What's a Carrier Oil and Why Does it Matter?

While it is easy and most familiar to use essential oils by adding them to a diffuser, it can also be just as or even more beneficial to use oils topically, depending on the results you want to see. This is where carrier oils are highly useful to have on hand.

What is a carrier oil? Carrier oils are vegetable oils with little-to-no scent that are used to dilute essential oils. They are not volatile like essential oils, and are shelf-stable. In carrying essential oils into your skin, carrier oils do dilute the potency of the oil. However, this does not mean that the oil is any less effective. Rather, it means that essential oils better absorb into your skin because the it does not evaporate as quickly. Dilution is also necessary for certain “hot” essential oils, and always a good idea when using any oils with children or for those with sensitive skin. When in doubt, always dilute.

Which carrier oil is best?

Researching carrier oils online can be overwhelming because there are so many different types you can use. Keep in mind that it is best to use a carrier oil that is 100 percent pure. This way, the essential oil’s chemical profile is preserved and the oil is easily dissolved. Otherwise, the carrier oil has the potential to change the results or specific benefits you desire.

Substances like butter, vegetable shortening, and petroleum jelly should not be used as carrier oils because they do not absorb into the skin at the needed level.

So what are some good carrier oils? We've complied a list of some of the best known carrier oils:

  1. Fractionated Coconut Oil. Coconut oil is high in antioxidants and Vitamin E. But, the thick, unrefined coconut oil you find at the grocery store is not as useful for aromatherapy purposes because it doesn’t readily absorb into the skin. Fractionating coconut oil makes it ideal for aromatherapy. The process of fractionating coconut oil makes the fatty acid chains separate out and produces a liquid consistency. Nothing is added to the oil itself to make it this way. This gives the oil a much longer shelf life and creates an oil that is non-greasy, light, and better for absorption.
  2. Sweet Almond Oil. Great for all skin types and topical applications, almond oil is absorbed by the skin fairly well. It does have a slightly nutty smell to it, but nothing overwhelming. It is a great oil to use in face care because it helps moisturize. Be aware, however, that it is not for those with nut allergies as it is often produced in the same factories as peanut oil.
  3. Jojoba Oil. Despite being called an oil, jojoba (pronounced ho-ho-ba) is actually a liquid wax. Odorless and golden yellow in color, jojoba is another popular carrier oil because it is great for hair and leaves skin hydrated without a lot of heavy shine. It is very similar to the oil that your skin produces naturally, and can be good for oily skin.
  4. Grapeseed Oil. This oil is high in linoleic acid and is very moisturizing, especially for delicate skin. You’ll often see it listed on the ingredients list of many cosmetics. Its aroma is light and sweet, and it is clear in color. It can be a good carrier oil to use for occasional blemishes.
  5. Olive Oil. Though it can be heavy, oily, and have a stronger odor when compared to the others, the benefit of olive oil is that it is high in both vitamins and minerals. Depending on the quantity and how diluted you need the essential oil to be, olive oil can overpower the scent.

How and What to Dilute

Once you’ve found your carrier oil of choice, you can then begin to dilute essential oils according to the dilution ratio you need. The following dilution ratios should give you a good idea where to start:

For one teaspoon of carrier oil add:

  • 1 drop essential oil for a 1% ratio
  • 2 drops for 2%
  • 5 drops for 5%

One tablespoon of carrier oil:

  • 3 drops essential oil for 1%
  • 6 drops for 2%
  • 15 drops for 5%

One fluid ounce of carrier oil:

  • 6 drops essential oil for 1%
  • 12 drops for 2%
  • 30 drops for 5%

When it comes to using essential oils topically, doTERRA oils are organized into three specific categories. Neat, Dilute, and Sensitive. Oils that are in the Dilute category are those that are high in constituents that are particularly strong, such as phenols. Cassia, Cinnamon Bark, Clove, Oregano, and Thyme all belong in this designation.

For children and those with sensitive skin, the Sensitive category is especially important to pay attention to. Always dilute oils in this category when using them on your skin for the first time. Oils in the Sensitive category include:

  • Bergamot
  • Black Pepper
  • doTERRA Breathe
  • Cedarwood
  • doTERRA Cheer
  • Copaiba
  • Deep Blue
  • Eucalyptus
  • Fennel
  • doTERRA Forgive
  • Geranium
  • Ginger
  • Lemongrass
  • Lime
  • doTERRA Motivate
  • doTERRA On Guard
  • doTERRA Passion
  • Peppermint
  • Petitgrain
  • Slim & Sassy
  • Spearmint
  • Wintergreen

The rest of the doTERRA oils are categorized as Neat if they are meant for topical application. If an oil is categorized as Neat, for most people these will not cause sensitivity. However, if you want to be safe when trying an oil for the first time, you can always test it by diluting it in a carrier oil and putting it on a small patch of your skin.

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