Best Carrier Oils for Essential Oils-Keeping it Simple
Essential oils and carrier oils are terms specific to aromatherapy. They are two very different things. Essential oils are volatile liquids extracted from plant parts such as flowers, leaves, roots, and bark. They are often thin and watery yet very concentrated. They should not be used directly on skin.
Carrier oils are usually more viscous and oily and are extracted from plant parts such as nuts and seeds. Outside of aromatherapy, they are often referred to as nut oils or vegetable oils. Common examples of carrier oils include olive oil, grapeseed oil, and coconut oil.
In aromatherapy, the purpose of carrier oils is to dilute the essential oils to a concentration low enough that they can safely be applied to skin. Essential oils are hydrophobic, so we need to use an oil or an oil based product (e.g. salve, lotion) to disperse them.
Much of the time we are concerned with choosing which essential oils to use for a given purpose, but carrier oils have their own set of properties. Common properties considered when selecting a carrier oil include:
• Skin type of the individual—oils such as Grapeseed or Apricot Kernel are good for oily skin, while Avocado or Coconut oil are better for dry skin
• Absorption of the oil—some oils such as Apricot Kernel or Fractionated Coconut oil are quickly absorbed into the skin, while oils like Avocado are slower to absorb and may leave skin feeling greasy for awhile
• Comedogenic—if you are using carrier oils on the face or other acne prone areas, you will want to choose an oil that is non-comedogenic. The Best Organic Skincare has a nicely organized list of non-comedogenic oils and some of the best include hemp oil, shea butter, and argan oil.
I think you can see that there is no one best carrier oil for every person in every situation. That said, if you don’t want to spend a lot of time figuring out which oils to use and when, or if you want to keep things simple and just have one or two on hand I do have a couple of recommendations.
The best all purpose carrier oils for aromatherapy
Despite the name, jojoba oil is actually a liquid wax. It is used like an oil though so is almost always lumped in with the other carrier oils. Jojoba oil comes from the seeds of the Simmondsia chinensis plant. It has several advantages including
- high in Vitamin E
- very similar to the skin’s sebum
- absorbs relatively quickly without feeling greasy
- has a long shelf life—does not oxidize or go rancid very easily
- good for all skin types
Sweet Almond Oil
This is a popular oil for diy body recipes and soapmaking. It can be easily found at soapmaking supply stores. For aromatherapy, its advantages are
- moderately priced
- good source of Vitamin E
- lower absorption rate into skin
- 1 year shelf life in a cool, dry area (refrigeration will extend shelf life)
Fractionated Coconut Oil/Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a solid at room temperature that will melt when it contacts skin. In order to blend essential oils into it, it must first be heated until liquid. Coconut oil is very popular in recent years which makes it easily available. Fractionated Coconut oil (FCO) has been processed to isolate the medium chain triglycerides. This oil is liquid at room temperature and has a very long shelf life. I prefer Fractionated Coconut oil for aromatherapy for these two reasons.
- Long shelf life
- easily absorbed and non-greasy
- moderately priced
- no or little aroma on its own
- good for most skin types and non-irritating
- not a whole oil (not in its natural state)
- mildly comedogenic
These are my top 3 go-to carrier oils for aromatherapy blends. I usually end up using 1-2 of these oils for massage or rollerballs. I might add a few drops of one of the more precious carrier oils (like camellia or rosehip) when I am formulating for skin care.
Remember though, the primary purpose of the carrier oil is to transfer essential oils to your skin. It doesn’t need to be complicated. If you are needing to carry essential oils for therapeutic purposes such as relaxation, headaches, GI complaints, etc. you can’t go wrong with any of the above oils (provided you are not sensitive to them).
If you are creating an aromatherapy blend for skin care purposes such as acne, cellulite, eczema, or mature skin then I would consider more carefully the blend of carrier oils that I use. You don’t want to use a highly comedogenic carrier oil with an acne blend, for example, and you will want to choose one that is suited for your skin type (dry, oily, etc.)…but that’s another article for another day!