(CH2)4COOHcisSeed oils of hemp, blackcurrant, corn gromwell[citation needed]
ω−3Eicosapentaenoic acidC20:5Δ5,8,11,14,17CH3CH2CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CH(CH2)3COOHciscod liver, herring, mackerel, salmon, menhaden and sardine[citation needed]
ω−3Docosahexaenoic acidC22:6Δ4,7,10,13,16,19CH3CH2CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CH(CH2)2COOHcismaternal milk, fish oil.[2]
ω−6Linoleic acidC18:2Δ9,12CH3(CH2)4CH=CHCH2CH=CH(CH2)7COOHcisPeanut oil,[3] chicken fat,[4] olive oil [5][6]
ω−6Linolelaidic acidC18:2CH3(CH2)4CH=CHCH2CH=CH(CH2)7COOHtranspartially hydrogenated vegetable oils
ω−6γ-Linolenic acidC18:3Δ6,9,12CH3(CH2)4CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CH(CH2)4COOHcisborage oil, black currant oil, evening primrose oil [7] and safflower oil [8]
ω−6Dihomo-γ-linolenic acidC20:3Δ8,11,14CH3(CH2)4CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CH(CH2)6COOHcisonly in trace amounts in animal products[9][10]
ω−6Arachidonic acidC20:4Δ5,8,11,14CH3(CH2)4CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CH(CH2)3COOHcis
ω−6Docosatetraenoic acidC22:4Δ7,10,13,16CH3(CH2)4CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CH(CH2)5COOHcis
ω−7Palmitoleic acidC16:1Δ9CH3(CH2)5CH=CH(CH2)7COOHcisMacadamia nuts[11]
ω−7Vaccenic acidC18:1Δ11CH3(CH2)5CH=CH(CH2)9COOHtransdairy products such as milkbutter, and yogurt.[12]
ω−7Paullinic acidC20:1Δ13CH3(CH2)5CH=CH(CH2)11COOHcisguarana[13]
ω−9Oleic acidC18:1Δ9CH3(CH2)7CH=CH(CH2)7COOHcisolive oilpecan oil,[14]canola oil,[15]
ω−9Elaidic acidC18:1Δ9CH3(CH2)7CH=CH(CH2)7COOHtranshydrogenated vegetable oil[16]
ω−9Gondoic acidC20:1Δ11CH3(CH2)7CH=CH(CH2)9COOHcisjojoba oil[17] (edible but non-caloric and non-digestible)
ω−9Erucic acidC22:1Δ13CH3(CH2)7CH=CH(CH2)11COOHciswallflower seed; mustard oil
ω−9Nervonic acidC24:1Δ15CH3(CH2)7CH=CH(CH2)13COOHcisKing salmonflaxseedsockeye salmonsesame seedmacadamia nuts[18]
ω−9Mead acidC20:3Δ5,8,11CH3(CH2)7CH=CHCH2CH=CHCH2CH=CH(CH2)3COOHciscartilage

1.2 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

When there is more than one double bond the fatty acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid (poly > many). Polyunsaturated fatty acids commonly have two or three double bonds but they can have up to five or more double bonds.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids absorb really well into the skin which makes them really good if we want to deliver nutrients to the skin. These fatty acids help repair certain conditions like eczema. Oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acid can go rancid faster than others though.

When bonds are unsaturated they acquire an omega number which is actually determined by the placement of the first double bond from the omega free end of the carbon chain.

The essential fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6.

Below: omega-3, omega-6, omega-9 polyunsaturated fatty acids


The most common omega-3 acid is Alpha-linolenic acid (LNA or ALA). Oils high on LNA are flax seed oil, chia seed oil, perilla seed oil, kiwi seed oil, sacha inchi seed oil and camelina seed oil.

Oils high in linoleic acid usually have fairly high amounts of alpha-linolenic acid in them as well, but not the other way around necessarily. Linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid are the essential fatty acids (EFAs).

