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July 16, 2015

Understanding Carrier Oils

Everywhere you look, responsible essential oil companies and aromatherapists tell you to always use a carrier oil with your essential oils when applying topically. Why? Essential oils are very concentrated and powerful.

They are highly concentrated essences distilled from specific herbs, fruits, resins, trees, and plants. As such, they can be really hard on the skin. So we dilute the essential oil with aromatherapy carrier oils or base oils, which are vegetable, nut, or seed oils, many of which have therapeutic properties of their own. Carrier oils do not lesson the therapeutic benefits of the essential oils, they spread them further and make the essential oil easier on the skin. Does this mean you should never use an essential oil neat (undiluted) on your skin? Not necessarily. There will be some that don’t bother your skin when used neat. However, what one person can use neat, another cannot. It all comes down to body chemistry. For example, many people can use Lavender neat. My teenaged daughter can not. It leaves a red burn mark on her. She has to have it diluted. My brother-in-law can use Cinnamon Bark neat, something I’ve hardly ever seen. Most people can not. So anytime you start with a new essential oil, no matter how long you’ve been using essential oils, always dilute with a carrier oil when you use it topically. Just use that as a rule of thumb.

An important point to remember: if an essential oil used neat is too hot for your skin, never use water to dilute it. The water traps them against the skin and they will burn you even more. Instead, use an aromatherapy carrier oil, which buffers the burning effects while still giving you the therapeutic effects you are seeking.

Carrier oils

Sweet Almond oil: (Prunis dulcis) This is a good, nourishing oil that many massage therapists like to use. It absorbs really well and is great in body care products. Just take note, if you are allergic to nuts, particularly to Almonds, be careful when using. Try it on a small portion of skin first to make sure you don’t have any reactions to it. Buy the Sweet Almond oil, not Bitter.

Aloe Vera Gel: (Aloe barbadensis) This is clear, nearly odorless, and in a gel form. Excellent for skin care. Also good for rashes and open wounds. If you can, just grow your own plant and break open a leaf whenever you need to use it. If you buy it, keep it in the refrigerator and use quickly.

Apricot Kernel: (Prunus armeniaca) Made from the kernel of the apricot pit.  Very similar to Almond oil, but has a lighter consistency. Excellent for facial care. And if you allergic to nuts, especially Almonds, be careful when using.

Avocado: (Persea americana) Excellent skin oil. It’s green in color, best quality is a little thick in consistency.  If it’s been refined, the color is more of a pale yellow.  It has a good shelf life. Is particularly good for dry, weathered and mature skin.

Cocoa Butter: (Theobroma cacao) Of the consistency of butter, works really well in creams and soaps. Is a very good skin softener and works really well when massaged daily into pregnant bellies to help prevent stretch marks.

Coconut: (Cocos nucifera) There are two kinds, Fractionated Coconut Oil (FCO) and Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO).

Glycerin: (Olea europaea) An odorless, colorless, syrupy derivitive of Olive oil. Used as a lubricant and preservative. Very warming to the skin. Is often used in soaps and lotions. Also used in edible love oils.

Grapeseed: (Vitis vinifera) Very light in texture, is also a mild astringent so it’s very useful in skin care. Now, this is one that should not be cold pressed. It has to be extracted through heat and solvents. It is still one of the top oils chosen by massage therapists, along with Sweet Almond and FCO.

Hazelnut: (Corylus avellana) Light and mildly scented, is great for skin care, particularly if you have oily skin. Just take note, if you are allergic to nuts, particularly to Hazelnuts, be careful when using. Try it on a small portion of skin first to make sure you don’t have any reactions to it.

Jojoba: (Simmondsia chinensis) This is another favorite for skin and hair care. It’s actually more of a liquid wax rather than an oil. Doesn’t oxidize or go rancid. This oil is similar to sebum (oily/waxy substance produced by the pores in your skin) so it can clog the pores of  people with oily hair and skin. Is best for dry hair and skin. Often used in creams, cosmetics, and soaps.

