A carrier oil is a vegetable oil derived from the fatty portion of a plant, usually from the seeds, kernels or the nuts. Vegetable Oils are also known as carrier oils or base oils
If applied to the skin undiluted, essential oils, absolutes, CO2s and other concentrated aromatics can cause severe irritation, sensitization, redness or burning or other 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 carryingthe essential oil onto the skin. Aloe vera gel and unscented body lotion are also commonly used as “carriers.” For the scope of this article, however, we will be focusing upon the use of natural vegetable oils as carriers.
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 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 are Also Known as Carrier Oils or 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.
Examples of Vegetable Oils that are Commonly Used as Carrier Oils in Aromatherapy:
Almond oil, apricot kernel oil, avocado oil, borage seed oil, camellia seed oil (tea oil), coconut oil, fractionated coconut oil, cranberry seed oil, evening primrose oil, grape seed oil, hazelnut oil, hemp seed oil, jojoba oil, kukui nut oil, macadamia nut oil, meadow foam oil, olive oil, peanut oil, pecan oil, pomegranate seed oil, rosehip oil , Sea-buckthorn berry oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil and watermelon kernel oil.