If you’ve been learning about the advantages of properly diluting essential oils, and now you want to know what to dilute them in, this post is for you!
Choosing a carrier to use with essential oils is more than a matter of personal preference. The carrier you use not only affects the absorption rate, but can also enhance therapeutic properties of the essential oil(s) you are adding to the carrier.The #carrier you use not only affects the #essentialoil #absorption rate, but can also enhance… Click To Tweet
Keep in mind that the maximum amount of an essential oil’s constituents absorbed into the skin is 10% (source). This varies on a number of issues beyond the scope of this post.
Safety first – considerations for carriers#carrieroils generally have a shorter #shelflife than #essentialoils Click To Tweet
Essential oils have a shelf life of a year or more, depending on the essential oil. Carriers, however, generally have a shelf life of less than one year. It is recommended that you make small batches of blends to avoid being left with a blend in a bottle that has gone bad due to the carrier expiring. Here are more tips:
- Avoid using most cooking oils, like canola and soy (a list of recommended carriers can be found further down in this post)
- Toss out any oil that appears cloudy, has a foul odor, or goes rancid
- Purchase raw and organic whenever possible, avoiding refined, processed, and non-organic carriers
Water-based carriers absorb into the skin more quicklyWater-based #carriers #absorb into the #skin more quickly due to higher water content Click To Tweet
Water-based carriers absorb into the skin more quickly due to higher water content, as hydrated skin increases permeability and aids in essential oil absorption. If you need fast absorption, such as for acute pain, water-based carriers are what you want. These are also good options for situations where oil may aggravate the issue.
Recommended water-based carriers
My three favorite water-based carriers are aloe vera gel, witch hazel, and lotion.
Tip for choosing aloe vera: Look for aloe vera produced without heat from organically grown aloe vera plants. Avoid synthetic or petroleum-based gel with aloe vera added. You might be able to find a good one in your local health food store. If not, I recommend the aloe vera gel from Mountain Rose Herbs.
Tip for choosing witch hazel: Be sure the witch hazel you are getting contains considerably more water than alcohol. Yes, alcohol must be contained in this product, as it is water-based, to preserve the witch hazel. I personally recommend the witch hazel from Mountain Rose Herbs which is distilled from the twigs and the bark of the witch hazel tree, and only contains 14% alcohol.
Tip for choosing lotion: Look for a lotion free from synthetic preservatives, chemicals, and artificial fragrances. The best way to do this is to make your own. I haven’t found the time to begin making my own lotion yet, but if you’re looking for a recipe, you can find one in this book: DIY Organic Beauty Recipes. I purchase my lotion from Tropical Traditions, as the lotion is made from organic ingredients.
Recommended uses for aloe vera and lotion
Aloe vera or lotion is a good carrier choice for issues where the skin needs to breathe, such as nail fungus. Burns can also benefit from using aloe vera as a carrier instead of an oil. Itchy skin can benefit from using witch hazel as a base, as can acne-prone skin due to the witch hazel’s astringent properties.
Why water is not recommended, and when water is recommended
Water and (essential) oil doesn’t mix. We learned this in school. So we generally want to avoid adding essential oils to water, where they will float on the surface of the water, touching the skin at full concentration.
An exception would be making a throat spray to soothe soreness or help alleviate tonsillitis. If you do this, be sure to shakeshakeshake well before spraying, to ensure the essential oils have mixed as best as possible into the water before spraying. Pure essential oils directly on the skin can cause irritation and redness.
Carrier oils & butters linger longest on the skin#essentialoils last longer on the #skin when mixed into a #carrier oil or butter Click To Tweet
Oil evaporates more slowly than water, trapping the essential oils on the skin. Carrier oils (such as almond, coconut, jojoba, and tamanu to name a few) allow for essential oils to absorb more slowly into the skin. Although relief might take a little time, the effect will linger longer. This allows for therapeutic effects of the essential oils to work for a greater length of time.
When you want the very longest staying power, look to butters. Butters are thick and prevent the essential oils from evaporating so quickly. Shea butter, cocoa butter, kokum butter, and kombo butter are my top choices for carrier butters. Although kombo butter can be used on its own, as it is a more liquid consistency, shea and cocoa butters are solid and work best as an added ingredient when making body butter or a salve. I like to purchase my butters on Aromatics International and Mountain Rose Herbs.
Recommended carrier oils
There are a number of useful carrier oils with a wide range of therapeutic benefits on their own. I purchase mine from various reputable sources including Mountain Rose Herbs and the Aura Cacia brand on Vitacost, where I’ve been a customer for over 15 years. (If you are new to Vitacost, you can get a $10 coupon towards your first purchase by clicking here: Vitacost Coupon and they reward me by giving me a $10 coupon as well – thank you!).
Below you will find a list of carriers, along with some of their benefits. For more information, I highly suggest the thorough book by Shirley and Len Price, Carrier Oils: For Aromatherapy and Massage.
