What’s a Carrier Oil?
A carrier oil is an oil with a neutral smell that is derived from a vegetable that is not volatile. Carrier oils do go bad because of the compounds they contain and generally have a shelf life of about six months to a year. Each has unique pros and cons. Some people have a favorite carrier oil they use all the time and others use a variety for different purposes.
What’s the primary difference between a carrier oil and an essential oil?
The primary difference comes from where the oil is derived from and what that means for how the oil behaves and its shelf life. Essential oils are taken from the bark, leaves, flowers and roots of plants. They oxidize over time but don’t go rancid. Carrier oils are taken from fatty parts of the plant such as the seeds and nuts, meaning that they don’t evaporate but they do go rancid (unless the fat is removed). There are also carrier oils taken from animals, but they’re generally not used with essential oils for aromatherapy.
Why use a carrier oil?
Essential oils are powerful chemically. Even if you don’t have a reaction to a particular oil, often enough application over a time frame can lead to sensitization, which is an allergy-like response to that oil. Diluting the oils with a carrier oil helps prevent this from happening and makes the essential oil more conducive to sustaining the life on your skin or in other places. Using a carrier oil also doesn’t lower the therapeutic value of the oil, it simply makes it more compatible to life by diluting it somewhat. Also, when you do a patch test of a new essential oil and have a reaction, trying to wash the oil off with water will make it worse. The correct way to respond is to throw a carrier oil on it, wipe off with a towel and repeat until as much of the essential oil has been removed as possible.
What are some good carrier oils to try?
There are a LOT of carrier oils out there. Here are some of the ones I use and a few others I’m often asked about that I don’t use much.
Fractionated Coconut Oil: This is my favorite and the one I use in my roll-ons because the public seems to have the least amount of allergies and, since it’s had the fat taken out of it, it doesn’t really go bad. You will lose the health benefits that coconut oil provides with fractionated coconut oil. Whole coconut oil can also be used to keep the health benefits, but coconut oil does have a shorter shelf life and changes in consistency and solidity with temperature fluctuations.
Hazelnut Oil: This is thin, light and sweet. It penetrates well, is good to cut through the oil on already oily skin to deliver essential oils beneath that, and is a good overall oil. The shelf life is a medium length in the world of carrier oils. It does leave a slight oil film on the skin.
On Mineral Oil
Mineral oil is popular because it’s a cheap by product of the oil industry. However, it clogs pores, prevents the body from sweating and detoxing, prevent essential oils from absorbing properly, and if it is absorbed into the blood stream it can impair the absorption of nutrients internally. Thus, mineral oil is not generally used in holistic aromatherapy because other oils offer more benefits without the risks.
Evening Primrose Oil: This is another favorite in my household, but I don’t use it in my practice because it’s expensive. It spoils quickly as well. However, it’s excellent for women and pretty much every organ. It’s a thin, light, sweet oil that leaves just a hint of oil on the skin. This oil helps balance metabolic function and hormones, but only where it reaches. That is, it might help balance the skin you put it on, but it will only help with whole body problems if taken internally (as always, consult with a health or medical professional before taking anything internally).
Grapeseed Oil: This is thin, light and very moisturizing. It leaves a light gloss over the skin and is very good for massages, but it also has a relatively short shelf life.
Jojoba Oil: This has a slightly nutty scent and medium consistency. It mimics the way oils in the hair and skin work naturally and thus are really good for use on these. It also has a pretty long shelf life.
Olive Oil: You can use the olive oil you find in your kitchen and that’s important to know if you try a new oil and have a reaction. It is thick, has a strong aroma, and a relatively short life in comparison to other carrier oils.
Sweet Almond Oil: This oil absorbs pretty quickly but leaves a light hint of oil. It’s medium consistency and has a sweet nutty smell that’s ever so slight. People with nut allergies sometimes react to this oil.
Rose Hip Oil: This has a mild aroma and a light oil. It is excellent for the skin, but it also goes rancid rather quickly and is relatively expensive. People who use this oil often blend it with other carrier oils to get its benefits while keeping the cost of what they’re making lower.
Cocoa and Shea Butter: These are solid at room temperature and have a scent to them. They’re best used blended with oils for things like creams.
What should you look for in buying a carrier oil?
Processing: The best carrier oils are cold pressed oils. These have been deliberately processed at a lower temperature, meaning their beneficial properties are still intact. This does not apply to a fractionated oil that has the fat taken out (these oils lose most if not all of their health benefits).
Appearance and Texture: Some oils have no color. Ones that do have a color demonstrate the density of nutrient compounds through color. Thus, the brighter and more vibrant the color of the oil, the higher the nutrient content. If organic oils are important to you, you’ll want to make sure a product is certified or inquire as to why it isn’t. Also, the aroma, viscosity (thinness or thickness), and absorption are important things to think of. What you’re looking for to make a roll on will not be the same if you’re looking to make a thick night cream.
Shelf Life: The best way to figure out how much oil to buy is to figure out how long the shelf life of the oil is and then calculate how much of that oil you’ll use in that time. If you don’t know what shelf life an oil has, the shortest carrier oil life span is about 6 months. Your oils will last longer if kept in a room temperature environment away from the light. I actually keep my oils under the kitchen sink in dark glass bottles. This is a cool but not cold place with no light. Also, vitamin E acts as a natural preservative, so adding it or choosing an oil with a high vitamin E content can help the oils last longer.
Best Oils for Specific Situations
Dry Skin: Flaxseed, Carrot, Rosehip seed, Jojoba, Olive, Avocado, Sesame seed
Oily Skin: Grapeseed, Almond, Hazelnut, Neem, Carrot, Evening Primrose, Borage, Apricot
Sensitive Skin: Tamanu, Rosehip Seed, Carrot, Kukui Nut, Apricot
Eczema: Grapeseed, Coconut Oil, Jojoba, Avocado
Aging: Rosehip seed, Argan, Sea Buckthorn
Acne: Tamanu, Evening Primrose Oil, Olive, Jojoba, Neem
Scar Tissue: Rosehip seed, Calophyllum, Sea Buckthorn
Hair Loss: Jojoba, Evening Primrose, Borage