A carrier oil is a vegetable oil derived from the fatty portion of a plant, usually from the seeds, kernels or the nuts. 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.
Carrier oils and essential oils are made from plants. Carrier oils are used to dilute essential oils and “carry” them to your skin. That’s because essential oils are potent and can cause irritation when applied directly to your skin.
Most carrier oils are unscented or lightly scented and don’t interfere with an essential oil’s therapeutic properties. They may be used alone or with other oils to nourish your skin.
You should only buy therapeutic-grade carrier oils from a manufacturer you trust. Look for oils that are cold-pressed, 100 percent pure, and additive- or preservative-free. If you want to use a cooking oil as a carrier oil, choose cold-pressed, organic varieties.
The following list includes popular carrier oils used to dilute essential oils for aromatherapy, massage, and skin care. The list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start.
Coconut oil is an edible oil made from the meat of mature coconuts. It’s available in refined or unrefined varieties. Unrefined coconut oil comes from fresh coconut meat. It’s not processed with chemicals and retains its coconut aroma and flavor. Refined coconut oil comes from dried coconut meat, also called copra. It’s bleached and deodorized to remove contaminants, as well as the distinct coconut aroma and flavor. Refined coconut isn’t all-natural and isn’t recommended for use as a carrier oil.
Uses: Coconut oil contains skin-nourishing fatty acids and polyphenols, which make it a great carrier oil for massage oils and skin care preparations.
Jojoba oil comes from the seeds of the jojoba plant. It has a delicate, nutty aroma. Technically, jojoba isn’t an oil, but a wax with powerful moisturizing properties. It’s thought to closely mimic sebum, the skin’s natural oil. Using jojoba oil may help reduce the skin’s oil production in acne-prone people by making the skin think it’s produced enough oil.
Uses: Jojoba oil absorbs easily in the skin and doesn’t clog pores. This makes it a good carrier oil option for massage oils, facial moisturizers, and bath oils.
Apricot kernel oil
Apricot kernel oil is made from apricot seeds, also known as kernels. It’s an emollient oil high in fatty acids and vitamin E. It absorbs easily into the skin and has a slightly sweet, nutty scent. You can buy edible apricot kernel oil, or apricot kernel oil for cosmetic use only.
Uses: Apricot kernel oil is thought to help soften and calm irritated, itchy skin. Use it as a carrier oil to make massage oils, bath oil, and hair care preparations.
Sweet Almond Oil
Sweet almond oil has a strong, nutty aroma. It’s an edible oil made from the kernels of sweet almonds. The oil is lightweight and absorbs easily, and is a great moisturizer for dry skin.
It’s also used in general aromatherapy, but its strong scent may mask an essential oil’s aroma.
Uses: Sweet almond oil is one of the most popular carrier oils for skin care. It’s great in massage oils, bath oils, and soaps.
Olive oil comes from pressed olives. It’s best known as a healthy, edible oil with a fruity aroma, but it’s also used in aromatherapy as a carrier oil.
Extra-virgin olive oil is the preferred variety for aromatherapy and skin care preparations. Olive oil’s scent may interfere with the scent of some essential oils.
Uses: It’s packed with fatty acids and plant sterols, which make it great for cleansing and moisturizing dry skin. Use olive oil as a carrier oil for massage, facial cleansers, hair care, and homemade soaps.
Argan oil is made from kernels found inside the fruit of argan trees, which are native to Morocco. The oil is edible and is traditionally used to nourish the body inside and out. It has a nutty aroma and is rich in vitamins A and E, and monounsaturated fatty acids.
Uses: Argan oil can help treat dry skin and hair, wrinkles, and skin inflammation. This makes it a terrific carrier oil for general skin care and massage oils.
Rosehips are the seeds of the Rosa rubiginosa bush or the Rosa moschata bush. The flowers of both bushes look different from traditional roses. When these flowers die and drop their petals, the rosehip is left behind. Rosehip oil is pressed from rosehips.
Rosehip oil doesn’t smell like a rose, though. It has a nutty, earthy scent.
Uses: Rosehip oil is high in vitamins A and C. Vitamin A is a natural retinoid that helps fight aging, and both vitamins can help reverse the effects of the sun on your skin. Use it as a carrier oil for dry skin remedies, massage oils, and moisturizers.
Black seed oil
Black seed oil is made from the Nigella sativa plant. Although it’s lesser known than other carrier oils, it’s rich trusted source with unsaturated and saturated fatty acids. It’s also thought to have anti-inflammatory abilities.
Uses: Black seed oil is often used as a folk remedy to soothe skin conditions including eczema, acne. With this in mind, it’s a great choice for facial care, massage oils, and general skin care.
Grape seed oil
Grape seed oil comes from grape seeds. It’s a byproduct of the wine making process. It’s rich in vitamin E, a nutrient thought to heal the skin and reduce wrinkles, although scientific research is inconsistent.
Uses: Grape seed oil is lightweight, easily absorbed by the skin, and has a neutral scent. It’s a good carrier oil to use with essential oils to make body oils and massage oils.
Avocado oil is a heavy, thick, edible oil made from avocado fruit. It has a nutty aroma.
Avocado oil is high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid thought to help dry, damaged skin. Uses: This can be a good carrier oil for dry skin remedies and body creams — unless you’re dealing with acne. Avocado oil may increase sebum production, so if your skin is acne-prone, check with your dermatologist before use.
Sunflower oil is an edible oil extracted from sunflower seeds. It has a neutral odor.
The oil is said to act as a skin barrier against toxins and germs that cause infection, making it a great choice for irritated skin. Uses: It’s thought to help soften skin, moisturize skin, and soothe irritation, so add this carrier oil to your massage oils or use for general skin care.
How to mix carrier oil with essential oils
Whenever possible, purchase organic, cold-pressed carrier oils from a manufacturer you trust. Although most carrier oils don’t cause an allergic reaction, you should always do a patch test prior to using.
To perform a patch test:
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. When diluting essential oils with a carrier oil, it’s important to follow these dilution guidelines.
2.5 percent dilution: 15 drops essential oil per 6 teaspoons carrier oil3 percent dilution: 20 drops essential oil per 6 teaspoons carrier oil5 percent dilution: 30 drops essential oil per 6 teaspoons carrier oil10 percent dilution: 60 drops essential oil per 6 teaspoons carrier oil For children: .5 to 1 percent dilution: 3 to 6 drops essential oil per 6 teaspoons carrier oil
Always store carrier oils in a cool, dark place, preferably in the refrigerator. You should also keep them in a dark glass bottle.
The bottom line
Carrier oils make it possible to use essential oils safely. They also help nourish and moisturize your skin. Not all oils make good carrier oils, though. You should avoid using things like butter, petroleum jelly, and mineral oil.
Whatever oil you choose, avoid using it on your lips, eyes, or other sensitive areas after it’s been mixed with an essential oil. However, you can safely apply carrier oil alone to these areas.