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Carrier Oils – Everything you need to know

Carrier Oils

What are Carrier Oils?

Carrier oils are pure and unrefined vegetable oils that are used to dilute and soften essential oils, as these are too concentrated and could irritate the skin. Except for lavender essential oil, which can be used directly on the epidermis.

Despite also being referred to as vegetable oils, not all carrier oils are derived from vegetables; many are pressed from seeds, nuts or kernels.

Generally, these are used to massage, either individually or as a base for an essential oil. Also, they are mixed with essential oils for skin care, both therapeutically and cosmetically.

Vegetable oils that are used as carriers must be obtained by cold pressing and filtering without the addition of solvents. Likewise, they must be free of synthetic additives, dyes and impurities.

Mineral oils should not be used, since they do not penetrate the skin. In addition, they can  inhibit or weaken the action of essential oils.

The function of carrier oils is to help in the absorption of the essences and their beneficial properties for our organism.

As therapeutic substances, vegetable oils are a good source of oil-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, and E, as well as essential fatty acids, all of which are needed by the skin to maintain its health, tone, and elasticity.

Those oils extracted from seeds, usually contain potassium and magnesium. Sesame seed oil, for example, is also an excellent source of calcium.

The most known carrier oils are:

Avocado oil

It is one of the carrier oils with greater penetration capacity. Ideal for dry and damaged skin. Avocado Oil is extremely nutritious, with  a high content of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, E and those of the B complex.

If you want to maximize the absorption power, add 10% of this oil to the almond oil or grape seed oil. It is good for massaging fatty tissues.

Olive oil
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Popular, easy to find and used in both topical and culinary applications.

Its consistency is thicker and leaves a greasy feeling on the skin. In addition, it has a stronger aroma than other base oils.

It is an excellent source of oleic acid (omega fatty acid) and has a relatively short shelf life.

Coco oil

Apricot kernel oil 

Excellent ally to keep the skin healthy and regenerate external tissues. Its light condition allows its quick absorption, and soften the most damaged epidermis.

Sweet almond oil

Almond oil is the most suitable carrier oil for massage. The best quality is found in eastern countries. Thanks to its softness, it does not produce irritation, even the most sensitive or aged skin.

Lubricates, softens and gives elasticity to the epidermis, avoiding the appearance of wrinkles. In addition, it contains some vitamins of group B.

Caution: It can cause reactions in people allergic to nuts.

Rosehip Oil

Its composition with numerous essential fatty acids (omega 6, omega 3, linoleic acid), antioxidants and vitamins (retinol-vitamin A, vitamin C, E) make it an essential ally in our house.

Hazelnut oil

This oil is highly nutritious and with a great penetrating capacity, so it helps to prevent dehydration of the skin.

Argan Oil

Argan oil has moisturizing and regenerating properties, besides being an excellent anti-inflammatory. It is special to relieve skin symptoms and conditions such as peeling, dryness, burns and small wounds.

Calendula oil

It is extracted from the calendula flowers and usually mixed with another carrier oil such as almond oil. Besides, it contains the essential oils of the plant from which it comes, and helps reduce inflammation and rejuvenate the tissues.

Coconut oil

The lightest version of its kind. With an unique texture, sparingly oily and, because it spreads easily it is considered an ideal vehicle for most essential oils. Its price is higher than that of other carrier oils.

Wheat germ oil

With high vitamin E content and remarkable healing properties. It is included in the mixes for its powerful preservative and antioxidant capacity. 10% of this oil can be added to any mixture.

Additionally, it is beneficial to treat dry and mature skin, as well as those that are affected by couperose or broken capillaries.

It also helps to heal wounds and accelerate the process of tissue regeneration in skins with scars from surgery or scars produced by severe cases of acne, abscesses, etc.

Its consistency is thick and sticky to the touch, so it should be mixed with grape seed oil or almond oil.

Never use this oil in people allergic to wheat.

Evening primrose oil

Extracted from the seed of the evening primrose plant.  This oil is used for skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Also helps rheumatoid arthritis, among many other benefits for health.

With high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids, such a linoleic acid.

One of its best-known virtues is that it slows down blood clotting and regulates cholesterol-type levels.

Usually this oil is included in the preparation of the appropriate mixtures to massage people with allergic problems.

Carrier Oils massage

Sesame oil

It is a light oil and easy to absorb. Sesame oil is ideal for massages, which helps the calcium it contains to penetrate the skin.

Grape seed oil

Its consistency is extremely light, so it is easy to spread on the skin, for this reason it is suitable for massages and as carrier oil for general use. With almost no aroma, so it does not modify the smell of essential oils with which it is mixed.

Suitable to mix with aromatic oils of high note. Its lightness facilitates the penetration of the essences through the skin without leaving oily residues. 

Jojoba oil

It is an odorless oil and its consistency is similar to liquid wax.

In addition, it has great stability and can be kept in good condition for a prolonged period of time.  Suitable for any type of skin, especially for those of mature age.

