Because we have had many questions and figure others do too, we decided to dig deep and find the answers about the differences in carrier oils and how to choose one for your needs.
A carrier oil is a vegetable oil derived from the fatty portion of a plant, usually from the seeds, kernels, or the nuts. Carrier oils are used to dilute and “carry” an essential oil into the skin during topical application.
In this article we are going to include oils, butters, glycerin, salts, and soap bases because they can serve similar purposes, even though some aren’t technically carrier oils. We’ve also included information graphics on other ingredients we offer that are commonly found in DIY products such as zinc oxide and citric acid.
“Essential oils are the volatile liquids that are distilled from plants (including their respective parts such as seeds, bark, leaves, stems, roots, flowers, fruit, etc.)” (Modern Essentials, p. 6). Because essential oils are volatile, they will evaporate when exposed to air.
“A carrier oil refers to a vegetable oil, wax, fat, or other oil that an essential oil is mixed with. The carrier oil ‘carries’ the essential oil and dilutes it so its effects can be spread over a larger area” (Modern Essentials, inside front cover). As mentioned above, carrier oils are pressed from the fatty portions of a plant. Carrier oils do not evaporate or impart their aroma as strongly as essential oils.
Yes. Because carrier oils are pressed from the fatty portions of a plant, they often contain essential fatty acids that, although very beneficial to our body, also contribute to a short shelf life. Because carrier oils vary in their ratio and the specific essential fatty acids they contain, their shelf life also varies. The level of natural fatty acids, tocopherols (vitamin E compounds found in many carrier oils), method of extraction, and other characteristics of an oil can all affect how quickly it becomes rancid.
Carrier oils, in general, should have a soft aroma. If you find your carrier oil has a strong, bitter aroma, it has likely gone rancid. The best way to tell is to compare the odor with the odor of the same carrier oil that is fresh.
Most carrier oils (avocado oil excluded) can be stored in the refrigerator to prolong shelf life. Some oils stored in the refrigerator may solidify or become cloudy and need to be returned to room temperature prior to use. Avocado oil should never be stored in the refrigerator because it contains many important, fragile constituents that can be affected by lower temperatures.
Some carrier oils that are less fragile and have a longer shelf can be stored at a cool room temperature.
Our butters are solid at room temperature, so you will need to break off chunks and heat them up to get the measurements you need. The best way to melt the butters is to use a double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, you can create one by placing the butter in a glass dish over a pan with an inch of boiling water. It is important to use low heat for most carrier oils and butter so you don’t alter their constituents. Do not microwave carrier oils or butters.
Shea butter, however, can become gritty if not melted and cooled properly. Heat shea butter to at least 175º F for at least 20 minutes. If possible, let it cool in the refrigerator. After it is cooled, store your shea butter at room temperature.
Carrier oils can be used in many ways. One of the most common ways is to mix an essential oil and a carrier oil (such as fractionated coconut oil, sweet almond oil, olive oil, etc.) in a roll-on bottle. This can be an easy way to apply a diluted essential oil topically. Vegetable glycerin, Castile soap, or Epsom salts can act as an emulsifier to help disperse essential oils through other ingredients such as water. Epsom salts are commonly used as bath salts and can be a great way to disperse essential oils throughout a bath. Many of the carrier oils and butters can be used to make lotions, creams, lip balms, massage blends, soap products, body care products, candles, diffusers, air fresheners, sprays, and various other products.
Use caution when trying any new ingredient, including carrier oils, on the skin or in the hair. Those with nut allergies should consult their medical practitioner before coming into contact with nut oils, butters, or other nut products. Also, latex (a natural rubber) is a natural constituent of shea butter. If you have an allergy or sensitivity to latex, avoid shea butter or perform a skin-patch test prior to use. For very in-depth information on oil safety issues, read Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young.
AromaTools® offers the following carrier oils:
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Spanish sage, also known as sage lavender (Salvia lavandulifolia), is steam distilled from the leaves and stems of the plant. It belongs to the Lamiaceae botanical family. The aroma is herbaceous and camphorous (with camphor as a primary chemical constituent), with a subtle lavender undertone.
Guaiacwood (Bulnesia sarmientoi)—pronounced GWHY-ack-wood—is steam distilled from the heartwood of the plant. It belongs to the Zygophyllaceae botanical family and is native to parts of South America. The aroma is woodsy with a subtle smoky-sweetness reminiscent of sandalwood. Its properties are...
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