Essential oils are irritants on the skin. Carrier oils are used in conjunction with essential oils in aromatherapy to dilute essential oils to a safe topical level to protect the skin. Carrier oils are also ingestible and often used in cooking and food preparation.
Carrier oils are non-volatile, the opposite of essential oils. They do not have the safety concerns that essential oils present. A volatile organic compound (VOC) is defined by the EPA as “any compound of carbon,” including essential oils. Although few essential oil constituents have been implemented, long-term exposure to moderate mixtures of terpenes entails possible health risks. (1)
However, carrier oils are non-volatile and we use many in our cooking. Many carriers have remarkable therapeutic properties externally and internally. Not only do they keep our skin safe when using essential oils, they also enhance the therapeutic effect of essential oils on the skin.
Should I buy refined or unrefined carrier oils?
Carrier oils can be purchased refined or unrefined. These classifications define the amount of processing the oil has gone through.
Unrefined oils are the most sought after for carrier oils. There is minimal processing involved, which ensures a higher quality oil that is rich in nutrients. Unrefined gives the true color, flavor, and aroma of the oil.
The downfall to unrefined oils is they are often less stable than refined oils. This means that your oil will go rancid more quickly, shortening the shelf life of the final product you make. The actual shelf life is based on the ingredients in your product. The ingredient with the shortest shelf life, be it an essential oil or carrier, will be the shelf life of the product.
Some oils that are unrefined carry a strong color or smell (ex: avocado, neem) and overpower other ingredients, including essential oils, when blended. Some people don’t care for the strong aroma. Unrefined shea butter has a very distinct aroma that some people like and others do not. It’s unique to the individual, as are essential oils.
Because of the further processing that refined oils go through, there are less active compounds in the oil than in unrefined oils. The further processing removes or damages some therapeutic compounds. On the plus side, refined oils are often less expensive and have a longer shelf life.
When deciding how to purchase your carrier oils, look for cold-pressed, expeller-pressed, unrefined, or virgin oil. These are the least processed oils. However, what you plan to use your oils for will have a bearing on your decision. Unrefined is the best for therapeutically effective facial products and can be used for overall body products.
When using essential oils in my products, I want the aroma of the oils to be dominant. In this case, it is best to use refined carrier oils, as their aromas are less dominant.
Now that you know the basics, let’s review my top picks for carrier oils.
1. Allanblackia Butter
The Allanblackia butter is a genus of flowering plant in the Clusiaceae family. There are five species. It has similar characteristics to shea butter and meets the stringent guidelines set by the cosmetic industry. The heated oil extracted from the seeds is used as a liniment to treat rheumatism, rub into sore joints, or dab on wounds and rashes. (2) The butter can be used alone or in products. Try the following blend with anti-inflammatory and analgesic essential oils known to be effective for joint and muscle pain:
Blend your essential oils. Add the oils to the butter and mix well. Apply to achy joints 3-4 times a day. Store in a closed glass container.
2. Almond (Prunus amygdalus var. dulcis) Oil
Almond oil, known as sweet almond, is cold pressed and subsequently refined then mixed with a soft shea stearine. It assists with protecting the moisture of the dermis. (3) Almond oil contains minerals and vitamins including A, B1, B2, B6 and E. Sweet almond is an emollient and has sclerosant properties. Based on research, it’s shown to ease itching from dry skin, smooth and rejuvenate the skin, and treat both psoriasis and eczema. (4) Almond is especially effective on dry, aging skin.
Try in the following recipe:
Skin Healing Oil
Directions: Blend and apply as needed.
3. Apricot (Prunus armeniaca) Kernel Oil
Apricot kernel oil is cold pressed from the seeds of apricots. This carrier oil is a favorite of massage therapists, due to its fast absorption rate and many therapeutic properties. These properties include gentleness on inflamed, aging, or sensitive skin.
