Carrier oils come from the seeds, kernels, and flesh from a wide variety of plants. Since many essential oils are not for application directly on the skin, carrier oils are the vessel that delivers the properties of the essential oils over the surface of the skin. The essential oil is eventually absorbed into the body. When you mix essential oils with carrier oils, you not only get the aromatherapy benefits of the EO’s but also the vitamins and individual properties of the carrier oil used.
Another word for carrier oil is base oil. Unlike essential oils, they actually are oily to the touch because they are comprised of essential fatty acids. When a customer looks confused as to what I mean when I talk about carrier oils, I simply use the term vegetable oil and this bring a look of ah-ha-I-understand to their face. I go on to explain the different types of carrier oils, how their quality differs from a bottle of vegetable oil found in the grocery, although many good carriers are available at the supermarket.
Below is a listing of some of the most common carrier oils used in creating aromatherapy and massage blends. While it may not be a complete list of every carrier oil available, it represents the best-known and most readily available oils. A good ratio for blending essential oils into carrier oil is approximately 10 to 15 drops of essential oil blended in 1 ounce (30 ml) of carrier oil.
Sweet Almond Oil (Prunus dulcis) is a great moisturizer and helps condition the skin. It also helps balance the skin as far as moisture loss and has a positive effect for itchy skin. It is a frequent choice for massage blends because it does not penetrate the skin too quickly and stays on the surface longer than other oils without being greasy. Obtained from the dried kernels of the almond tree, be sure to steer clear if you are allergic to almonds.
Apricot Kernel Oil (Prunus armeniaca) is also a good moisturizer and helps condition the skin. A little greasier than almond oil, it makes a good addition to a massage blend because it spreads so easily. It is particularly helpful for dehydrated, delicate, mature, and sensitive skin, and it helps to sooth inflammation.
Avocado Oil (Persea Americana) is a great moisturizer and often used for creating aromatherapy massage blends. Avocado oil contains vitamins A, D, and E, which makes it healing as well as moisturizing. Try to buy the dark green avocado oil – the darker the better. Lighter avocado oils usually have been bleached. Avocado oil is excellent for people suffering from eczema or psoriasis, and is useful when treating dehydrated, undernourished, sun-damaged skin as it potentially helps with regenerating the skin and softening the tissue.
Canola Oil (Brassica napus L or Brassica campestris L. or Brassica Rapa var.) was formerly known as rapeseed oil and is a good moisturizer but is less saturated than other fats. It is not usually the first choice when creating luxury blends; it is a good carrier oil to use in a pinch since many people already have it in their kitchen cabinets. It has a greasy texture and is slow to absorb.
Cocoa butter (Theobroma cacao) is used to lay down a protective layer that holds the moisture to the skin, so it is an excellent skin softener. It has a natural chocolate scent but it is also available in unscented versions and is frequently recommended for the prevention of stretch marks in pregnant women, as well as a treatment for chapped skin and lips, and as a daily moisturizer to prevent dry, itchy skin. It is also helpful with scars; however, cocoa butter is extremely hard. So, if you are making a salve or balm, it needs to be melted and blended with a softer oil so that it becomes workable.
Coconut Oil Fractionated (Cocos nucifera) has become my new favorite carrier oil. It absorbs into the skin quickly and has an indefinite shelf life. Fractionated coconut oil is processed in a way that removes all the long chain fatty acids, leaving only the healthy medium chain fatty acids. Due to the way it is processed, fractionated coconut oil has a high concentration of Capric acid and Caprylic acid, which gives it an amazing amount of antioxidant and disinfecting properties. Regular coconut oil is solid at room temperature and has a greasy feeling when applied to the skin.
Grapeseed Oil (Vitus vinifera) is a lightweight oil that absorbs into the skin quickly without leaving a heavy greasy feeling. Unlike most other carrier oils, grapeseed is not cold-pressed but solvent extracted, so trace amounts of the solvent could possibly be left behind. While others report that it has a shelf life between six months to a year, I’ve never found this to be true in my own experience. It seemed to only last three to four months before going rancid after opening the bottle. Best if stored in refrigerator to lengthen the shelf life.
Hazelnut Oil (Vitus vinifera) is low in saturated fatty acids, and is reported to help tighten the skin. Especially useful for clients with oily skin, despite the fact that it leaves an oily film on the surface of the skin. It is a good toner and aids in the regeneration of cells and strengthening of capillaries. With astringent properties, hazelnut would make a good base for blends meant to treat acne.
Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis) is an excellent emollient for skin conditions like psoriasis, because it has a chemical composition very close to the skin’s own sebum. It is suitable for all skin types, beneficial for spotty and acne conditions, and good for sensitive and oily skin. Jojoba is actually not oil at all but rather, a liquid wax. When added to other oils at 10% ratio, it helps to prevent other oils from going rancid and lengthens their shelf life.
Kukui Nut Oil (Aleurites moluccans) also known as Candlenut oil, is native to Hawaii and is high in linoleicacid. It is quickly absorbed into the skin and is excellent for skin conditioning after sun exposure, as well as for acne, eczema, and psoriasis. It offers just the right amount of lubrication without leaving a greasy feeling. It has been used to treat burns and wounds as well as a scalp and hair conditioner.
Olive Oil (Olea europaea) is one of the heavier carriers and tends to leave an oily feeling on the skin. Olive oil is known to be good for burns, inflammation, and arthritis. While it isn’t the preferred oil used in aromatherapy, it is often used as part of a blend of carrier oils. Mediterranean women have used it for centuries as a “wrinkle cream” around the edges of the eyes.
Shea butter (Butyrospermum parkii) comes two different ways – in its natural state and refined. Natural shea butter is yellow in color and has a nutty scent to it. Refined shea butter has undergone a cleaning process so it is white and odorless. Which one you decide to use depends totally on personal preference. Shea butter is thought to be an effective treatment for the following conditions: fading scars, eczema, rashes, burns, dry skin, dark spots, skin discolorations, chapped lips, stretch marks, wrinkles, and in soothing the irritation of psoriasis. While it isn’t actually considered a carrier oil, shea butter is still soft enough to use in aromatherapy work.
Sunflower Oil (Helianthus annuus) is a less expensive alternative to olive oil. It contains Vitamin E, so it naturally resists going rancid. It penetrates the skin well and doesn’t leave behind an oily residue. Sunflower oil is reported to be beneficial for the treatment of bruises and other skin diseases. Sunflower oil, like other oils, can retain moisture in the skin.