Essential oils collection - Making your choice of carrier oil a bit less confusing: A handy list of carrier oils [oils101]
Although the use of essential oils are fairly straightforward, it can become a bit tricky and confusing when you start discussing carrier oils. There are so many, and all of them have their own benefits, uses, and info. Not only that, but some work better with certain oils compared to others, and of course some are easier or nicer to work with than others. When making natural DIY products, the choice of carrier oil can emphasise or interfere with the therapeutic properties of your essential oils, while also influencing the colour, aroma, and shelf life of your final product. I would wish to tell you that this guide is going to clear everything up for you, but it most probably won’t. There are too many factors to consider, and we are all different so we react differently. But I am going to try making it a bit less confusing! And at least when you do get overwhelmed you can refer back to this guide to help steer you in the right direction. Also see the list of essential oils on the blog.
What is the difference between an essential oil and a carrier oil?
Essential oils are highly concentrated distillations made from the plant matter of certain botanicals. The oils can be distilled or pressed from the leaves, roots, bark or even seeds of the specific plant, and can be acquired through steam distillation, cold pressing, or cold pressed with the use of solvents. These oils are volatile, meaning they evaporate quickly when exposed to air. Carrier oils, on the other hand, are non-volatile. These oils are pressed from the fatty parts of the plant, usually the seeds, nuts or kernels. Because they are not distilled using steam or solvents, they do not have a strong aroma, and the high-fat content means they can go rancid over time. Essential oils do not go rancid, they oxidise, meaning that over time they lose their therapeutic benefits because of exposure to oxygen. Because essential oils evaporate quickly, you need something to “carry” the oils onto the skin when you want to apply the oils topically for medicinal benefits, and the carrier oils do exactly that.
An oil by any other name
In aromatherapy, we refer to these oils as carrier oils, while in skin care jargon they are called vegetable, fixed or base oils. Please note that not all base or fixed oils are vegetable oils – fish oils are also classified as fixed/base oils, and these types of oils (from animal origin) are generally not used in aromatherapy. For use with essential oils, stick to vegetable oils. There are a few exceptions, as will be discussed below. What makes carrier oils even more interesting is the fact that each different carrier oil has its own therapeutic properties, based on the combination of fatty acids and natural nutrients that they contain. It is these characteristics that determine their application as well as their shelf life. Pairing the right carrier oil with the right essential oil or combination of oils, for the right uses, can be extremely beneficial in getting the full benefits. The oils can also be classified as being dry or wet oils.
What in the world are dry oils?
Some carrier oils are called dry oils because of how quickly they absorb, leaving your skin or hair “dry”, aka non-oily. Dry oils are lightweight and not greasy, making them perfect for scrubs, hair oils, and cleaners. Some examples include:
• Evening primrose
And wet oils?
Obviously, the opposite of dry oils, although this term is not used that often. They are called wet because they take longer to absorb, making them excellent to use as massage oils. A benefit of using wet oils is how they reduce water loss, making them perfect for use on dry skin or hair. Some examples include:
• Sweet almond
• Apricot kernel
For the best results, mix both wet and dry oils, with the ratio depending on whether you have dry/normal/oily/sensitive/mature skin.
So how do I choose which oil to use?
This will depend on the intended use. A few factors to keep in mind:
1. Odour – some carrier oils have distinct aromas, and when essential oils are added the aroma can either change or mask the aroma of the essential oils.
2. Absorption – is the oil wet or dry, and the skin/hair that you want to use the product on dry/normal/oily/etc.?
3. Skin type and sensitivity – some oils may irritate the skin, worsen a pre-existing condition, or cause an allergic reaction. For this reason, a skin patch test is of the utmost importance.
4. Shelf life – some oils can be stored for long, others not. Will the product that you use the oil in be used immediately, or must it be able to handle a longer storage time?
