Simply put, a carrier oil or substance is a neutral product used in combination with essential oils for purposes of dilution and efficient delivery. They are produced as cold pressed or macerated, both are extraction method for producing carrier oils.
Essential oils are highly concentrated and volatile, so it is not usually wise to use them undiluted. Blending these powerful oils with a mild, beneficial substance stabilizes them, extends their use and facilitates smooth application.
Oils are not the only substances used as carriers. Non-oily products such as aloe vera gel, vinegar and witch hazel can also be used. Other possible carriers include liquid castile soap, rosewater, sugar or salt.
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You can also use your existing personal care products as carriers. In this article, we will focus on natural oils and butters. Read on to learn more.
Oils & Butters To Avoid
For best results, it is wise to use natural, organic oils and butters. Stay away from petroleum derivatives, such as petroleum jelly, mineral oil and baby oil. Likewise, hydrogenated oils, such as canola, vegetable oils, vegetable shortening and margarine are not good choices as carriers.
Although butter is a natural oil product, it is not a good choice for creating natural medicinal and personal care products because it is not stable and spoils very rapidly.
Carrier Oil Concepts
Good carrier oils are stable. They have little or no scent, and they do not spoil or evaporate quickly. Essential oils are volatile, highly scented and evaporate quickly if stored improperly.
Blending essential oils with good carriers stabilizes them. Using carrier oils, you can dilute the scent and strength of an essential oil to make it safe and pleasant to use.
Although carrier oils are stable, you must realize that they do eventually go bad. Shelf life varies from one type to another. Generally speaking, you can count on your carrier oils having a shelf life of six months to a year when stored correctly.
Keep all of your oils in a cool, dry place, protected from light and air. Keep oils in dark glass or opaque containers with tightly fitting lids. If you purchase a very large container of oil, you may wish to store it in the back of your refrigerator.
Which Carrier Oil Is Best?
This is a question with no good answer. Carrier oils vary greatly in their qualities. It is important to define your goals and then select the right oil for the task based on characteristics such as:
- Rate of absorption
- Shelf Life
As you work with carrier oils, you will learn more about the qualities of each. With practice, you will be able to determine the type you need for each task with ease. Additionally, you will get a feel for how to mix and blend them for custom results.
How Much Essential Oil Should You Use?
While this can vary greatly, as a general rule of thumb, a combination of 6 drops essential oil per ounce of carrier oil (or substance) is a good starting place for most applications. This is a happy medium dilution that can effectively and safely deliver the benefits of most essential oils.
This is not a hard and fast rule, though. As you gain experience with essential oil, you may wish to adjust this ratio up or down to suit your own preferences and enhance results.
Understand that there are some instances (e.g. treating facial breakouts or small injuries) in which you would use an oil such as tea tree oil full strength. Alternately, you might dilute it 50/50 (drop for drop) if it proves to be too strong to use undiluted.
Using Carrier Oils To Create Facial Care Products
When selecting a carrier oil for creating cosmetic products, you must determine a few things at the outset.
First, you must determine whether you have any allergy problems and avoid oils that might trigger them. For example, if you have a food allergy to nuts, you must avoid nut oils and some seed oils. Consult with your health care professional if in doubt.
Second, you need to clarify your goals. What are you trying to accomplish? This is a two-fold consideration. You must take into account both the texture and consistency of the product you hope to create and results you want to achieve when you use it.
For example, if you wish to create a salve or ointment, you must incorporate a carrier that remains solid at room temperature (e.g. virgin coconut oil). If you want to create a liquid that mixes easily, choose a stable oil such as MCT oil.
Third, you need to be sure of your skin type. The type of oil you choose must be compatible with your skin type. (See section below.)
Know Your Skin Type
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This is skin that may be oily in some areas and dry in others. Typically, the oily skin areas are the “T-Zone”, which consists of forehead, nose and chin. For combination skin care, choose a light oil, such as:
Any of these choices will provide light moisturizing qualities without blocking pores of any skin types. Understanding the qualities of each of these types of oils will help you determine exactly which one or which combination will work best for your particular goal.
