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What are Carrier Oils?
What are Carrier Oils?
Be sure to also see AromaWeb's Guide to Carrier Oils to view profiles and properties for 24 carrier oils used in aromatherapy and skin/haire care.
of cold pressed vegetable oils ranging in color from clear Fractionated
Coconut Oil to dark Avocado Oil
A carrier oil is a vegetable oil
derived from the fatty portion of a plant, usually from the seeds,
kernels or the nuts.
If applied to the skin undiluted,
essential oils, absolutes, CO2s and other concentrated aromatics
can cause severe irritation or reactions in some individuals. Carrier
oils are used to dilute essential and other oils prior to topical application.
The term carrier oil is derived from their purpose in carrying the essential oil onto the skin.
Each carrier oil offers a different
combination of therapeutic properties and characteristics. The choice
of carrier oil can depend on the therapeutic benefit being sought.
Natural lotions, creams, body oils,
bath oils, lip balms and other moisturizing skin care products are
also made using vegetable (carrier) oils. From a simple essential
oil/carrier oil blend to a more complex natural lotion, your choice
of carrier oil can make a difference in the therapeutic properties,
color, overall aroma and shelf life of your final product.
essential oil, drop by drop, to a tablespoon of carrier oil.
Essential Oils vs. Carrier Oils
Essential oils are distilled from
the leaves, bark, roots and other aromatic portions of a botanical.
Essential oils evaporate and have a concentrated aroma. Carrier
oils, on the other hand, are pressed from the fatty portions (seeds,
nuts, kernels) and do not evaporate or impart their aroma as strongly
as essential oils. Carrier oils can go rancid over time, but essential
oils do not. Instead, essential oils "oxidize" and lose
their therapeutic benefits, but they don't go rancid.
Vegetable Oils/Fixed Oils/Base Oils
The term carrier oil is generally
limited to use within the practice of aromatherapy. In natural skin
care, carrier oils are typically referred to as vegetable oils,
fixed oils or base oils. Not all fixed oils/base oils
are vegetable oils. Emu oil (from the emu bird) and fish (marine)
oils are also classified as fixed/base oils, but these animal-based
oils are generally not used for aromatherapy work.
The Aroma of Carrier Oils
Some carrier oils are odorless, 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. See the Carrier Oils and Rancidity
section of this article for information on rancidity.
Examples of vegetable oils that
are used as a carrier in aromatherapy:
Shopping For Carrier Oils
Trends are changing, but most typical vegetable
oils sold in grocery stores are not cold-pressed. Instead, the oils
are processed using heat. For the most nourishing, freshest carrier
oils, strive to shop with retailers and suppliers that specialize
in the sale of aromatherapy or natural skin care ingredients. Your
local health food/nutrition store may be a source for carrier oils,
but the oils can often be pricier. Watch for dust on the bottles
when buying oils locally. That can indicate the oil has been sitting
around for awhile. Look for oils that are not blends of two or more
oils and that have no additives.
Processing Method: Shop for carrier oils that have been
cold pressed or cold expeller pressed. This indicates
that the oil has been pressed from the fatty portions of the botanical
without the use of added heat. The process can still generate
heat due to the friction of the method, but cold expeller pressed
oils are processed under conditions that keep the heat to a minimum.
Oils that simply say expeller pressed have not been processed
to maintain low heat levels. When oils are processed without cool
conditions, the high temperature degree and duration of the processing
method can harm the fragile nutrients in the oil.
Nutrients: Carrier oils can contain fat soluble vitamins,
minerals and other nutrients. Seabuckthorn Berry Oil, for instance,
has such a high ratio of beta carotene that the oil is orange
and is amongst the most vivid of oils. Oils that naturally contain
tocopherols (Vitamin E) act as anti-oxidants which are both helpful
to the skin and generally help extend the shelf life of the oil.
Essential Fatty Acids: Essential Fatty Acids are fatty
acids that our bodies cannot manufacture and need to get from
our diets. When applied topically, they are very nourishing to
our skin. Carrier oils vary in their ratio and specific EFAs that
they contain. EFAs are a benefit to the skin, but they also can
make an oil more fragile and prone to quicker rancidity. See the
Acids article for more information.
Price: Carrier oils can vary greatly in price based on
several factors: The botanical it's made from, how it was processed,
if it's organic, the quantity that you're purchasing, and the
source that you're purchasing it from.
Organic: Organic carrier oils generally cost more than
conventional oils. When purchasing organic carrier oils, verify
if the oil is certified.
Color: Color doesn't always matter when selecting a carrier
oil for simple blends, but it can matter if you are making more
elaborate recipes where the color of your final product is important
Aroma: The aroma of some carrier oils can compete or conflict
with the aroma of the essential oils in your desired blend.
Viscosity: Viscosity is a measurement of the resistance
of a liquid to movement and flow. For our purposes in comparing
carrier oils, I keep things simple by defining them as having
a "thin," "medium" or "thick" viscosity.
Absorption/Feel: This is a rather subjective evaluation
of how thoroughly and quickly an oil penetrates the skin, and
if it makes the skin feel oily after application.
Shelf Life: Carrier oils vary in how long they last before
oxidizing and becoming rancid. When purchasing carrier oils, estimate
the quantity of oil that you think you'll use within the lifetime
of the oil. See the Carrier Oils and Rancidity section
of this article for information on shelf life and rancidity.
AromaWeb's Business Plaza
provides a helpful categorical
directory of sellers of Carrier Oils and other aromatherapy
Avoid Mineral Oil
Mineral oil and petroleum jelly are byproducts of petroleum
production. They are not of natural, botanical origin and are not used
within the scope of holistic aromatherapy. Mineral oil is used in baby
oils and many commercially available moisturizers because it is an inexpensive
oil to manufacture. It, however, can clog pores, prevent the skin from
breathing naturally, prevent essential oil absorption, prevent toxins
from leaving the body through the natural process of sweating, and I've
read reports that it can be absorbed into the body and block vitamins
from properly being utilized. These same concerns apply to petroleum jelly.
Storing Carrier Oils
For fragile carrier oils or for those that you
will be keeping for a long duration, store them in dark glass bottles
with tight fitting tops, and store them in a cool, dark location.
Amber or cobalt Boston round bottles are ideal.
If you will be using up an oil well before its lifespan,
it really doesn't need to be transferred to dark glass. When you purchase
carrier oils, the supplier may have packaged it in a plastic (PET/HDPE)
bottle. This doesn't mean that the oil is inferior. Often suppliers use
plastic bottles to save packaging and shipping costs and because many
customers use up the oils shortly after purchase. Unlike with essential
oils which should always be stored in glass (essential oils can dissolve
the plastic), carrier oils can be stored in plastic.
Most carrier oils can be stored in the refrigerator,
and this can help prolong the lifespan of fragile oils like Borage
Seed Oil. 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.
Carrier Oils and Rancidity
Essential oils do not go rancid. Carrier oils,
however, do become rancid over time. The level of natural fatty
acids, tocopherols, 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.
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.
Vegetable Butters and Other Ingredients As Carriers
Vegetable butters are not carrier oils,
but the beneficial properties of vegetable butters like Cocoa
Butter and Shea Butter
make them lipids that are suitable for use in aromatherapy.
Vegetable butters are similar to vegetable oils
but are solid at room temperature. Vegetable butters are processed
by a wide variety of methods, so it's especially important to check
the method of extraction when shopping for butters. Strive to use
butters that are cold pressed.
Go to AromaWeb's Guide to Carrier Oils to view profiles and properties for 24 carrier oils used in aromatherapy and skin/haire care.
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