Sweet Almond Oil – I recommend unrefined, organic sweet almond oil.
- Emollient and somewhat viscous, allows for slower absorption
- Calming properties enhance anti-spasmodic essential oils
- Soothes inflammation and peeling from burns
- Anti-pruritic (relieves itching)
- Helpful for dry skin conditions such as dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis
- Contains vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, and E
Apricot Kernel Oil – I recommend unrefined apricot kernel oil.
- Readily absorbed due to low viscosity
- Emollient and nourishing for the skin
- Similar in composition to sweet almond oil, but slightly more expensive
- Relieves itchy skin (is anti-pruritic)
- Helpful for eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis
- Useful ingredient in lotions due to its skin-softening properties
Argan Oil – I recommend this cold pressed, unrefined, organic argan oil.
- Powerful antioxidant due to high vitamin E levels
- Anti-aging action makes it great for applications on the face
- Restructuring properties make it useful in hair care
- Preserves elasticity of the skin
- Using 1-2 drops on the face at night before bed can help regenerate and firm the skin
- Delicious hazelnut-like aroma
Avocado Oil – I recommend this cold pressed, unrefined, fair trade, organic avocado oil.
- Healing properties make it useful for inflammation of the skin
- Prevents premature aging and helps to soften skin
- Contains vitamins A, B1, B2, D, as well as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, sulphur, calcium, sodium, and copper
- Highly penetrating, moisturizing, and emollient
- Tip: do not refrigerate, as this harms some useful constituents
Borage Oil – I recommend this cold pressed, unrefined, kosher, organic borage oil.
- Contains 16-23% GLA, making it the richest source of GLA available
- Excellent remedy for stretch marks and wrinkles (and prevents them)
- Regenerates the skin best when combined with sweet almond oil
- Useful for eczema and psoriasis sufferers
- Can be consumed as a dietary supplement
- Tip: store in a cool, dark place
Cocoa Butter – I recommend this unrefined, fair trade, kosher, organic cocoa butter.
- Very stable fat, lasting up to 5 years
- Because it melts at body temperature, it is useful as a base for suppositories and pessaries
- Helps to fade scarring on the skin
- Reduces the appearance of stretch marks
- Makes for a delicious base for lip balms and body butters
- Slightly stimulating due to presence of caffeine
Coconut Oil – I recommend this cold-pressed, unrefined, organic coconut oil.
- Emollient, and great for massages
- Benefits the hair and scalp
- Used in suppositories due to its solid nature which melts at body temp
- Great ingredient for making soap, as it lathers well
- Note: fractionated coconut oil is not a complete oil and is inferior to regular solid coconut oil
Evening Primrose Oil – I recommend cold pressed, kosher, organic evening primrose oil.
- Promotes wound healing
- Wards off wrinkles in the skin
- Beneficial for dry skin issues such as psoriasis and eczema
- Useful in keeping dandruff at bay
- Vitamin F content makes it helpful for hormonal issues
- Can be used internally for PMS and bloating
- Note: Evening Primrose Oil is highly unsaturated and thus less stable than other oils. Store in a cool, dark place.
Grapeseed Oil – I recommend organic grapeseed oil.
- Reduces the appearance of stretch marks and fine lines around the eyes
- Regenerative properties helps to restore damaged tissue
- Absorbs quickly into the skin due to low viscosity
- Smooth finish does not leave a greasy residue on the skin
- Hypoallergenic, tasteless, and colorless
- Note: this is a refined oil, which is why it keeps well and has a long shelf life
Hazelnut Oil – I recommend unrefined, cold pressed, kosher, organic hazelnut oil.
- Low viscosity makes for fast absorption and a great base for sore muscles with the addition of essential oils
- Nourishing and soothing
- Astringent action makes it useful for oil skin and acne
- Does not leave an oily residue on the skin
- SPF of 10
- Contains vitamins B1, B6, E, nicacin, folic acid, as well as magnesium and potassium
Jojoba Wax/Oil – I recommend cold pressed, unrefined, and organic jojoba oil (technically a wax).
- This wax has a 25 year shelf life as it is able to resist hydrolysis and oxidation
- Anti-inflammatory action allows for relief from rheumatism and arthritis
- Excellent for a variety of dry skin conditions such a eczema and dry scalp
- Composition similar to skin’s sebum
- Non-greasy due to low viscosity
- Note: be sure you are getting unrefined, yellow jojoba, not refined, bleached, or deodorized
Macadamia Oil – I recommend unrefined, kosher, organic macadamia oil.
- Resists rancidity due to high monounsaturated fatty acid content
- Great massage oil, as it lubricates, is easily absorbed, and is non-greasy
- High levels of palmitoleic acid make it beneficial for elderly skin
- May reduce scarring
- Contains niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, potassium, and phosphorus
- Shown to reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol levels when used internally.
Mango Seed Oil – is difficult to find. If you know of a source, let me know!