For example, if you are treating an acne-prone skin, you would choose coconut oil over MCT oil because coconut oil contains lauric acid and MCT oil does not.
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If your skin is very oily, you may think that you should not use oil at all; however, this is not true. When you try to combat oiliness by using drying product, you actually trigger your skin to produce more oil. For this reason, it is wise to make judicious use of very light carrier oils, such as:
- Sweet Almond Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Hempseed Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Apricot Oil
- Jojoba Oil
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If your skin is dry or damaged, you should use rich, deeply moisturizing, healing oils such as:
- Sweet Almond Oil
- Avocado Oil
- Olive Oil
- Tamanu Oil
These oils are excellent choices for creating masks and intensive treatments for very dry skin, sunburn, windburn, dry skin on the feet and other severe dry skin problems.
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If you have problems with allergic reactions, you may find that your skin will tolerate these oils:
- Sweet Almond Oil
- Sesame Seed Oil (Sesamum indicum)
- Apricot Oil
- Jojoba Oil – learn more on Oil Jojoba here
Naturally, you should consult your doctor or dermatologist before using any oil or product on your skin if you have severe allergies.
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Some good choices for treatment and prevention of wrinkles and replenishment of collagen include:
It is easy to see that some of these oils span most or all categories, so you may wish to settle on a particular favorite that suits you in multiple ways. For example, you may note that Sweet Almond Oil seems to be suitable for almost all skin types and situations, as does Jojoba Oil. The only area in which the two do not overlap is treatment of very dry skin.
For this reason, you may wish to begin your carrier oil adventure by investing in a bottle of Jojoba Oil for general purpose use and purchasing a smaller bottle of Sweet Almond Oil for intensive treatment of dry skin. Understand that it is perfectly alright to blend oils to create custom combinations, but avoid blending more than two at a time at first, until you gain some experience and expertise in oil blending.
It’s Your Skin!
While it is wise to make your initial choices based on good information, remember that your skin will be the final judge. One easy way to know whether or not you have made the right choice is to simply see how well your skin absorbs an oil. If your skin absorbs an oil quickly leaving no greasy or sticky residue, it is probably a good choice.
Even if you do not think you have any sensitivities, always be sure to perform a patch test before applying any oil over a large area of skin. Put a dab of oil on the sensitive skin of your inner forearm. Wait 24 hours. If any sensitivity develops, do not use that oil.
Conversely, when you do begin using an oil based personal care product on your skin, you may find that it seems to cause break-outs initially. This is often because the skin begins to disgorge impurities (often caused by use of chemical products). If your skin’s response is not dramatic, give it a chance to adjust to your new routine. A couple of weeks of consistent use will let you know whether or not a product will work for you in the long run.
Understand Comedogenic Ratings
When choosing the right oil for your skin type, another important point to keep in mind is the comedogenic rating of carrier oils. Oils and butters with a lower comedogenic rating are less likely to cause problems such as blackheads and pimples. The higher the rating, the more likely the it is that this particular carrier will block your pores and cause problems. Here is a handy listing for your reference:
ZERO: Does not clog pores.
- Hemp Seed Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Shea Butter
ONE: Low likelihood of clogging pores.
Castor Oil – It should be noted that castor oil is a very thick, sticky oil with drying and medicinal qualities of its own. It makes a good drop-for-drop carrier when you want to make strong concentrations of an oil to focus treatment on a blemish, minor injury or other very small area of skin.
TWO: Low-to-moderate likelihood of clogging pores.
- Apricot Kernel Oil
- Grape Seed Oil
- Hazelnut Oil
- Sweet Almond Oil
- Avocado Oil
- Sesame Seed Oil
- Peanut Oil
- Olive Oil
THREE: Likely to clog pores.