Different carrier oils – some:
Oleic acid – 62%
Linoleic acid – 29%
Palmitic acid – 9%
Extracted from the dried fruit of the almond tree, this oil is high in vitamins A, D and E making it an excellent antioxidant. Great for use on mature or dry skin, it nourishes while keeping in moisture and encouraging the regeneration of skin cells. Its antioxidant properties counter the damaging effects of the sun and help repair any damage to the collagen layer of the skin. It is this property that reduces wrinkles. The oil’s high concentration of oleic and linoleic acids relieve inflammation and soothe irritated skin. With its slight nutty smell, it is a great non-greasy and hypoallergenic oil perfect for use as a massage oil, although it can stain clothes or sheets. It can also safely be used for babies and young children. Keep refrigerated for best storage results.
Warning: if you have a nut allergy steer clear!
Oleic acid – 70%
Linoleic acid – 23%
Palmitic acid – 4%
A gentle and light oil with a slightly nutty smell, this oil is derived from the kernels of apricots. With properties and uses similar to sweet almond oil, the two oils can be used interchangeably – handy for those with a nut allergy. It can also be used as a massage oil to leave the skin soft and supple. Non-greasy, it leaves no oily residue behind making it perfect for use on oily skin. Its high concentration of oleic and linoleic acids makes it anti-inflammatory, and it is also anti-bacterial. Great for sensitive skin, or for use on young children. The oil needs to be refrigerated and may sting when applied to very dry skin.
3. Avocado Oil
Oleic acid – 65%
Linoleic acid – 15%
Palmitic acid – 14%
Palmitoleic acid – 6%
Avocado oil is one of the thickest carrier oils out there. Made from the fruit of the avocado tree, it contains palmitoleic acid which is also found in human fatty skin tissue. Because avocado oil mimics this fatty acid, the skin is able to absorb it easily, providing nourishment especially for older, mature skin that has started to thin. The oil also has high concentrations of oleic and linoleic acids as well as containing other antioxidants such as vitamins A, D and E. These properties makes the oil anti-inflammatory, perfect for use on sensitive skin as well as for conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Because of its thickness, it is recommended to blend avocado oil with other carrier oils such as apricot kernel or olive oil.
4. Moringa oil
Cold pressed from the seeds of the Moringa Oleifera tree (also known as the drumstick, horseradish or miracle tree), the oil has many therapeutic benefits for hair and skin. Containing almost 70% oleic acid, the oil strengthens cell membranes, repair damaged cells and treats skin conditions such as rosacea, psoriasis and eczema. Rich in antioxidants, research suggests that the oil is excellent to counter the effects of ageing. The vitamin A content supports the production of collagen, which rejuvenates dull skin and tightens the skin to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It is fast absorbing and can even encourage wound healing. As a natural hair conditioner, it nourishes the hair and scalp.
5. Castor oil
From the seeds of the castor bean plant, castor oil has been used for centuries as a home remedy with benefits for hair, skin, and gut health. The oil contains ricinoleic acid, a rare unsaturated fatty acid that provides medicinal benefits such as boosting immunity, improving the lymphatic system, improving circulation and supporting the digestive system. Being a natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, it is useful for treating skin infections, topical fungal infections, and acne. The Omega 6 fatty acids found in the oil gives hair a natural glow and accelerate hair growth.
6. Coconut Oil
Lauric acid – 49%
Myristic acid – 16%
Palmitic acid – 9.5%
Decanoic acid – 8%
Caprylic acid – 7%
Oleic acid – 6.5%
One of, if not the, most popular carrier oils. Derived from the fruit of the coconut tree, it is a fruity and super-oily substance. Its properties make it antifungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and rich in antioxidants. Great for nourishing the skin, nails and hair, it has a long shelf life and also improves good cholesterol (HDL). With a very high content of lauric acid (almost 50%), it is wonderful on dry skin and works very well for treating skin conditions or ailments such as eczema, diaper rash, or psoriasis. You can buy coconut oil either as a solid “butter” which is practical for use in homemade lotions and other products or as fractioned oil which is a liquid oil at room temperature. Fractioned coconut oil also has almost no smell, which is very distinctive off coconut oil in general.