Jojoba is widely used in shampoos and other products for the treatment of dry hair.  

On the other hand, jojoba oil is the carrier with less fat, so it is a good basis to make perfumes.

What are Carrier Oils for?

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, if we apply essential oils or other concentrated aromatic compounds undiluted on the skin, these can cause irritation or adverse reactions in some people.

Carrier oils are used to dilute the essential oils before their topical application and thus avoid unwanted effects.

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In the field of aromatherapy, carrier oils are used in:

  • Oil based blends for massage.
  • Oil based products for the body or face.
  • In handmade creams or lotions.
  • In concentrated gels (such as aloe vera gel).
  • Salve preparations.
  • Body butters and/or lip balms
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Each carrier oil offers a different combination of characteristics and therapeutic properties. The choice of carrier oil may depend on the therapeutic benefit sought.

Many natural lotions, creams, body oils, bath oils, soaps, lip balms and other products for skin care and hydration are also made with carrier vegetable oils.

From a simple mix of essential oil with carrier oil for a natural lotion, to a more complex one, the choice of carrier oil can make a big difference in the therapeutic properties, color, aroma and shelf life of your final product.

Essential oils vs. Carrier oils

Essential oils are distilled from the leaves, bark, roots and other aromatic parts of a plant.

The essential oils evaporate and have a concentrated aroma. Conversely, carrier oils are pressed from the fat portions of the plant (seeds, nuts, grains) and do not evaporate or expel aroma as strong as essential oils.

Carrier oils may become rancid over time, but essential oils do not.

On the other hand, essential oils “oxidize” and lose their therapeutic benefits, but they do not become rancid.

Vegetable Oils / Fixed Oils / Base Oils

The term carrier oil is generally limited to being used within the practice of aromatherapy.

In natural skin care, carrier oils are typically called vegetable oils, fixed oils or base oils. Not all fixed/base oils are vegetable oils.  For example, emu oil and fish oils are also classified as fixed/base oils, but these oils have animal origin and they are not used in aromatherapy.

The aroma of carrier oils

Some carrier oils have no odor, but in general terms, most have a slightly sweet, nutty aroma. If you find a carrier oil that has a strong, bitter aroma, most likely, it has gone rancid.

Avocado Oil

How to buy carrier oils?

Trends are changing, but the most typical vegetable oils sold in grocery stores are not cold-pressed. Instead, the oils are processed using heat.

To get the freshest and most nutritious carrier oils, always look for retailers and suppliers who specialize in the sale of aromatherapy or for the natural care of the skin. Be careful if you see dust in the bottles when buying oils. This may indicate that the oil has been sitting for a while. Look for carrier oils that are not mixtures of two or more oils and that do not contain additives.

When purchasing your carrier oil, these tips may be useful:

Nutrients: Carrier oils may contain vitamins that are soluble in fats, minerals and other nutrients. The oils that naturally contain tocopherols (vitamin E) act as antioxidants and are useful both for the skin, and to extend the useful life of the oil.

Price: Carrier oils can vary greatly in price depending on several factors: the plant they are made from, how they are processed, if they are organic, the amount you are going to buy, and the seller.

Organic carrier oils: generally cost more than conventional oils. When buying organic carrier oils, verify that the oil is certified.

Color: color does not always matter when selecting a carrier oil for simple mixtures, but it can matter if you are making more elaborate recipes in which the color of your final product is important to you.

Aroma: The aroma of some carrier oils can compete or conflict with the aroma of the essential oils in your desired mixture.

Shelf life: Carrier oils vary in how long they last before they oxidize and turn rancid. When buying carrier oils, estimate the amount of oil you intend to use within the life of the oil.

Avoid Mineral Oils

Mineral Oils – Do Not Use in Massage Blends

Never use Mineral oil or Petroleum. These are not suitable for the human body or any blend you create. Mineral oil comes from crude oil and is toxic to the system.

Mineral oil can leach Vitamins A, D, E, K, & F from your body when absorbed and metabolized.

In addition, these can cause skin reactions, clogged pores and increase the chance of a rash developing.

Many natural products today use petrolatum in their lotions and skin care line, even though, you can find this name brand in Health food stores.

The use of mineral oil or petrolatum is a cheap inexpensive alternative to a healthier carrier oil. Unfortunately, Mineral oils is the main ingredient in baby oil and lotions.

Here are some of the toxic effects when applying Mineral oils:

Birth defects in children and testicular cancer in newborns. Internal consumptions causes brain embolism and loss of vision just to name a few.

With repeated contact to the skin, the American Conference of Hygienists reports that it causes cancer. It is classified as carcinogenic and tumorogenic.  

An interesting research published on NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), “Mineral Oils, Untreated or Mildly Treated”,   explains in depth about mineral oils and carcinogenic risks to humans.

Also, the American Society of Pharmacists reports mineral oil coats the mucus of the small intestines and reduces absorption of vitamins.

It is know as the common name Mineral Oil, Petrolatum, petroleum, propylene glycol with each being refined down from crude oil. These same indications apply to Vaseline.

