When you start aromatherapy, we authorities are like sledgehammers battering home the idea of diluting your essential oils into carrier oils. So, you could be forgiven for thinking they were only there for safety.
Carrier oils have their properties and benefits and add texture and structure to your formulations. If you make creams, lotions or soaps, carrier oils can differentiate between good and truly sumptuous. They transform the skin's structure and bring beauty back to the complexion. But with an overwhelming number available, how do you choose the best carrier oils for essential oils projects?
Essential Oil VS Carrier Oil
The main difference you'll find when trying to discern a carrier or essential oil is its thickness. Carrier oils are mainly pressed from seeds and nuts, making them thick, buttery, and luxurious. Of course, you'll be familiar with olive oil, which can be a great carrier oil. This is the sort of texture you can expect.
Essential oils are much thinner, although myrrh and vetiver are thick and come out of the bottle slowly. Look at the size of the bottle you have in your hand. Because essential oils are so concentrated, they come in tiny bottles, and carrier oils tend to be much more significant.
This should give you a clue as to the real difference. Essential oils are very, very strong, whereas carriers are not. They add structure to your blend and properties, but they are gentle enough to be used as they are.
As such then, we use carrier oils to dilute essential oils.
How Do They Differ?
Essential oils and carriers have entirely different functions, and while we say they are for diluting, that sells them short. They have many more benefits besides. So let's think about that next.
Contrary to what you might read, plants have no essential oils. These develop when they are distilled. When they are in the leaves and petals, they have secondary metabolites. The plants make these to help their life be a bit better, to protect them from being eaten by insects, to attract others to pollinate, and to stop other plants from taking over the area where they want to grow. The essential oil happens when they are put into the still and heat is introduced by steam.
Distillation is an imperfect process. It can only carry across oily molecules, and they have to be very small. This is because so many things in a plant won't appear in essential oils, like vitamins, for example, since vitamins are water-soluble.
Most carriers are cold pressed, so a completely different, not so concentrated, set of ingredients appear. Most notably, carrier oils are a great way of introducing vitamins into the skin.
Also Read: Best Carrier Oils For Face
Should You Use Essential Oils "Neat"?
It's not a good plan. In truth, a little bit of lavender or tea tree neat on the skin won't hurt everyone, but if you put something more substantial like cinnamon or cassia, it certainly would.
More importantly, the skin gets very irritated over time and can become sensitized to essential oils. When that happens, you'll see breakouts of contact dermatitis from using even the smallest amount.
For this reason, we say always dilute your essential oils. It doesn't just give immediate protection but gives you the best chance of continuing to use these magical treatments in the future.
Carrier Oils in Aromatherapy: How Do They Work?
One of the best ways to understand how useful carrier oils can be is to think of your skin as a wall. Skin cells are the bricks, and the mortar that holds them together is called lipids. Lipids are a posh way of saying fats. What would happen if these lipids crumbled? The wall would crumble too! And essentially, this is what happens when we have dry, flaky skin. Lipids (vegetable fats or carrier oils) on the skin help to fortify the mortar and keep it smooth and healthy.
Also Read: Best Carrier Oils for Eczema
Refined Carrier Oils VS Organic Carrier Oils
Practically, there aren't many differences, except one is better for the environment and will not have heavy metals and pesticides used, which can leave residues.
Of course, the importance is the impact on the bees.
The purer you want your treatments to be, the more you will have to pay for organic. From a clinical standpoint, however, the plant is likely to have the same properties regardless of how it was farmed.
Can Carrier Oils Improve the Performance of Essential Oils?
Yes, they definitely can, but it's more about understanding the properties and knowledge of each particular plant than saying your oils will work better if you use a carrier.
The oils will be safer if you use a carrier, but if you choose a suitable carrier with properties aligned with what you are trying to achieve with your blend, then yes, they will improve the performance of the essential oils.
A great example would be skincare. Vitamins A and C are recognized as skin-lightening and brightening agents. Some essential oils can help, like sandalwood and palmarosa, but we could build on that by using argan oil rich in vitamin A or rosehip and sea buckthorn carrier oils high in vitamin C.
You must consider your ingredients like a football team when designing an essential blend. You need to have lots of different jobs covered. If you only have quarterbacks, you're going to be doomed. In the same way, we could say that carrier oils look after the jobs on top of the skin surface while the essential oils get to work underneath. One is certainly not more important than another. However, the end project is more significant than the sum of its parts. This is why we call it synergy.
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Carrier Oils With Essential Oils: How to Use Them
We say, "Aromatherapy is both a science and an art."