When taken internally, apricot kernel oil can help reduce cholesterol levels and lower hypertension. (5)
Apricot kernel has a suppressive action on 5alpha-Androst-16-en-3-one (androsterone) generated by microbial metabolism. What does this mean? Androsterone was the first human sex pheromone to be identified by researchers. It is found in many mammals; in humans, it is primarily found in sweat and can lead to unpleasant odors, especially in women.
It is an excellent addition to women’s deodorant products. (6) Apricot kernel can also be used alone or in facial blends. Helichrysum and frankincense essential oils are cicatrisants (skin healers) and work perfectly in a facial serum.
Try the following to soothe your skin. Blend and apply on clean, dry skin.
*See “additional resources” below for research on the effects of amygdaline from apricot kernel on transplanted tumors in mice. *
4. Argan (Prunus amygdalus var. dulcis) Oil
Argan oil is cold pressed from the kernels found in the fruit of a tree endemic to the calcareous semi-desert Sous Valley of southwestern Morocco. The oil produced is a beautiful, light golden yellow. This is a wonderful, fast-absorbing carrier oil with many therapeutic benefits. Argan has shown the following curative properties: anti-inflammatory, barrier repair, relieves itchy dry skin, reduce tiny veins, wound healing, and possibly effective on skin cancer. (7) Argan is rich in protein and contains glucosides as well as vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and E.
It has similar qualities to sweet almond in that it is great for all skin types, especially those prone to eczema or with sensitive skin. I’ve used it successfully with bergamot (Citrus bergamia) essential oil in skin irritant formulas. It goes well with cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana) essential oil for itchy, dry scalp.
Aside from topical applications, the benefits of ingesting argan oil are quite remarkable. In a controlled clinical study, ingesting argan oil showed effectiveness against osteoarthritis symptoms of the knee. (8)
*Unrefined carrier oils have a stronger fragrance than refined carrier oils. *
5. Arnica (Arnica montana) Oil
Arnica is an herbal tincture and is often applied externally on unbroken skin to treat sore muscles and joints as well as bruising, sprains, and strains. Try using it in a salve for arthritic conditions. Arnica is a rubefacient, meaning that it does its work by bringing more blood to the injured area, causing a slight irritation. This is a normal reaction and part of the increased healing process. However, arnica has a high adverse reaction, especially with sensitive skin, and is best used as a base oil.
This is my favorite way of using arnica:
Arnica Salve with Plai:
- Prepare an arnica infused oil. This involves covering the arnica with oil and allowing it to infuse. This can take 30 minutes to 6 weeks depending on the method you choose. Once you have your arnica infused oil, place 1 cup of arnica oil into a small saucepan and add 1 oz. of beeswax over low heat until the beeswax is melted. Stir to fully incorporate. Remove from heat and add essential oils. Transfer your salve to a container of your choosing; mason jars work great. Allow salve to cool before covering with a lid.
- Apply arnica salve to the affected area and massage into the skin. Remember arnica should not be used on open skin.
*Don’t have time to make your own? Arnica oil can also be purchased at various essential oil websites. *
6. Avocado (Persea americana) Oil
Avocado oil is an edible oil that is cold pressed from the flesh of avocados. Avocado oil contains the vitamins A, B1, B2, B5 (pantothenic acid), D, and E. It also contains protein, lecithin, and fatty acids, and is high in gamma linoleic acid.
Avocado has shown wound healing properties and possible anti-inflammatory properties. It is a skin penetrator through the upper layers of skin, smoothing dry, damaged skin, easing eczema, and improving the elasticity of the skin. Avacado oil works well as a 10% additive to other carrier oils. (5) (9) As noted above, avocado oil is one of the oils with a stronger aroma. Although not unpleasant, it will dominate the aroma of your essential oils. Despite this, the therapeutic effect of the following blend is smoothing and healing to the skin.
Dry Skin Relief
Directions: Blend, and after cleansing and drying skin, apply as needed.
7. Babassu (Orbignya oleifera) Oil
This tree is native to Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Babassu oil, also sometimes called babassu wax, is a creamy white solid when kept cool and turns into a pale-yellow liquid at 76 degrees F. /24 degrees C.