- Coconut Butter
- Cocoa Butter
- Coconut Oil
FOUR: Very likely to clog pores.
- Wheat Germ Oil
It is important to understand that a high comedogenic rating is not necessarily a bad thing. These oils definitely have a place in creating effective personal care products. For example, Wheat Germ Oil is highly comedogenic, and it is highly nourishing and healing.
It makes a good addition (blended with lighter oils) to treatments for very dry skin and for deeply nourishing products such as hair masks for damaged hair. You probably would not want to use these essential oil blends to create your daytime facial moisturizer.
What You Need To Know About Comedogenic Acne
If you have chosen an oil that is too heavy for your skin type, you are likely to have problems with comedogenic acne. This particular type of acne is caused by blocked pores and consists of hard, white pimples that develop in areas where the oil was not properly absorbed by the skin and ended up clogging pores.
It is very common to get these pimples in the “T-Zone”; however, they can pop up anywhere on your body if you choose an oil that is too heavy and does not absorb properly. If this happens, take a break from oil use until the problem clears up. Reformulate and try again with a lighter solution.
Choosing Carrier Oils For Body Care Products
When choosing an oil to create a body care product, all of the considerations for facial care come into play to a lesser extent. The skin on your body is not nearly as sensitive as the skin on your face, so you won’t need to be as concerned about comedogenic ratings.
You will want to focus on your goal and also on the type of product you want to create. For example, if you hope to reduce stretch mark scarring, you will want an oil that is easily absorbed, delivers healing properties and (perhaps) has a consistency that will lend itself to creating a body butter.
Furthermore, since you may be applying it over a large area, you’ll want an oil that smells good or has no smell. In this particular case, coconut oil would be a great choice, unless you have a nut allergy. In that case, you may want to go with olive oil and add a product such as beeswax for solidity.
Very often, as an all-over-moisturizer or as a treatment for problems such as stretch marks, sunburn, psoriasis or other conditions that may cover large areas of skin you can just use a carrier oil on its own to achieve your goal; however, you may wish to add essential oils for topical and aroma therapeutic benefits. When this is the case, you will want to consider the scent of the carrier oil you choose.
The evening primrose oil has healing benefits due to gamma-linoleic contents. It can help cure eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, digestive systems, menstrual syndromes, and more.
For example, virgin coconut oil smells nutty and sweet on its own. If the oil alone will achieve your goal, you might want to just stick with that or add a calming oil with a scent that will blend with the nuttiness (lavender or chamomile are good choices) so that you can reap the aromatherapy benefits.
If you are treating problems such as psoriasis, using oils such as Argan oil, Neem oil and/or Tea tree oil may be very helpful. Argan oil from the Argania spinosa plant, has a pleasant, nutty scent of its own, so you may wish to use it combined with an unscented oil (e.g. jojoba).
Neem oil has a garlicky scent, and tea tree oil smells medicinal. These may be good candidates for combining with a sweeter smelling oil such as coconut, hazelnut, almond or apricot.
How Much To Dilute
This is not an exact science. You will want to start out with small amounts of essential oils (6 drops per ounce) until you get a feel for it. Here are some things to keep in mind to determine whether you need more or less essential oil in your solution.
#1 – Is it pleasant to use? If your concoction is unpleasant to use, don’t use it. Whether the problem lies in odor or sensation, if your body is telling you not to use something, don’t!
There are lots of choices in carrier oils and essential oils. Keep casting about until you find the combination that enables you to attain your goals comfortably. In the final analysis, if a treatment is unpleasant, you are unlikely to use it consistently or effectively.
#2 – Does the solution burn or tingle? If you experience any sensitivity, you may be able to counter it by diluting the essential oil further. Alternately, you may just wish to use different oils.
Video: Easy Memory Trick to Dilute Essential Oils for Skin
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This video provides more information on how to safely dilute your essential oils. It gives you a simple formula to use for creating a 2 teaspoon solution. Two teaspoons equal one third of an ounce.