Please read your labels and never use Mineral oil in you products to save money, in the long run you save nothing. Your health and the health of loved ones is the single most important factor for you consider.

Carrier Oils

How are carrier oils stored?

For fragile carrier oils or for those that you want to give a long duration, store them in dark glass bottles with tight-fitting lids in a cool, dark place.

If you are going to use all the oil before the end of its useful life, you do not need to transfer it to a dark glass bottle. When you buy carrier oils, the supplier may have packed them in a plastic bottle. This does not mean that the oil has inferior quality.

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 Often, suppliers use plastic bottles to save packaging and transportation costs and because many customers use the oils right after the purchase.

Unlike essential oils that should always be stored in glass (because essential oils can dissolve the plastic), the carrier oils can be stored in plastic.

Most carrier oils can be stored in the refrigerator, and this can help extend the shelf life of fragile oils such as borage seed oil.

Avocado oil, however, should not be stored in the refrigerator. Oils that have been stored in the refrigerator may solidify or become cloudy and will require a time to return to room temperature before being used.

Carrier oils and rancidity

Essential oils do not get rancid. Carrier oils, however, do so over time.

The level of natural fatty acids, tocopherols, extraction method and other characteristics of an oil can affect its duration.

If you find a carrier oil that has a strong, bitter aroma, it may be rancid. If possible, compare the aroma of the oil you suspect is stale with the same oil you know is fresh.

Carrier oils you buy should be natural and unadulterated. Exceptions include carrier oils that have added natural vitamin E. Vitamin E is often labeled as tocopherols and acts as a natural preservative.

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Vegetable butters and other ingredients as carriers

Vegetable butters are not carrier oils, but their beneficial properties, such as that of cocoa butter, as well as shea butter, convert them into lipids that are suitable for use in aromatherapy.

These are similar to vegetable oils, but are solid at room temperature. On the other hand, they are processed by a wide variety of methods, so it is especially important to check the extraction method when buying these butters. Preferably, look for butters that are cold pressed.

Cocoa Butter

It is solid and difficult to use at room temperature.  It is best, when melted and mixed with other carrier oils.  It has a sweet chocolate scent.

Shea butter

Solid at room temperature. It has a nut-like aroma and a creamy color. Additionally, it is an excellent moisturizer for skin and hair.

Absorption Ratings of Carrier Oils

As these common carrier oils are used in cosmetics, bath and body products, can be useful to know how these ingredients rate for absorption, especially if you are planning to include them in homemade products.

If you are not a crafter, it is still a good way to educate yourself about the ingredients found in the products you buy and use. This is by no means a comprehensive list but some that we were most interested in here.

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Finally, The information source for these ratings are noted from www.newdirectionsaromatics.com which we have applied to the following scale:

1. Very Fast Absorption Rate

Considered a “drying oil” – quickly absorbed by the skin and does not leave an oily feel.

2. Fast Absorption Rate

Feels light and absorbs into the skin readily. Leaves a silky, smooth finish.

3. Average Absorption Rate

Leaves a satiny finish on the skin.

4. Slow Absorption Rate

May feel sticky or waxy before warming at body temperature. Leaves a slight oily residue on the skin.

5. Very Slow Absorption Rate

May need to be heated for application. Feels heavy and leaves an oily, protective barrier on the skin.

CP= Cold Pressed
SE= Solvent Extraction
CO2= CO2 Extraction

  • Almond (Sweet Virgin, CP) – 4
  • Apricot Kernel (CP)- 2
  • Avocado (Refined, CP) – 4
  • Borage (Unrefined, CP) – 5
  • Camellia Seed (CP) – 2
  • Carrot (Mascerated, CP) – 4
  • Coconut (Refined, CP) – 5
  • Cotton Seed (CP) – 4
  • Evening Primrose (CP) – 5
  • Flax Seed (CP) – 4
  • Grapeseed (SE) – 2
  • Hazelnut (CP) – 1
  • Hemp Seed (Unrefined, CP) – 3
  • Jojoba (CP) – 3
  • Kukuinut (CP) – 4
  • Macadamia (CP) – 5
  • Meadowfoam (SE) – 2
  • Neem (CP) – 5
  • Olive (Extra Virgin, CP) – 4
  • Palm (Refined, CP) – 5
  • Passionfruit (CP) – 2
  • Pomegranate (Refined, CP) – 4
  • Rose Hip (Extra Virigin, CP) – 1
  • Sea Buckthorn (CO2) – 4
  • Sunflower (CP) – 4
  • Tamanu (tahitian, CP) – 4

Carrier oils and clogged pores

Finally, and very important. Carrier oils, as well as butters and in general the ingredients of the products we use on our face, have a comedogenic level. This means that they may or not clogged our pores.

To avoid using an oil that is not suitable for our skin type, we invite you to visit our post “Comedogenic rating of carrier oils and butter“.

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Comedogenic Rating of Carrier Oils and Butters


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