7. Flaxseed oil
alpha-Linolenic acid – 55%
Oleic acid – 20%
Linoleic acid – 15%
Palmitic acid – 7%
Also known as linseed oil, flaxseed oil is extracted from the seeds of the flax plant. Amongst the vegetable-based carrier oils, flaxseed oil contains the highest concentration of alpha-linoleic acid, making it one of the best anti-inflammatory oils. It is used extensively for treating inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, and also for inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Linoleic acid – 75%
Gamma-Linolenic acid – 11%
Palmitic acid – 6%
Oleic acid – 6%
This oil is derived from the seeds of a wildflower that is native to North America. It has a high concentration of linoleic and gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), giving it anti-inflammatory properties that make it very effective in treating acne, psoriasis and eczema. The oil can also be used to ease irritation, clear dandruff, and nourish dry skin.
Grapes are highly anti-oxidative and have many other beneficial nutrients, and the same can be said of the oil that is extracted from the seeds of grapes – grapeseed oil. High in proteins, vitamin E, linoleic acid and minerals, grapeseed oil can be used for both cooking and beauty, although only food-grade oil should be used for cooking. The oil is non-greasy, making it ideal for application in lotions, creams, and even sunscreens. It is antiseptic, a mild astringent and capable of moisturising hair without making it oily. It can treat acne, and also combat dandruff.
10. Argan oil
Oleic acid – 43%
Linoleic acid – 37%
Palmitic acid – 12%
Rich, nourishing and healing, argan oil is extracted from the fruit of the Moroccan argan tree (Argania Spinosa). The oil can be used for its anti-aging properties, to promote hair growth, repair skin damage, and reduce the appearance of scars and marks. It is anti-inflammatory, with high levels of antioxidants such as vitamin A and E, and oleic and linoleic fatty acids.
11. Hemp seed Oil
Linoleic acid – 60%
alpha-Linolenic acid – 20%
Oleic acid – 12%
Palmitic acid – 6%
Hemp seed oil is extracted from the Cannabis Sativa plant and contains a list of medicinal benefits. With high concentrations of linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids, it is anti-inflammatory and has antioxidative properties that encourage cell regeneration and prevent premature ageing. The oil is non-greasy, naturally analgesic, and blends wonderfully with the analgesic essential oils such as peppermint, rosemary and lavender.
Eicosenoic acid – 77%
Erucic acid – 12%
Oleic acid – 9%
Jojoba oil is the carrier oil that is closest in mimicking the natural oil secretions of human skin, even if it is not even an oil but rather a wax. This makes the oil highly absorbable. Compromised of 75% eicosenoic acid, a long omega 9 fatty acid that cannot be digested by humans, the oil is a wonderful moisturiser for especially the face and skin. Always test patch before use, as this oil can sometimes clog pores. Extracted from the seeds of the jojoba tree, the oil has a slightly nutty smell. It is naturally anti-fungal and can be used to treat topical fungal infections. The long chain of fatty acids makes this oil resistant to oxidation and rancidity, giving it a very long shelf life.
A dry oil, it is derived from the macadamia nut. It absorbs quickly without leaving an oily residue and is great for skin and hair.
14. Emu oil
Obtained from the fatty deposits under the skin of the emu, a native bird of Australia, the resulting oil is reported to treat inflammatory skin conditions, reduce inflammation, treating joint and muscle pain, be analgesic, promote wound healing, reduce swelling and reduce infection.
15. Olive Oil
Oleic acid – 75%
Linoleic acid – 16%
Palmitic acid – 8%
Wonderful for cooking, cleaning and beauty, olive oil is extracted from the fruit of the olive tree. With 75% oleic acid, the oil does more than just cook or flavour food – it is also beneficial for your cardiovascular system, can lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL), is anti-inflammatory and can even reduce insulin resistance. Because it is a light oil with an aroma that is fruity yet not overpowering, it can be blending with most essential oils, as well as other carrier oils. It is non-greasy so it does not clog pores or leave a residue in hair that can make your hair look dull or greasy. In actual fact, olive oil is wonderful to treat dandruff, tame frizzy hair and moisturise dry skin.