Common nameLipid nameChemical name
Hexadecatrienoic acid (HTA)16:3 (n-3)all-cis 7,10,13-hexadecatrienoic acid
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)18:3 (n-3)all-cis-9,12,15-octadecatrienoic acid
Stearidonic acid (SDA)18:4 (n-3)all-cis-6,9,12,15,-octadecatetraenoic acid
Eicosatrienoic acid (ETE)20:3 (n-3)all-cis-11,14,17-eicosatrienoic acid
Eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA)20:4 (n-3)all-cis-8,11,14,17-eicosatetraenoic acid
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, Timnodonic acid)20:5 (n-3)all-cis-5,8,11,14,17-eicosapentaenoic acid
Heneicosapentaenoic acid (HPA)21:5 (n-3)all-cis-6,9,12,15,18-heneicosapentaenoic acid
Docosapentaenoic acid (DPA, Clupanodonic acid)22:5 (n-3)all-cis-7,10,13,16,19-docosapentaenoic acid
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, Cervonic acid)22:6 (n-3)all-cis-4,7,10,13,16,19-docosahexaenoic acid
Tetracosapentaenoic acid24:5 (n-3)all-cis-9,12,15,18,21-tetracosapentaenoic acid
Tetracosahexaenoic acid (Nisinic acid)24:6 (n-3)all-cis-6,9,12,15,18,21-tetracosahexaenoic acid


Linolenic acid is an 18 carbon chain with two double bonds (18:2). It is an omega-6 fatty acid. Oils high in linolenic acid are: pumpkin, cucumber, watermelon, black seed, sesame, passion fruit, grape seed.

Linolenic acid is the most common fatty acid from the polyunsaturated group. This fatty acid is found in our skin’s sebum.

Another omega-6 acid is Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Our bodies convert LA (linoleic acid) into GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) where it acts to reduce inflammation, redness, eczema, psoriasis as well as abnormal cell growth. Oils high in GLA are borage, evening primrose and black currant. These oils are good at tackling inflammation and issues with hot skin. GLA is an 18 carbon fatty acid chain (18:3 n-6) with three double bonds and an omega-6 fatty acid. s

Common nameLipid nameChemical name
Linoleic acid (LA)18:2 (n-6)all-cis-9,12-octadecadienoic acid
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)18:3 (n-6)all-cis-6,9,12-octadecatrienoic acid
Eicosadienoic acid20:2 (n-6)all-cis-11,14-eicosadienoic acid
Dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA)20:3 (n-6)all-cis-8,11,14-eicosatrienoic acid
Arachidonic acid (AA)20:4 (n-6)all-cis-5,8,11,14-eicosatetraenoic acid
Docosadienoic acid22:2 (n-6)all-cis-13,16-docosadienoic acid
Adrenic acid (AdA)22:4 (n-6)all-cis-7,10,13,16-docosatetraenoic acid
Docosapentaenoic acid (Osbond acid)22:5 (n-6)all-cis-4,7,10,13,16-docosapentaenoic acid
Tetracosatetraenoic acid24:4 (n-6)all-cis-9,12,15,18-tetracosatetraenoic acid
Tetracosapentaenoic acid24:5 (n-6)all-cis-6,9,12,15,18-tetracosapentaenoic acid


Common nameLipid nameChemical name
Oleic acid18:1 (n-9)cis-9-octadecenoic acid
Eicosenoic acid20:1 (n-9)cis-11-eicosenoic acid
Mead acid20:3 (n-9)all-cis-5,8,11-eicosatrienoic acid
Erucic acid22:1 (n-9)cis-13-docosenoic acid
Nervonic acid24:1 (n-9)cis-15-tetracosenoic acid

2. Saturated Fatty Acids

Saturated fatty acids have no C=C double bonds. 

