"Creativity is seeing what others see and thinking what no one else ever thought."
– Albert Einstein
Essential oils are powerful. They’re so powerful they should never be used directly against the skin. This rule has a loose exception for lavender oil, but that's outside the point. To use essential oils safely they need to be diluted on a carrier. There are millions of applications, methods, and formulations to dilute essential oils. Choosing the right carrier or combination of carriers supports your blend, and is vital to enhancing its function and effect. I would even argue that the carrier you choose is just as important as the essential oils you choose.
When choosing a carrier for your precious blends, first consider how you will use them. This may seem basic, but it is important to focus on the use and application of a formulation to create fabulous creations. Don't limit your creativity by assuming you need an oil, or settling for mediocre end products. Taking the time to explore your options opens doors to real magic.
Consider the following questions when designing your product:
Will this formula be added to a bath?
Will it be applied to skin or hair?
Will it be used in a small or large area?
What kind of shelf life does this product need to have?
Is this an application that's appropriate for oil, or is another carrier more appropriate?
Answering these questions will help you choose the right type of carrier for your needs.
Once you have determined how you will use the product, it is time to refine your choices more deeply. Focus on the reason for your creation or the desired outcome. For instance, once you know you need an astringent, is there a specific astringent that is better suited to your needs than others? You know you want a moisturizer, but are there specific carrier oils whose properties will enhance your formula? Using carriers whose properties enhance your blends powerfully enhances the effectiveness of your blends.
Types of Carriers
There is a carrier for every purpose. Most people think of oils like olive, sweet almond, or jojoba, as a carrier. While oils are popular as a carrier, they are not the only show in town. In reality, the only limit to the types of applications and carriers available is limited to your imagination.
In Aromatherapy “carrier” almost goes synonymous with oil. Oils are easy, accessible, versatile, and often cheap. When trying to maximize the therapeutic benefits of carrier oils it’s always best to use unrefined, expeller-pressed oils. While refining oils takes away any natural color and fragrance the carrier has, it also takes away some of the nutrients and benefits of unrefined oils. If you don’t want any coloration or scent from the carrier you can get refined oils, just be very mindful of how they’re refined. Some processes use harmful chemicals that will get passed down to your end product. Here are some popular carrier oils, their benefits, and shelf life info. This is in no way an exhaustive list. There are hundreds of carrier oils.
Coconut- Coconut is one of my favorite carriers. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, making it solid at room temperature. Coconut oil is highly beneficial for both skin and hair. In addition to nourishing and strengthening skin, coconut is antimicrobial. It protects the skin from harmful bacteria, fungi, and parasites. It is also highly antioxidant and will extend the shelf life of your formulas. People with nut allergies can also be sensitive to coconut, so be mindful if you’re going to use it on other people.
Shelf life- About a year with no refrigeration
Sweet Almond- Sweet Almond is a light oil and is good for all skin types. It relieves inflammation, itching, and irritation. Sweet Almond is slow to absorb, meaning it lingers on the skin and is a good oil for massage applications. Sweet Almond oil is protein rich and high in Vitamins A, B1, 2, 6, and a little E.
Shelf life- One year with refrigeration.
Olive- One of our oldest allies is olive oil. It is highly therapeutic for both skin and hair. When choosing an olive oil for aromatherapy unrefined extra virgin is the best choice as it has the most nutrients. Packed with vitamins A, D, K, and E, antioxidants, and fatty acids, skin and hair love olive oil. It is a heavy oil so I usually mix it with another carrier. I find it is best for extra dry skin or during the cold winter months.
Shelf life- One year with refrigeration
Safflower- Safflower oil is a fairly light, odorless oil. It is really good at promoting circulation and improving circulatory problems. It is also good at easing painful joints, sprains. This is a wonderful carrier for sports massage rubs.
Shelf Life- Short be sure to refrigerate.
Avocado- Avocado oil contains a large amount of chlorophyll and is high in vitamins A, B, and D. It also has proteins and yummy fatty acids. Avocado oil is a great choice for climate-parched, dehydrated, damaged skin. Avocado oil is nourishing, softening, and restorative. All properties that make it good for mature skin. Avocado is a powerful carrier to soothe eczema and heal damaged skin.
Shelf Life- One to two years if refrigerated.