- Antioxidant properties
- Can be used on dry skin with success
- Good “after sun” oil
- Contains vitamin E
- Makes a great addition to daily skin care
- Added to facial regimen can reduce appearance of wrinkles
- Note: must be kept in a cool, dark place
Meadowfoam Oil – I recommend this organic meadowfoam oil.
- Very stable oil with a shelf life of 2-3 years
- Small molecular structure helps it to penetrate the skin
- Delays aging and reduces appearance of wrinkles
- Can be heated without turning bad
- Great ingredient to add to other products
Olive Oil – I recommend unrefined, cold pressed, kosher, and organic olive oil.
- Anti-inflammatory, making it soothing for burns, bites, and itching
- Helps relieve the pain of sprains
- Anti-septic and anti-wrinkle properties
- Astringent and good for bruising
- Can be used to alleviate periodontal issues
- Used internally, can lower bad (LDL) cholesterol and increase bile secretion
- Notes: applying to the scalp can aggravate dandruff
Palm Kernel Oil – I recommend this high quality virgin palm oil.
- Contains 15 times more beta carotene than carrots; these carotenoids, which give this oil its red color, are destroyed if the oil is boiled
- Rich in co-Q10, and vitamins A and E
- Great for skin health due to the mixed tocopherols
- Solid at room temperature
- Shelf life of 6 months
- Note: this oil is the second most widely produced edible oil; it is not endangered as some would have you believe
Peach Kernel Oil – I recommend this organic peach kernel oil.
- Non-irritating and a good choice for sensitive skin
- Relieves itching
- Useful for eczema
- Emollient and nourishing
- Slowly absorbed, allowing longer protection
- Great for dry, aging facial skin
- Faint aroma, blends well with other oils
- Produced in the USA
Rosehip/Rose Hip Oil – I recommend this cold pressed, organic rosehip seed oil.
- Excellent for scars due to its skin regenerative properties
- Great choice for wound healing
- Useful in healing burns
- Can help relieve eczema and acne
- Benefits aging skin, minimizes wrinkles, and can help prevent premature aging due to tissue regenerating properties
- Note: needs to be kept cool and stored away from light
Sesame Oil – I recommend unrefined, kosher, organic sesame oil.
- Can help repair psoriasis and eczema
- Relieves rheumatism
- Useful for treating lice
- Used internally, is soothing to the digestive tract
- Contains vitamins A, B, and E, as well as calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus
- White seeds provide a better oil than black seeds
- Very stable oil
Shea butter – I recommend unrefined, organic shea butter.
- Cinnamic acid and latex content provides decent UV protection
- Anti-inflammatory properties for use on aching muscles and rheumatism
- Healing properties make it useful for eczema, burns, wounds, and scrapes
- Excellent for reducing appearance of scars and stretch marks
- Remedy for aging skin and dry hair
- Cell regenerating and circulatory
Sunflower Oil – I recommend kosher, organic sunflower oil.
- Helps soothe hemorrhoids, sinusitis, and rhinitis
- Can be helpful for bruising and ulcers
- Contains vitamins A, D, E, and also calcium, zinc, potassium, iron, and phosphorus
- Used internally, has diuretic and expectorant properties
- Note: be sure to obtain organic oil, which is cold pressed and not refined by using a solvent
Walnut Oil – I recommend this cold pressed, organic walnut oil:
- Relieves itching and peeling; excellent for dandruff
- Relieves pain from burns, including sunburns
- Contains calcium, folic acid, iron, and magnesium
- Used internally to increase lactation and help with heart disease, such as myocardial infarction
- Shelf life 12 months if kept in a cool, dark, place
- Note: non-organic oil has been bleached
Wheatgerm Oil – I recommend cold pressed, unrefined wheatgerm oil.
- Richest food source of vitamin E, an antioxidant
- Can be used as a preservative
- Contains vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, E, F, and magnesium, zinc, and iron
- Helps to maintain healthy bone growth when used internally; anti-coagulant
- Useful for dry skin and achy muscles
- Softens skin and regenerates cells, making it a great choice for mature and aging skin.
Lea Harris is a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist Scholar's Program graduate from Aromahead Institute. This website, and its sister website, LearningAboutEOs, is home to educational advice and information about using essential oils safely. Lea founded and runs the Using Essential Oils Safely facebook group, with hundreds of new members joining each week. Lea is the author of The TRUTH About Essential Oil Safety, and the creator of Safe Essential Oil Labels and the UEOS App. You can find FREE classes here: Free Essential Oil Classes.
Lea received her herbalist certification through The Herbal Academy of New England. Lea is a contributing writer for Natural Herbal Living magazine, and blogs about herbs and natural living on her website, Nourishing Treasures.
Lea is Professional level member of the Alliance of International Aromatherapists.
Businesses, groups, and individuals can hire Lea to consult on safety, product formulation, and more on her website Lea Harris CCA.