Common NameSystematic NameStructural FormulaLipid Numbers
Butyric acidButanoic acidCH3(CH2)2COOHC4:0
Valeric acidPentanoic acidCH3(CH2)3COOHC5:0
Caproic acidHexanoic acidCH3(CH2)4COOHC6:0
Enanthic acidHeptanoic acidCH3(CH2)5COOHC7:0
Caprylic acidOctanoic acidCH3(CH2)6COOHC8:0
Pelargonic acidNonanoic acidCH3(CH2)7COOHC9:0
Capric acidDecanoic acidCH3(CH2)8COOHC10:0
Undecylic acidUndecanoic acidCH3(CH2)9COOHC11:0
Lauric acidDodecanoic acidCH3(CH2)10COOHC12:0
Tridecylic acidTridecanoic acidCH3(CH2)11COOHC13:0
Myristic acidTetradecanoic acidCH3(CH2)12COOHC14:0
Pentadecylic acidPentadecanoic acidCH3(CH2)13COOHC15:0
Palmitic acidHexadecanoic acidCH3(CH2)14COOHC16:0
Margaric acidHeptadecanoic acidCH3(CH2)15COOHC17:0
Stearic acidOctadecanoic acidCH3(CH2)16COOHC18:0
Nonadecylic acidNonadecanoic acidCH3(CH2)17COOHC19:0
Arachidic acidEicosanoic acidCH3(CH2)18COOHC20:0
Heneicosylic acidHeneicosanoic acidCH3(CH2)19COOHC21:0
Behenic acidDocosanoic acidCH3(CH2)20COOHC22:0
Tricosylic acidTricosanoic acidCH3(CH2)21COOHC23:0
Lignoceric acidTetracosanoic acidCH3(CH2)22COOHC24:0
Pentacosylic acidPentacosanoic acidCH3(CH2)23COOHC25:0
Cerotic acidHexacosanoic acidCH3(CH2)24COOHC26:0
Heptacosylic acidHeptacosanoic acidCH3(CH2)25COOHC27:0
Montanic acidOctacosanoic acidCH3(CH2)26COOHC28:0
Nonacosylic acidNonacosanoic acidCH3(CH2)27COOHC29:0
Melissic acidTriacontanoic acidCH3(CH2)28COOHC30:0
Hentriacontylic acidHentriacontanoic acidCH3(CH2)29COOHC31:0
Lacceroic acidDotriacontanoic acidCH3(CH2)30COOHC32:0
Psyllic acidTritriacontanoic acidCH3(CH2)31COOHC33:0
Geddic acidTetratriacontanoic acidCH3(CH2)32COOHC34:0
Ceroplastic acidPentatriacontanoic acidCH3(CH2)33COOHC35:0
Hexatriacontylic acidHexatriacontanoic acidCH3(CH2)34COOHC36:0
Heptatriacontanoic acidHeptatriacontanoic acidCH3(CH2)35COOHC37:0
Octatriacontanoic acidOctatriacontanoic acidCH3(CH2)36COOHC38:0
Nonatriacontanoic acidNonatriacontanoic acidCH3(CH2)37COOHC39:0
Tetracontanoic acidTetracontanoic acidCH3(CH2)38COOHC40:0

Helpful Resources

Wikipedia on Fatty Acid: Types (length, saturated, unsaturated), examples, nomenclature, etc.

Wikipedia on Essential Fatty Acids. Example of the content: “When the two EFAs were discovered in 1923, they were designated “vitamin F”, but in 1929, research on rats showed that the two EFAs are better classified as fats rather than vitamins.”

List of saturated fatty acids

List of unsaturated fatty acids

List of polyunsaturated fatty acids

Oils of Nature: Fantastic pdf book and available for free on oils, fats, waxes and butters, triglycerides, wax esters, drying oils, INCI nomenclature, classification, carbon number, oil preparation and processing, fractionating and surfactants. A must for anyone interested in carrier oils composition. 

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