Look at the science first. Then, please find a selection of oils that might be able to do the job you would like them to do. Maybe you want to create an antibiotic blend, for example. There will be about ten oils that you can think of that could do that job.
Now we'll want to think about ways they might fit together.
We'll usually want to use a mix of three oils. Any more tend to cancel each other out.
An excellent resource for this is Dropsmart which will help you see which oils are more potent for certain conditions than others.
We mentioned earlier that myrrh and vetiver are thick oils. This is because they are composed of massive molecules. These molecules are heavy and take longer to evaporate. As a result, they have strong smells that tend to linger. We call these base notes.
Herbs and flowers tend to be a little lighter. We call these middle or heart notes; the top notes have tiny molecules that diffuse quickly and disappear. These tend to be uplifting citrus notes.
It's not an exact science, but it's a good rule of thumb. If you pour out some drops and you can't quite catch them all, they are top notes with tiny molecules.
We will want approximately three times as many drops of a top note than a bottom note because the bottom notes last longer.
Now get artistic - which three smell most excellent in what dilutions?
It's good to put a drop of each oil on tissues and then hold different combinations of tissues together to see how they work next to each other.
Now Back to Science Again….
Measure your carrier oil out first, then add oils.
The best practice is to weigh your oils, but this is not so relevant when working with small quantities.
Gently rock the blend around so the essential oils can meld with the carrier while focusing your thoughts on what you want the oil to do. Do a little prayer to bless it if you like; imagine the golden light of the sun pouring in. This is called charging the oil. Time and time again, we see that oils prepared thoughtfully heal better than those simply flung together.
Also Read: Best Carrier Oils for Lips
Carrier Oil To Essential Oil Ratio For Skin
Check the maximum dilution of each essential oil that will be safe on the skin. Most will be 3%. In Layman's terms, that means three drops of essential oil to a teaspoon of carrier oil. By this, we suggest three drops of each essential oil, so if there were three essential oils in your blend, you could have up to 9 drops of essential oil.
Some are lower than 3% dilution, like Melissa, for example. But, unfortunately, that is 0.4% because it can be spiteful to the skin. If in doubt, why not download your free copy of The Complete Guide to Clinical Aromatherapy and The Essential Oils of The Physical Body by The Secret Healer, Elizabeth Ashley? You'll find everything you need to know about the properties of 100 different essential oils, along with their correct safety dilutions. There are some carrier oil notes in there too.
Incidentally, you can also find the safety of each of our oils listed on our product listings. Just below the picture, you will see a tab that says "Documents" then, at the bottom of the list, there are safety details for each oil.
Also Read: Best Carrier Oils for Wound Healing
The Ultimate Carrier Oils for Essential Oil Blending
We have added shelf lives of each other oils but note these are after the bottle has been opened. So if you have unopened bottles that are not subject to the rigors of oxygen, you may have a little more time available.
1. Jojoba Oil
In appearance, it has a light golden tinge and a slightly sweet fragrance. Despite its name, jojoba is not an oil, it is a floral wax, and it acts differently from the way other carrier oils do. Other thick oils can clog the pores and cause spots if you're not careful. However, jojoba is much better, especially for people with already naturally greasy and oily skin. It would be most aromatherapists' choice for acne treatments, I think. It is undoubtedly the best carrier oil for lavender essential oil if you are going to use that for a teenage boy's skin.
It first appeared in the traditional medicines of the Pueblo tribe, native to Mexico and the South Western parts of the USA. Price describes how they crushed the seeds to extract the oil, then used the warm oil to soothe aches, pains, and skin abrasions. Jojoba is rich in an anti-inflammatory constituent, myristic acid, which contributes to this anti-arthritic effect.
Jojoba oil is widely used in cosmetic formulas such as sunscreens and moisturizers. The high content of wax esters makes jojoba oil a suitable repair option for skin conditions where the skin barriers are affected. These might include seborrheic dermatitis, eczematous dermatitis, psoriasis, and acne (Meier, 2012) (Lin, 2018). Proved in 1985, it was demonstrated that jojoba could permeate the skin when imaging showed jojoba pooled at the base of hair follicles. Jojoba oil has a proven anti-inflammatory effect, with potential uses in various skin conditions, including skin infections, aging, and wound healing. (Lin, 2018) (Ranzato, 2011) (Pazyar, 2013). Jojoba is excellent for moisture control on the skin.
Jojoba oil is pressed from a seed, not a nut so it would be safe for consumers with nut allergies.
Shelf life: Jojoba oil exhibits high oxidative stability and resistance to degradation. (Lin, 2018) It has good thermal stability, does not become rancid, and can be kept for 25 years without a problem. When refrigerated, the wax becomes solid but softens to oil when warmed. Despite this solidification, jojoba does mix well with other carrier oils.