Flaxseed- Flaxseed balances skin pH, improves elasticity, and treats dry skin. Flaxseed oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s fight inflammation and provide a nourishing, protective lipid barrier. Flaxseed oil can also help lock water into your skin, increasing hydration. It is a good oil to use when treating inflammations, burns, eczema, psoriasis, or dermatitis. Flaxseed is a good regenerative capable of reducing scarring and stretch marks. Flaxseed also reduces pain and swelling of joints caused by arthritis, and sciatica.
Shelf life- refrigerated 2 months
Sunflower- Sunflower oil has high amounts of Vitamins A, B, D, and E. It also contains calcium, zinc, potassium, iron, and phosphorus. Sunflower Oil is a regenerative skin softener and conditioner. Sunflower Oil is good for moisturizing all skin types. It is not too greasy for oily skin and not too light for dry skin. It’s the baby bear of carrier oils. It’s just right.
Shelf Life- About a year
Hemp seed- Hemp seed is a potent anti-inflammatory, easing dermatitis, eczema, itching, swelling, and psoriasis. It is also good at relieving swelling caused by arthritis and sciatica. Hemp oil contains omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. It also has vitamins B, D, and other nutritional antioxidants. Hemp oil moisturizes without clogging your pores. Hemp oil also regulates the skin’s oil production, balancing out oil-prone complexions. Hemp oil calms inflammation and irritation of the skin. Now you know why hemp is such a badass.
Shelf life- A couple of months. Extend to a couple of years if frozen
Jojoba- Jojoba is technically not an oil, it is a wax. It is the closest substance to human sebum found in nature. It penetrates the skin quickly and deeply and is capable of balancing skin. This is one of the best carriers to use with oily skin. It softens and soothes dry inflamed skin soothing both eczema and acne. Its antioxidant properties extend the shelf life of oils it is mixed with.
Shelf life- Indefinite
Rosehip- Rosehip Oil is a really interesting character. It has astringent properties that help to tighten the pores and brighten your skin. It is rich in fatty acids, and vitamins A and C. Rosehip oil reduces scarring, heals burns, regenerates skin cells, and reduces the appearance of broken capillaries. It is highly regenerative and an excellent choice to use while recovering from surgery.
Shelf Life- a couple of months. Refrigerate to extend shelf life.
As mentioned most think of oils when they think of carriers to use in aromatherapy products. Basically, the only thing that is not a suitable carrier is water. Here are some of my favorite non-oil carriers.
I am a fan of using hydrosols as a carrier. Hydrosols are a by-product of steam distillation of essential oils. They have the same properties as the essential oil they come from, but milder effects. You can use a hydrosol neat, or add your favorite essential oils to it. Hydrosols are wonderful carriers to use in body sprays, facial toners, room sprays, bug sprays, mouthwashes, and many other things.
Salts and Clay
Salt is another wonderful carrier to use. I include sea salt, Epsom salt, and baking soda in this category. Epsom salts are a common additive to baths to relieve sore muscles. Salt also makes a wonderful scrub. You can also use salt and baking soda to make healing poultices. I often use baking soda as a room diffuser or carpet refresher. When I use salts I usually let the salt and essential oils sit together in a jar for a few days before I use them. Clay is also a very suitable carrier that is often overlooked. It makes wonderful facial masks and poultices.
If you want to try something new and don’t know where to start simply raid your kitchen. There are tons of foods you can use as topical carriers in Aromatherapy for your skin and hair. Yogurt, eggs, honey, fruit purees, milk, sugar, and oats, all have their uses in aromatherapy. If you’re formulating something to use in a bath limit the amount of sugar you add, however. This includes fruit, honey, and sugar. The high sugar content may contribute to yeast infections in some. Other than that the limit to food-based carriers you can use is really your imagination!
“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” - Mary Lou Cook
Using essential oils is a creative activity that benefits your mind, body, and spirit. Stop thinking of carriers as just a vehicle for essential oils. Mindfully choosing your carriers will up the ante on both the function and purpose of your final products. Thinking outside the box opens your mind to new ways of using essential oils. From vegetable oils to fridge favorites there is a carrier for all purposes. As long as you choose safe essential oils within proper dilution limits the sky is the limit. Take risks, experiment, and make messes. Above all just don't be afraid!