Selecting a Carrier Oil
When I first started using essential oils in 2016, I learned that you had to dilute essential oils with a carrier oil to safely apply them to the skin. I recall thinking, what are carrier oils? It was not until I started my Master’s Certificate in Aromatherapy that I began to fully understand the importance of carrier oil.
As you may know, essential oils are highly concentrated extracts of plant essences and should be diluted before applying them to the skin. The dilution percentage is based on general guidelines and can be varied based on skin sensitivity, health issues, and the essential oils being applied. For daily use, you should use a 2% concentration of essential oil in a carrier oil. For the elderly and children, you should use a 1% concentration. There is some math involved in determining the number of drops per milliliter, so I won’t go into a great amount of detail here. What I do want to address is how to select the right carrier oil for your needs.
There are many types of carrier oils. The ones I am discussing are the ones I use to create roller balls or blends for topical application. Needless to say, it is best to use high-quality, organically sourced oils. The following descriptions, unless otherwise noted, have been adapted from The Art, Science & Business of Aromatherapy, 2nd Edition, by Kayla Fioravanti.
Apricot Kernel OilPrunus armeniaca – is produced by cold pressing apricot kernels (inner part of the seed) of the Apricot tree. Apricot kernel oil contains approximately 58-66% oleic acid, 29% linoleic acid, 4-6% palmitic acid, and 0.5-1% linolenic acid (Cosmeticinfo.org). It can be used on most skin types but should be avoided by those with nut allergies. It can be used on dry, inflamed, sensitive, or mature skin. It is highly absorbent and may improve skin elasticity.
Avocado Oil Persea americana – comes from avocado trees found in California and Mexico. The best avocado oil to use for skincare is cold-pressed and unrefined. This method of extraction ensures that all of the natural vitamins, proteins, beta-carotene, lecithin, fatty acids, and potassium are maintained in the oil. Avocado oil is high in sterolins (plant steroids) that are highly moisturizing and reputed to be good for reducing age spots. Caution should be taken when selecting avocado oil. A recent study by UC Davis found that 82% of the avocado oils tested were rancid before the expiration date or adulterated with less expensive oils.
Camelina Oil Camelina sativa – is produced from the seeds of the camelina sativa plant and comes from the same plant family as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and mustard. Traditionally grown in the United Kingdom and northern Europe, it has also been successfully produced in Montana due to its fast growth cycle, cool climate, and Montana’s short summers. It has a balanced Omega 3-6-9 profile, with an herbaceous/flowery smell if the cold-pressed version is used. Camelina oil was known as a weed but has had a renaissance due to its versatility and heartiness. It normally contains 64% polyunsaturated, 30% monounsaturated, and 6% saturated fatty acids (USDA NRCS Plant Guide). Camelina oil is good for dry, inflamed, eczema, or psoriasis troubled skin, but maybe an irritant for people with sensitive skin (Worwood, 2016, p. 516).
Fractionated Coconut Oil Cocos nucifera – whereas pure coconut oil is normally in a solid-state due to its medium-chain triglycerides, fractionated coconut oil has been processed through physical separation to include mostly short-chain triglycerides. This processing results in a liquid form of coconut oil that has many of the same qualities as regular coconut oil. The fractionated form has a very long shelf life, is highly absorbent, and light feeling, making it a great carrier oil for essential oils.
Grapeseed Oil Vitis vinifera – since I love wine, I cannot help but love this carrier oil. The oil is created using the seeds of wine grapes. It is very light, hypoallergenic, and highly absorbent. It contains oleic acid, saturated fats, and linoleic acid. Grapeseed Oil does go rancid over time and needs to be stored in a cool, dark location.
Jojoba Oil Simmondsia chinensis – is another hypoallergenic oil that comes from the nuts of the jojoba (“ho-ho-ba”) tree found in California, Arizona, Mexico, and Israel. Jojoba oil is not actually an oil but a liquid wax ester due to its chemical composition. It has a large molecular structure and is similar to sebum, a naturally occurring substance found in human skin that keeps it supple. We lose sebum with age or harsh environmental conditions. Jojoba oil is wonderful for dry or oily skin and has been proven to increase skin softness and reduce superficial lines and wrinkles. It penetrates the skin and restores its natural pH balance. Jojoba oil is expensive to produce because of its low yield but maintains a long shelf life.
Meadowfoam Seed OilLimnanthes alba – is not as widely known and used as other carrier oils. It is native to the American northwest and was developed to replace sperm whale oil due to its impact on the species. Meadowfoam seed oil is often grown as a rotation crop for grass seeds and is considered a highly sustainable crop. After harvesting the oil, the remaining plant parts can be used for animal feed. It is an extremely stable carrier oil and contains mostly long-chain fatty acids. The refined version of meadowfoam seed oil has almost no odor. It is absorbent, adds shine, and helps retain moisture in the hair and scalp.
Sweet Almond Oil Prunus amygdalus dulcis – comes from almond trees found in California, Italy and Southern Europe. It is produced by pressing almond kernels and comprises mostly oleic acid and unsaturated fatty acids. Sweet almond oil is nearly scentless and absorbs easily into the skin. Its chemical make-up is similar to that of the sebum produced naturally in a new-born baby’s skin. Sweet almond oil can be used for most skin types unless there is an underlying nut allergy. It will go rancid over time and must be stored in a cool, dark location.