Kukui nut: (Aleurites moluccana) Thin, light oil that’s good for the face. Absorbs very rapidly into skin. Is a good one to condition skin after a lot of sun exposure. Is very expensive so you’ll want to use it sparingly. High in LA.

Mango butter: (Mangifera indica) Thick and creamy, works great in soaps and creams.

Olive: (Olea europaea) This is a favorite oil for skin care and it’s one of the easiest to find. Can range between a heavy green to light yellow color. One of the best to use for herbal infusions.

Rose Hip Seed: (Rosa mosqueta) The oil is high in GLA and LA and vitamin C. Excellent oil to use for hair and skin.  Is usually CO2 extracted, rather than cold-pressed.

Sesame Seed: (Sesamum indicum)Has some UV refractive properties so it’s a good one to use to help protect the skin from sun damage. It will not act as a sunblock, only as a sunscreen. The unrefined variety has a fairly strong scent to it, which should be taken into account when mixing with essential oils. This is also the main oil used in Ayurvedic practice.

Shea Butter: (Butyrosperum parkii) Another thick one, the raw variety is much thicker than the refined. Works really well in soaps, balms, and creams. Is particularly good for the feet and for body care. The raw shea butter has a scent to it, refined does not. Both are very good so it’s personal choice which you prefer.

Vitamin E: (Alpha tocopherol) Excellent skin oil, usually in capsule form. Is great for skin and hair care and for use in soaps, balms and creams.

Last of all

What do you think? Did I miss any? Please let me know in the comment section at the bottom of the page.

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I have been a doTerra user for years. However, I need to find a more reasonably priced alternative. I discovered your product through “A Whole New Mom” website. You have a great website….except….. I am unable to find a user guide for the various oils and blends. Do you provide a guide, or better – a book for purchase?

Laurie | January 29, 2016 | Reply

How is argan oil as a carrier?

Luci Allen | November 18, 2016 | Reply

    Hi Lucy, Argan oil is rich in antioxidants and vitamin E and is great for all skin types. It is also useful as a carrier oil.

    Rocky Mountain Oils | December 8, 2016 | Reply

Give us some idea of proportions One drop to one tablespoon???

Dave | December 15, 2016 | Reply

HI! I bought your Feminine-Aid and it works WONDERS!! However, I just use a few drops Neat when needed so I have not used a carrier oil before(I did not realize that I should have diluted it before using it the first time until I read this article just now… Thankfully I had no reaction!) I am interested in using your oils for First aid and in the above article, you said an Aloe plant can be used as a carrier oil… I have an Aloe that I use for burns and facial breakouts but am wondering how I should go about using it as an actual carrier oil. Should I just slather the Aloe on whatever area and then drop the Essential Oil onto it? With the aloe I have I often have to split the leaf/stalk/piece that I break off and then puncture it with a nail or needle and then rub it directly onto the area in order to get anything out, it does not ooze out like a true Gel does… I am slightly confused, help would be wonderful, I would really like to use what I already grow myself for my future Essential Oil use!

Caroline | May 4, 2017 | Reply

    Using a carrier oil is very helpful at protecting against irritation and sensitization. Luckily negative reactions do not happen often but it is good to be cautious.

    It is not always easy using just a small amount of the plant as a carrier oil. You can try to rub some aloe on then apply a drop of essential oil. Although, this method makes it hard to calculate the dilution percentage. It is possible to make a larger amount of aloe vera gel from the actual plant. Many step by step instruction can be found online.

    Rocky Mountain Oils | June 7, 2017 | Reply

I ditto Laurie. I book with all this information from your blog would be so helpful!

Lara | June 18, 2017 | Reply

I am new at using oils on my own. My acupuncturist got me on them! This article has been very helpful! 💖

Artelia Gay | July 1, 2017 | Reply

    Welcome to the world of essential oils. If you ever have questions about essential oil use let us know we would be happy to help!

    Rocky Mountain Oils | July 1, 2017 | Reply