2. Sweet Almond Oil
Almond oil is both luxury and pampering in a blend. It is emollient, nourishing, and smoothing dry skin. (Leung and Foster, 1996)
Almond oil may reduce stretch marks, itching, and visibility (Hajhasimi, 2017). In addition, Almond oil soothes inflammation (Steir 1990) and itching and softens dry, scaly skin. It's a great carrier oil to add to eczema, psoriasis, or dandruff formulations.
Choose almond oil for inflamed and angry skins such as that which has been sunburnt. Indeed, it not only ill it soothes the soreness but may also prevent peeling. (Iberg 2004)
Almond oil is an excellent choice for a chapped baby's nappy rash, especially if combined with calendula or German Chamomile. Likewise, it is a gentle and soothing choice for evening massage to loosen the cradle cap. But, again, exercise caution on babies concerned about nut allergies.
This golden oil is probably too thick to be used alone. So instead, blend it in about a 5% dilution with other cheaper and thinner carrier oils.
Shelf life: Relatively short shelf life of 6 months to a year.
3. Olive Oil
Olive oil has quite a strong fragrance and is very heavy. As such, it's not usually used in a massage or blend of essential oils. That said, the best carrier oil to dilute essential oils in an emergency is the one you have closest to hand. Olive oil can be excellent in those kinds of situations.
From a blending point of view, it works better with essential oils that have more clinical, herbaceous fragrances than pretty flowers.
Those oils work well with olive oil's natural capabilities.
It's an excellent choice for burns (do not put it on for a few hours, though. Get the burn cool in hot water first), insect bites, strains, and sprains.
It has a mildly astringent action for skin care and can be lovely added into masques and facial massage treatments. In addition, it is rich in oleic acid, which you'll sometimes see written as omega 9. Our body makes this naturally (in the form of sebum, oddly), penetrating quickly and deeply into the skin's surface, replenishing lost moisture.
Given the fragrance and weight issue, it is good practice to use olive oil as about 20% of the finished product is added to another base product.
Shelf life: About 18-24 months after bottling.
4. Apricot Kernel Oil
Lovely for more mature skin, apricot is emollient, nurturing, and hydrating for dry skin.
Superb for soothing itching and soreness from skin conditions.
Shelf life: 1-5 years.
5. Avocado Oil
Unlike many oils, this one is not extracted from the seed or nut. Instead, misshapen and damaged avocados are dried, and the oil is pressed from the pulp of this fruit that would otherwise be unable to be sold.
This will be one of the best choices if you have dehydrated skin, as it can penetrate the skin better than other oils.
It is very nurturing and warm and is often used in massage oils and muscle rubs.
Avocado oil is perfect for inflamed and dry skin conditions thanks to its richness in lecithin, an agent known for its emollient properties, which protect the skin's barrier.
Shelf life: 1-2 years.
6. Grapeseed Oil
Lovely adaptable grapeseed oil. It makes a beautiful, cost-effective base to add other oils. This is probably the best carrier oil for aromatherapy. Thin and odorless, most massage therapists use this as their oil of preference because its generous slippage means they don't need to work anywhere near as hard! It is the best carrier oil for roll-on essential oils because it is thin enough not to clog the mechanism.
Wonderful for all types of skins, but especially greasy ones, grapeseed oil, leaves the skin with a silky smooth finish without any greasiness - another benefit if someone is coming for a massage but needs to zoom back to work.
Shelf life: 6-12 months.
7. Rosehip Oil
Gorgeous rosehip oil, with its beautiful rich golden hue, is a must for everyone who wants glorious skin.
Rosehip oil contains substantial numbers of unsaturated fatty acids, including linoleic acid (35.9–54.8%), α-linolenic acid (16.6–26.5%), and oleic acid (14.7–22.1%) (Ilyasoglu, 2021)
Linoleic acid, also known as vitamin F, functions as a crucial building block for the structure of each skin cell. It provides moisture and "plumpness" without weighing down the skin; it protects and fortifies the skin's barrier from free radical activity that can result in wrinkles and signs of aging.
Alpha-linolenic acid helps balance out skin discoloration. In addition, it inhibits melanin production and reduces hyperpigmentation.
We spoke of oleic acid in the olive oil section. This occurs naturally in sebum. As we lose it through aging, our complexion becomes vulnerable to fine lines and wrinkles. As it loses its elasticity, the skin begins to sag. Oleic acid restores this without clogging the pores.