The video also provides detailed information on dilution for children and for focused purposes. If this seems too confusing for you, just remember to use 6 drops per ounce and adjust as needed. If treating children or pets, consult your pediatrician or veterinarian first.
Choosing The Right Carrier Oils
Any natural, organic carrier oil that is vegetable based and ingestible is safe to use as a carrier oil. Some common kitchen oils are not good choices for ingesting or using as carrier oils because they are hydrogenated. This causes them to be non-nutritive and actually damaging to the body.
Hydrogenated, heavily processed oils are usually sticky and unpleasant to deal with. They do not soak into the skin if applied topically, so they do not actually act as carriers since they would hold your essential oil in suspension and prevent it from soaking into the skin.
There are hundreds of suitable oils for use as carriers. Here are some of the most popular choices:
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Grapeseed oil is very a very light, odorless oil that is especially good for creating massage oils. It leaves a very light, smooth layer of oil on the surface of the skin. It contains a great deal of linoleic acid, which has strong anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and healing properties of its own.
This oil provides good, light moisturizing good as a cream and a lip balm. It’s shelf life is fairly short. If you have any sort of blood disorder or are taking a blood thinning medication, consult your doctor before using this oil.
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Sweet almond oil is a medium weight oil with a nutty scent. It absorbs into the skin quickly and easily and contains a great deal of oleic acid and vitamin E. This oil is good to have on hand as a general purpose oil for creating products for hair care, face and body.
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Jojoba oil is very light and odorless. It absorbs into the skin rapidly and leaves no residue. Its consistency is very similar to the consistency of sebum (natural skin oil). It is a fine choice as a moisturizer for the skin and the hair, and it has a very long shelf life.
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Extra Virgin Olive oil (EVOO) like this one is affordable and readily available. It is rather thick and does leave a film of oil on the surface of the skin. It can have a strong olive scent, so it may be a better choice for use with highly scented essential oils.
The oil contains a great deal of oleic acid. It is a fairly stable oil, but it will solidify at cooler temperatures and its shelf life is fairly short. It is a good choice as a body oil or for use on hard skin on the feet. Some people find it a bit heavy for use on the hair and face.
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Virgin coconut oil is deeply moisturizing. Its sweet, coconut scent makes it very pleasant to use. This oil does not readily soak into the skin and can leave an oily feel. It has a fairly short shelf life and is solid at room temperature, so it can be difficult to work with.
It is highly nourishing to the skin and hair and contains about 50% lauric acid. For this reason, it is a good choice for treating skin conditions in need of healing (e.g. acne). Coconut oil is best used when mixed with other oils to improve its consistency.
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MCT oil is fractionated coconut oil. This is a very stable processed oil that consists only of short-medium chain fatty acids. As such, it has no aroma and is stable (remains liquid) at room temperatures. It is a good choice for use in cosmetic products because it absorbs into the skin rapidly and contains a dense dose of essential fatty acids.
Because it is a processed oil, it has a very high shelf life. It should be noted that this oil does not contain lauric acid, so it is not a good choice for treating psoriasis, acne, fungal infections, stretch marks and the like.
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Shea butter is another nut butter that is deeply nourishing and has a pleasant, nutty scent. Like coconut oil, it is solid at room temperature and does not soak into the skin completely. It makes a good ingredient in hair, face and body care products when blended with other oils to produce a more workable consistency.
Enjoy High Quality Personal Care Products & Save Money
Learning about carrier oils and essential oils is an enjoyable and valuable pursuit. While becoming truly knowledgeable can take a lifetime, it is easy to master the basics and begin enjoying the benefits of using your own, all-natural, custom-blended, effective and affordable personal care products right away.
Start out simply with just a few, high quality, organic, non-GMO oils. Take your time experimenting and formulating. Add to your collection bit-by-bit as you learn more. Before you know it, you will be an expert!