What really are carrier oils?

carrier oils

What really are carrier oils?

Those of you who have been following our posts will have heard us talk about many different essential oils, delve a bit into their history as well as several of their uses, and different methods of application. From time to time you’ll also have heard us mention carrier oils, and more importantly to always dilute essential oils in a carrier oil before applying them topically. But what exactly are carrier oils?

Carrier oils

Carrier oils are often referred to as base oils, or fixed oils and are compounds containing fatty acids and Glycerol. While these types of oils can be derived from animals or plants, Aromatherapists only use plant derived carrier oils. Plant derived oils come from the fatty portion of a plant, usually the kernel, nuts or seeds. An exception to this generalization would be coconut oil for example. This carrier oil is extracted from the white flesh of the coconut. Jojoba oil is another exception as it’s extracted from a leathery leaved shrub and is much more of a liquid wax than an oil.

Because essential oils are 100% concentrated, they must always be diluted when used topically. For massage, carrier oils are the most commonly used when diluting, not just to dilute, but also to act as a lubricant. On occasion, a natural lotion or aloe vera gel can be used to dilute the essential oils instead.

Extraction Method

Generally speaking, carrier oils are extracted using one of two methods, ‘cold pressing’ or ‘hot extraction’. The former is a method generally reserved for smaller scale production, as the cost tends to be higher, and the yield isn’t as high as from hot extraction. During the process of cold pressing, the nuts or seeds are placed beneath a rotating screw, in a horizontal press and the oil is quite literally pressed out. Despite what the name says, the process does produce some heat due to the friction. However, temperatures generally don’t exceed 70-80°C, which causes little damage to the oil.

During the process of hot extraction- which tends to be reserved for larger scale production- a similar process takes place. The one difference being, that additional heat is added during the extraction process to further maximize the oil yield. Throughout this process, temperatures can reach up to 200°C which greatly diminishes the important vitamins and fatty acids.

Interestingly enough, the waste product from both these methods, is often re-processed using solvents, to extract even more of the oil. This oil is then reheated, refined, deodorized and the color bleached out. At the end, vitamins, preservatives and sometimes also color, are added back in. Because of the extensive steps this oil went through, it is considered a dead oil as all of it’s health benefits are long gone.

Carrier oils, just like essential oils, should be stores in a dry, dark place and most only keep for 6-12 months if stored correctly.

Choosing a carrier oil

Each carrier oil has a different combination of characteristics and therapeutic properties. So the best carrier oil to use can vary between each application and should take into consideration your skin type as well as the therapeutic benefit you’re after. For example;

Apricot Kernel oil as well as sweet Almond oil are commonly known for their use in skin care because of how nourishing they are to the skin. Both have a high vitamin E content, calm inflammation, absorb well leaving only a very minimal oily residue and both are emollient. Both of these oils are a good choice for any skin type.

Coconut oil is seemingly one of the most talked about carrier oils right now. While it’s not a personal favorite for many dermal applications, it does have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties. While it’s often touted as the fix-all, and it’s quite gentle, it has been known to clog pores, so it’s not recommended for acne prone or excessively oily skin.

Grapeseed oil is often a go to carrier oil because it has natural non-allergenic properties, which makes it ideal for those with sensitive skin. It is also very high in linoleic acid (omega 6), rich in polyphenols, and acts as an astringent. This carrier oil can generally be used for all skin types.

Jojoba oil, while one of the more expensive carrier oils, it is hands down a favorite. Not only because it’s non greasy, absorbs into the skin relatively fast, but also because it is a very stable oil (well really, it’s more of a liquid wax), with an almost indefinite shelf life. Beyond that though, it has anti-inflammatory properties, helps to regulate and remove sebum, it’s very healing to the skin and very moisturizing. This carrier oil is suitable for all skin types.

So the next time you reach to your oils to create a blend for yourself, take a bit of extra time to research what carrier oil might be of the most benefit to you.

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