Carrier oils are used in aromatherapy, a complementary therapy where various essential oils are applied to the body to aid both physical and emotional health and well-being. Carrier oils dilute the concentrated essential oils so they can be applied to the skin without side effects.
In this article, we examine what carrier oils are, and how people can use them alongside essential oils.
Essential oils are distilled from the aromatic leaves, bark, and roots of plants. If applied to the skin directly, they can cause reactions, such as severe irritation, redness or burning.
Carrier oils are used to dilute the essential oils and help “carry” them into the skin. Aloe vera gels and unscented body lotion are also sometimes used as carriers.
Carrier oils are vegetable oils, such as coconut oil or avocado oil, that have been derived from the seeds, kernels, or nuts of a plant.
To be used in aromatherapy, it is recommended that the oil is obtained through cold pressing. In this process, the oil is extracted by crushing the plants. Users claim that the fragile nutrients in the oil can be damaged if they are extracted with heat.
While some are odorless, most carrier oils have a faint smell that is sweet and nutty. Unlike essential oils, they do not evaporate.
Different carrier oils have different properties and use. The carrier oil chosen for aromatherapy treatment will depend on the desired outcome.
Coconut oil (Cocus nucifera)
People in the tropics have been using coconut oil as a moisturizer for centuries. Recently, the oil has also been shown to have antimicrobial properties. This is largely due to its high lauric acid content, which is the main fatty acid in coconut oil.
The oil smells of coconut and can be used either as a carrier oil or on its own. It can be applied to the skin, hair, and lips, and helps to protect the skin by leaving a thin layer behind.
Coconut oil is solid and creamy at room temperature.
Black cumin seed oil (Nigella sativa)
Black cumin seed oil is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal, and is thought to be helpful in promoting the healing of wounds and burns.
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.
Jojoba oil (Simmondsia chinensis)
Jojoba oil, which is really a wax, is commonly used in massage. Due to its natural anti-inflammatory properties, it might help in the treatment of mild acne.
In aromatherapy, it absorbs well and could be a good choice for those with oily or acne-prone skin.
Jojoba oil is yellow and has a distinct but pleasant smell.
Evening primrose oil (Oenothera biennis)
It is usually expensive, and aromatherapists tend to blend it with other carrier oils. It has a high essential fatty acid content, meaning that it deteriorates and goes rancid quite quickly.
Rose hip oil (Rosa mosqueta)
Rose hip oil is rich in essential fatty acids, including alpha-linolenic acid. It has been shown to have antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects and is used to treat various skin conditions.
Rose hip oil is a natural source of vitamin C and vitamin E.
Grapeseed oil (Vitus vinifera)
Grapeseed oil is considered to be an all-purpose oil that is commonly used in aromatherapy, from massage to skin care. It has a light aroma that is slightly sweet and nutty, and it is virtually clear in color. It leaves a glossy film on the skin.
This oil is made from the pressings of the seeds from particular grape varieties.
Massage and body oils are made by combing essential oils with one or more carrier oils.
When making up massage oil, the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy recommends the following dilution ratios:
For infants and young children
- 0.5 to 1 percent dilution = 3 to 6 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier
- 2.5 percent dilution = 15 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier
This dilution is recommended for most healthy adults during aromatherapy.
- 3 percent dilution = 20 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier
This dilution is usually used to treat temporary health concerns, such as muscle pain or injury.
- 5 percent dilution = 30 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier
- 10 percent dilution = 60 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier
These dilutions are less common. Anyone who notices any irritation or sensitivity when using these dilutions is advised to stop applying the mixture.
Aromatherapy involves using concentrated essential oils that have been extracted from herbs, flowers, and other plants to treat various health issues.
The term dates back to 1937 when the French perfumer and chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse first coined it.
In 1928, Gattefosse had badly burned his hand while working in his laboratory. In desperation, he plunged the injury into the nearest vat of lavender oil and was surprised to discover how quickly the pain eased. The skin healed quickly and left no scarring.
The incident sparked his interest in the area, and he went on to study the therapeutic benefits of essential oils.
Today, the term aromatherapy is widely accepted to refer to using essential oils to bring about holistic therapeutic or medicinal benefits. Aromatherapy is often used alongside medical treatments to help relieve symptoms of various conditions.
Aromatherapy oils are used to ease many different ailments, including:
- stress and anxiety
- headaches and migraines
- muscle and joint aches and pain
- muscle spasms
- relaxation of the nervous system
- sprains, strains, and repetitive movement injuries
Carrier oils make it possible for people to enjoy the benefits of applying essential oils to their skin without suffering irritation.
Many carrier oils have their own therapeutic properties, meaning that there are countless combinations of health benefits when they are used.