16. Wheat germ oil
Linoleic acid – 55%
Palmitic acid – 16%
Oleic acid – 14%
alpha-Linolenic acid – 7%
Oil derived from the centre of the wheat grain kernel, the germ. This small speck makes up less than 5% of the entire grain’s volume, yet contains more than a quarter of the minerals, vitamins and proteins found in wheat. The resulting oil is high in vitamin E and linoleic acid, making it a potent antioxidant that can repair skin damage as a result of the sun and ageing. Wheat germ oil is very thick and heavy, so it is best to mix it with other carrier oils instead of using it on its own. Because of its high antioxidant levels, by mixing the oil with another carrier oil you are also increasing the shelf life of the other oil(s).
17. Babassu oil
Lauric acid – 50%
Myristic acid – 20%
Palmitic acid – 11%
Oleic acid – 10%
Babassu oil comes from the babassu tree, native to South America and a close cousin to coconut oil. Similar to coconut oil, it contains the same fatty acids giving it similar healing properties. A few key differences being the thickness of the oil (coconut oil is thicker), babassu oil is not as fruity as coconut oil, it absorbs much faster into the skin and its high lauric acid content (50%) means that it has a long shelf life.
18. Rosehip Oil
Linoleic acid – 47%
alpha-Linolenic acid – 29%
Oleic acid – 15%
Extracted from the seeds of the Rosa rubiginosa bush or the Rosa moschata bush, rosehip seed oil contains a high concentration of linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid and is extremely high in vitamins A, C and E. the oil has a slightly nutty, earthy smell. This makes it a highly sought after carrier oil for skin care. In fact, rosehip oil is found in many cosmetics, creams and balms for eczema, stretch marks, anti-ageing and more. The fatty acids and high concentrations of vitamins in rosehip oil help to restore elasticity to the skin and improve collagen production making it a better, safer choice than chemical-filled face creams and even Botox.
19. Sunflower Oil
Sunflower oil is an affordable and versatile oil and is excellent for eczema and psoriasis. High in oleic acid and lecithin, sunflower oil is great for dry skin types but can cause breakouts for people with oily skin.
20. Palm kernel oil
Lauric acid – 48%
Myristic acid – 16%
Oleic acid – 15%
Palmitic acid – 8%
Palm kernel oil, harvested from the fruits of Elaeis guineensis (also known as the African oil palm) should not be confused with palm oil. Though they are derived from the same tree, these two oils are almost polar opposites. Whereas palm oil primarily consists of palmitic and oleic oils, and is liquid at room temperature; palm kernel oil has a higher melting point, similar to coconut and babassu oils. As with coconut and babassu, palm kernel oil is rich with skin-nourishing vitamins and antioxidants which has a wide variety of health benefits. You can use palm kernel as a carrier in oil blends for softening, moisturizing and repairing skin. Or use it for hair and scalp oil blends to promote the growth of thicker, stronger hair; while also adding a healthy shine to your hair.
21. Neem oil
Extracted from the seeds of the neem tree, the oil contains over a hundred biologically active compounds including nimbidin & Nimbin compounds, omega-6 fatty acids and azadirachtin, a compound that acts as a natural powerful insect repellent. Neem oil is an excellent carrier oil for everything from treating hair and skin conditions, to eliminating parasites and serving as an insecticide, to improving oral health and even treating your pets. Neem oil further "stimulates collagen production, [making it] good for ageing skin," and also that the vitamin E content in neem "acts as a free radical scavenger, by hindering the oxidizing processes in the skin. It promotes soft and supple skin, helps in reducing old scars and promotes healing."
Linoleic acid – 58%
Oleic acid – 24%
Palmitic acid – 14%
Black cumin seed oil (also commonly referred to as simply black seed oil) is extracted from the seeds of Nigella sativa, the black caraway plant. Of all of the natural plant oils in the world, black seed oil has the highest ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids – at 56:1. This super-concentration of omega-6 (linoleic) fatty acid has led many researchers to call black cumin seed “the cure for everything but death”. It also has three powerful natural compounds: thymoquinone, thymohydroquinone and thymol making it a powerful antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic and anti-inflammatory. This oil is golden brown and has a mild, earthy, woody smell that can be slightly spicy or peppery. Black cumin seed oil also absorbs into the skin quickly.
