What Is a Carrier Oil?

Olive oil and olives

Just before writing this post, I’d searched Amazon with the keywords “carrier oils”.

Guess how many books were there dedicated to this topic?

A grand total of six

Compare that to the thousands of books that turned up when I searched with the words “essential oils”.

It’s sad. But for some reason, carrier oils in the aromatherapy world don’t get as much attention as essential oils.

Now, I get that essential oils are the star. They’re the princess, the beautiful Cinderella of the story and the one that everyone looks at.

Carrier oils are like Cinderella’s fairy godmother. Not as gorgeous. Keeps pretty much out of the limelight.

But remember, without the fairy godmother’s help, Cinderella wouldn’t have been able to go to the ball.

And without the help of carrier oils, you wouldn’t be able to safely apply essential oils on your skin.

So please, in your quest to learn more about aromatherapy, pay some attention to the poor fairy godmother of carrier oils too.

Okay, mini rant over. Let’s get started.

What is a carrier oil?

Like essential oils, carrier oils (sometimes known as base oils) are also made from plants. Carrier oils are vegetable oils made from the seeds, nuts or kernels of plants.

But unlike essential oils, carrier oils are “real” oils.

Sounds weird? Let me explain.

Carrier oils contain fatty acids. If you put a drop of carrier oil on a piece of tissue, it’ll leave an oil stain on the tissue, in much the same way as your cooking oil will.

But if you put a drop of essential oil on the tissue, it’ll evaporate and eventually completely disappear without leaving a mark. That’s because essential oils don’t contain fatty acids.

(To be strictly accurate, most essential oils won’t leave a mark on the tissue. But a few of the heavier, darker-colored ones may do so – because of the color.)

Why do you need a carrier oil?

As you already know (because I’ve said so for the nth time), essential oils are too potent to be applied on the skin neat.

They have to be diluted so you can use them safely. And you dilute them with carrier oils.

Also, essential oils are volatile and evaporate really easily. This is great if you’re inhaling them, but bad if you want to apply essential oils topically.

After all, when you apply essential oils on your skin, you want them to be absorbed into your skin, not diffuse/ evaporate into the air.

So this is where carrier oils come in again. They help to slow down the evaporation rate of essential oils, which means more essential oils get absorbed into your skin.

What kind of carrier oil should you use?

If the purpose of carrier oils is to safely dilute essential oils and slow down their evaporation, you may think that any oil that does so will do.

But because every carrier oil has its own therapeutic benefits and characteristics, your choice of carrier oil still matters.

No matter which one you choose though, you should use cold pressed carrier oils with no additives.

Similar to essential oils, heat and chemical processing can destroy or change the properties of carrier oils. So cold pressing is the best way to preserve as much of the carrier oil benefits as possible.

Summary

1. Carrier oils are vegetable oils made from the nuts, kernels or seeds of plants.

2. In aromatherapy, carrier oils are used to dilute topically-applied essential oils and slow down the evaporation of essential oils, so that more can be absorbed through the skin.

3. Many carrier oils can do the above. But your choice of carrier oil still matters because every carrier oil has its own benefits and characteristics.

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