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What are Carrier Oils?

You may have seen references to using “Carrier Oils” with essential oils. But what are Carrier Oils?

Carrier oils are cold-pressed, vegetable oils.  They are commonly used for massage or for diluting essential oils for use on the skin. (Click here to learn more about diluting essential oils.) This is where the term “carrier” comes in – the vegetable oil is used as a vehicle to “carry” the essential oils.

Carrier oils are also often referred to as “fixed” oils.  This is to differentiate them from the volatile essential oils. Although both are referred to as “oils”, there are important differences between them. 

The common characteristic between carrier oils and essential oils is that they are both soluble in oils or fats and not soluble in water.  This characteristic may be referred to as being lipophilic, lipid soluble, non-polar or hydrophobic. 

Where they differ is in their volatility. 

Essential oils are highly volatile, meaning that they evaporate readily into the air. This is why we can smell them – as the molecules of essential oil spread through the air, we inhale them, activating our sense of smell.

Carrier oils on the other hand, do not evaporate readily.  They may have some aroma (this will vary between different types of oil), but this will be much more subtle than for an essential oil. You can see the difference in volatility if you drop some essential oil and a vegetable oil side by side on to some absorbent paper.  The essential oil will evaporate leaving no oily mark behind, but the carrier oil will leave an oily mark which does not disappear.

Carrier oils all have different characteristics drawn from the plants from which they come.  So your choice of carrier oil will depend on the use you are planning.  In theory any carrier oil can be used to dilute an essential oil. But by selecting an appropriate carrier oil for your application, you can get a whole range of other benefits.  


Let’s look at some individual carrier oils.

Almond Sweet Oil 

Sweet Almond oil is produced from the kernels of the same almond nut that we eat or use to make almond meal or almond milk. It is a deeply emollient oil that is soothing and nourishing for dry skin.  It is not a particularly thick oil, making it ideal for massage as it gives good slip.  There may be some issues using it for people with tree nut allergies.

It is one of my preferred oils for anyone with dry skin.

Apricot Kernel Oil

As almonds and stone fruit such as Apricots are related, it is not surprising that Apricot Kernel Oil shares many of the same properties as Sweet Almond Oil, being very emollient and nourishing.  Texturally however, Apricot Kernel Oil is much lighter, which makes it useful for massage on more delicate areas such as the face.

Apricot is one of my favourite oils for facial massage and other facial treatments.

Grapeseed Oil

Grapeseed oil is produced from the seeds of grapes, which are often a by-product of the wine-making industry.

Not being a nut-derived oil, Grapeseed is a good choice for those with nut allergies.  It is fairly light in texture and a popular oil for massage therapists. As it is not overly “oily”, if used for massage, Grapeseed Oil doesn’t leave the skin overly oily.

Grapeseed makes good basic massage oil, useful for everyday use.

Jojoba Oil

Jojoba is different to many of the other carrier oils, as it is technically not an oil at all , but is a liquid wax.  It is derived from the seeds of the jojoba plant and is high in monounsaturated fatty acids.  Chemically it is very similar to the skin’s own natural oil, sebum, so it makes it very well tolerated by those with issues of skin allergies or sensitivity. Not being a typical vegetable oil, Jojoba is very stable and has a longer shelf life than many oils. 

Jojoba is my preferred oil for Roller Ball Bottle blends.

Macadamia Nut Oil

Macadamia nut oil is derived from the (delicious!) macadamia nuts. It is exceptionally rich and ideal for very dry skins.  It is high in palmitoleic acid which is useful for mature skins.  Its rich nature makes it a rather thick-textured oil. This means some people may prefer to mix it with a lighter oil for massage.

I love Macadamia Nut oil for massage or skin care for mature or exceptionally dry skins.

Rosehip Oil

Rosehip oil is derived from the fruit and seeds, or “hips” of the rose plant. These appear on the bush after the flowers have fallen. Native to South America and with a reputation of use for its skin healing properties. It is rich in essential fatty acids and Vitamin A.  It is often used for skin care, in particular to treat or prevent wrinkles scars and stretch marks.

I love rosehip for skin care, particularly for the face or where the skin needs some healing benefits.

Of course, you can also combine one, two or more carrier oils to tailor the texture to your liking or to access the respective properties of the different oils. You may add some Apricot Kernel Oil to your Macadamia Nut Oil to make it lighter for massage. Or add some Rosehip to your Sweet Almond Oil for a nourishing blend to help to prevent stretch marks.

Whilst some people may find a favourite carrier oil that they use for everything, others find having two or even more carrier oils to hand provides more options.

Carrier Oils benefit from being kept in a cool dry place to extend their shelf life and prevent them from going “off” or becoming rancid before their time.

So, whether you call them carrier oils or vegetable oils or fixed oils, these valuable liquids are powerful tools that you can use with your essential oils or on their own for a variety of uses.