Buying and storing carrier oils
When shopping for carrier oils always go for 100% pure, cold-pressed, unprocessed oils that are preferably labelled as 'organic,' 'cold-pressed,' and 'Non-GMO'. Cold-pressed oils are the best as they have not been exposed to or damaged by heat thus retain their therapeutic benefits and are rich in essential fatty acids, proteins, vitamins and minerals. Cheap carrier oils may be treated with heat and could be highly refined and contain added additives which can do more harm than good. Carrier oils that you purchase should be natural and unadulterated. Exceptions include buying carrier oils that have natural Vitamin E added. Vitamin E, often listed as tocopherols acts as a natural preservative. Also, make sure the bottle has the proper name of the species mentioned on the label. Example for Neem: (Azadirachta Indica). If you see the word 'fragrance' it almost always means there are other additives. Since carrier oils have a high-fat content some have a limited shelf life. Store your carrier oils in a cool, dark area to extend shelf life, and decant into dark glass bottles if you will not be using up the oil before its lifespan. Some suppliers package their oils in plastic in order to bring down costs, and unlike essential oils (that can eat through plastic) carrier oils will most likely not be affected. Refrigerated storage is preferable for many, if not most, carrier oils. Avocado Oil, however, should not be stored in the refrigerator. Oils stored in the refrigerator may solidify or turn cloudy and will need time to return to room temperature prior to use.
The aroma of carrier oils
Some carrier oils are odourless, but generally speaking, most have a faintly sweet, nutty aroma. If you come across a carrier oil that has a strong, bitter aroma, the carrier oil may have gone rancid. Essential oils do not go rancid. Carrier oils, however, do become rancid over time. The level of natural fatty acids, tocopherols, the method of extraction and other characteristics of an oil all can affect how quickly an oil becomes rancid. If you come across a carrier oil that has a strong, bitter aroma, the carrier oil may have gone rancid. If you can, compare the aroma of the oil that you suspect is rancid with the same botanical oil that you know is fresh.
Essential oils and carrier oils are natural but powerful. Some people may develop an allergic reaction so it's always best to do a small skin patch test on an inconspicuous and not-so-sensitive part of your body, such as the inside of your wrist or below your ear (never your face or neck) to make sure you don't have an adverse reaction. Always use essential oils diluted for topical application.
1. Add a small amount of carrier oil to the inside of your wrist or just below your ear.
2. Cover the oil with a bandage.
3. Check back on the area after 24 hours.
4. If irritation occurs, rinse thoroughly, and avoid future use.
If you’re allergic to tree nuts, you shouldn’t use oils derived from tree nuts. This includes sweet almond oil, argan oil, and apricot kernel oil.
How to dilute essential oils with a carrier oil
Here are some are rough guidelines for diluting essential oils in a carrier oil. Some people will be more cautious, while some folks will go ahead with a stronger dilution. Do what feels right for you, and if you have questions or concerns, talk with your healthcare provider.
Use a 1-3% solution, higher for acute issues: Dilute 1-2 drops of EO per 1 tsp carrier oil
Use essential oils more sparingly on young children since they don’t need as much wellness support and are more delicate in constitution. Always first find out if an essential oil is safe to use on your kids!
Children: Newborn to 6 months
Use essential oils sparingly and use a .25% solution: dilute 1 drop of essential oil per 1 1/2 TB of carrier oil.
Children: 6 months to 2 years
Use a .25-.5% solution: Dilute 1 drop of EO per 1 TB of carrier oil
Children: 2 years to 6 years
Use a .5% solution: Dilute 1 drop of EO per 2 tsp of carrier oil
Children: 6 years to 12 years
Use a .5%-1% solution: Dilute 1 drop of EO per 1 1/2 tsp of carrier oil
Use a 1% solution: Dilute 1 drop of EO per 1 tsp of carrier oil