Promising results have been shown for the topical use of Rosehip seed oil inflammatory dermatoses (Shabykin, 1967). Specifically, we use it for dry skin, but any skins enjoy it. It is lovely for flaky and itchy skin like dandruff, cradle cap, eczema, and psoriasis. In addition, it makes a rich and soothing aftershave balm.
Jeanne Rose recommends it for burns, especially with helichrysum essential oil.
Shelf life: 6 months.
8. Castor Oil
This may be one of the oldest Ayurvedic medicines, having been used for aches and pains for around 5000 years.
It is primarily detoxifying, so it is lovely to use in poultices and pads for ulcers or abscesses.
This is not a beauty oil. Instead, it has a strong smell and thick stickiness that is very much a clinical application.
Shelf life: Standard castor oil - 1 year. If it has been cold-pressed, this can sometimes last as long as five years.
9. Argan Oil
Argan oil is a relatively thin, colorless oil with a slightly nutty fragrance. Unlike other oils, the name does not portray where it comes from, but nut allergy sufferers should know that argan oil is taken from the nut inside a tough kernel.
Argan oil is rich in polyunsaturated acids (PUFAs) that are naturally helpful for producing the skin's natural oil barrier. They are critical in maintaining skin hydration and making the complexion plumper and younger. The oily substance our skin makes to protect itself, sebum, naturally contains PUFAs, which need to be present for squalene to synthesize. Again, squalene is responsible for making our skin look healthy and hydrated.
PAFAs also have anti-inflammatory qualities. However, they often get horrible press since they can oxidize quickly. Luckily, in the case of Argan oil, it is also chock full of vast amounts of Vitamin E, a potent antioxidant.
Once you start looking, you'll find argan oil everywhere in skin and hair care products. It is mainly used to manufacture soaps, creams, and shampoos.
It has beautiful anti-aging and restructuring properties and is rich enough to replace night creams. In addition, Argan oil is regenerative and restorative and benefits the skin's firmness and elasticity. It is quite an expensive oil to buy; however, it can be highly economical because you need to use so little. A few drops are enough for a complete facial treatment.
While it can be used alone, argan oil blends wonderfully with other carrier oils to improve their usage and lower costs.
Shelf life: Argan oil's shelf life can be as much as two years, although its quality is affected by extreme heat and sun exposure. After its best, argan oil smells rancid and looks cloudy or discolored.
10. Neem Oil
Need oil is primarily used as an insecticide and antifungal.
Super for nits and headlice as well as warts.
Shelf life: 1-3 years.
11. Arnica Oil
Strictly speaking, there isn't an arnica oil. Any you find will be infusions of the flowers into another oil, usually sunflower. This in no way detracts from what an excellent oil it is.
Fantastic for skin and wound healing but particularly for bruises.
Arnica is lovely for tired and worn-out muscles and makes a fabulous sports rub.
Shelf life: 1-2 years.
12. Black Cumin Seed Oil
Again, a very ancient ingredient, this is taken from the seeds of the Nigella sativa plant, known as Prophetic Medicine in Islam; it is reputed to cure everything apart from death!
It is not a particularly pretty oil - a murky black consistency, so it has few cosmetic uses but excellent effects on acne.
It is rich in a powerful constituent called Thymoquinone. This is being extensively researched for its abilities and has so far been proven to be hepatoprotective (protects the liver), neuroprotective (the brain), antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and hepatoprotective properties. (Khader, 2014)
Traditionally, it has been used to treat many diseases, including asthma, hypertension, diabetes, inflammation, cough, bronchitis, headache, eczema, fever, dizziness, and influenza. (Khader, 2014)
This is probably the best carrier oil for circulation issues, although massage would not be appropriate if you used it for varicose veins. Instead, smooth the oil and let it do the work.
Shelf life: 1-2 years.
13. Fractionated Coconut Oil (FCO)
Lovely, readily available, and tremendously nourishing and soothing to the skin.
Coconut absorbs quickly and gives a beautiful silk finish to the skin.
Shelf life: 1-2 years.
Carrier Oils to Avoid When Blending with Essential Oils
Every blending experiment is an opportunity to learn. One big thing to remember is to exercise caution if you have a nut allergy. Hazelnut oil would be an obvious no-no but recognize too that the word kernel, as in apricot and peach kernel oils, means that it has been extracted from the nut inside the seed.
Another factor is that some carrier oils can have strong fragrances, which also become part of the aromatic art of what scent goes with what.
Also Read: Best Non-Comedogenic Carrier Oils
Mastering the best carrier oils for essential oils is a lifelong learning experience. However, there are some tremendous books out there to help you. Our favorites and great ones are by Len Price, Susan Parker, and Jan Kusmirek.
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