Babassu seed oil acts as an emollient and anti-microbial agent. It is obtained by cold-pressing the babassu nuts. It contains lauric acid, which offers anti-microbial actions. When it comes into contact with the body, it melts immediately. It provides shiny, soft, and smooth conditions to the skin. Moreover, the melting process is accompanied by a slight cooling effect, which feels fresh on the skin.
Babassu is high in linolenic acid and is best used as an additive with other carriers. It’s often used in cosmetics and skin-care products. Using babassu with jojoba will help protect and heal the skin. The addition of essential oils that are also known for their antimicrobial properties will help to accelerate the healing actions of the Babassu oil.
Try the following:
Directions: Blend, then use on clean, dry skin to heal dry itchy skin.
8. Baobab (Adansonia digitata) Oil
Baobab oil is cold pressed from the seed of the baobab tree. It is highly penetrating, deeply nourishing and softens dry, damaged skin. It is known to restore and remoisturize the epidermis and is great for hair, absorbing quickly.
Baobab improves the skin’s elasticity and is a cell regenerator. It helps to relieve eczema and psoriasis. It has anti-inflammatory properties and relieves discomfort from burns and regenerates epithelial tissue quickly. It’s a stable oil and goes well with other carrier oils in formulas. Baobab also works as an antioxidant (10)
9. Borage Seed (Borago officinalis) Oil
Borage oil contains high levels of the ω-6 series essential fatty acids that play an important part in the function and structure of the skin.
Its high content of both linolenic and linoleic acid is the highest source for GLA’s (gamma linoleic acid). It’s often taken internally to decrease cholesterol levels in the blood as well as assist with coronary heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Borage is a great addition during “that time” of the month, assisting with symptoms of PMS as well as menopausal symptoms. (11)
Topically, borage has great regenerating properties, which make it quite effective on prematurely aged and damaged skin, psoriasis, and eczema. A study was done on 37 patients with infantile seborrheic dermatitis. The linoleic acid in borage oil contributed to its therapeutic actions against ISD. It was shown to normalize the skin’s barrier functionality.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial was performed to test clinical effects of undershirts coated with borage oil on children with atopic dermatitis (AD). In the group treated with borage oil, improvement showed with no side effects. Borage is best used as a 10% additive in your products. (12)
Eczema Oil Treatment
Directions: Blend and apply to area 3-4 times a day. The essential oils used are cicatrisant (skin healing) essential oils.
10. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) Co2 extract, infused Oil
Calendula contains salicylic acid, carotenoids, and phytosterols. It’s a skin regenerator, anti-microbial, and antiseptic that is great for wound healing (cicatrisant), varicose veins, skin infections, cuts, and chapped skin or lips.
In a double-blind randomized controlled trial, women of reproductive age were tested using calendula extract-based cream versus metronidazole on bacterial vaginosis. All symptoms, including vaginal itching and burning sensation, odor, dysuria, and dyspareunia, were relieved with no side effects. This gives women a holistic approach instead of using synthetic products. (13)
11. Coconut (Cocos nucifera) Oil
Coconut oil is one of the most commonly used carrier oils. It is cold pressed from coconuts, which are harvested from coconut trees. Unrefined coconut oil is composed of many FFAs (fatty acids) including lauric acid (49%), myristic acid (18%), palmitic acid (8%), caprylic acid (8%), capric acid (7%), oleic acid (6%), linoleic acid (2%), and stearic acid (2%).
When refined it is mostly saturated fatty acids, which is the closest to human sub-cutaneous fat and more compatible with the skin than vegetable oils. It is a pure oil with no irritants present. Unrefined oil may contain irritants. Coconut oil has been found to be the best for wound caring and works well for conditioning, as a spot treatment for acne, and to help other carrier oils from going rancid. The latter makes it a good carrier to add to your products. Cellular studies have shown that it is also anti-viral and anti-fungal. (14) It can be clogging for some pores, and therefore comedogenic. Coconut oil can be used alone or as a soothing salve for the skin. Try the following skin-loving recipe.