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What are Carrier Oils?

In aromatherapy, the most common carrier oils are vegetable oils; however, base lotion, cream, distilled water, bubble bath, shampoo, honey and milk can also be used as carriers in aromatherapy, depending on the blend and method of application.  Vegetable oils used in aromatherapy are completely different to those used for cooking and the two should never be substituted for each other.

Different Types of Carrier Vegetable Oils in Aromatherapy

Cold pressed vegetable oils are the preferred carrier oil for aromatherapy use;  a hot pressed carrier vegetable oil will not contain the same therapeutic properties of a cold pressed carrier vegetable oil, due to the processing methods used.  The initial processing of a carrier oil will dictate the actual therapeutic properties it will hold in the end. Carrier vegetable oils can be defined as follows:

–basic carrier oil – the standard
–fixed carrier oil – a 'combination' of specialist oils (due to high pricing or extraction difficulties to be used on its own)
–macerated carrier oil – the basic carrier oil combined with some plant parts to obtain additional properties.

Popular Carrier Vegetable Oils Used in Aromatherapy

There are a wide variety of vegetable oils which are used as a carrier oil in aromatherapy; each carrier oil possesses its own therapeutic properties.  Some of the more popular carrier vegetable oils include:

–sweet almond oil (Prunus dulcis) – useful for soothing skin inflammation, eczema, sunburn, dry skin and to soften skin
– apricot kernel oil (Prunus armeniaca) – useful for sensitive skin, mature skin and skin nourishment; similar to sweet almond oil

– calendula oil (Calendula officinalis) – a macerated oil useful for inflammation, bruising, rashes, eczema and varicose veins
– jojoba oil (Simmondsia chinensis) – a “wax” more than an “oil” which is useful for dry skin, psoriasis, eczema, sunburn, arthritis and rheumatism.
– sunflower oil ( Helianthus annuus) – useful for bruises, skin diseases and asthma. 

Other Carrier Oils Used in Aromatherapy

Other carrier oils used in aromatherapy (but not exhaustive) include:

– avocado (Persea gratissima Caertn.)
–borage (Borago officinalis L.)
–carrot (Daucus carota)
–cocoa butter (Theobroma cacao)
–coconut (Cocos nucifera L.)
–evening primrose (Oenothera biennis)
–grapeseed (Vitis vinifera)
–macadamia (Macadamia ternifolia)
–olive (Olea europaea)
–palm kernel (Elaeis guineensis)
–st john's wort (Hypericum perforatum)
–walnut (Juglans regia).

How Carrier Oils Work

Carrier oils access the body in much the same way as essential oils access the body; up to the end of the 19th century, it was believed that the skin could not absorb soluble solutions, such as carrier oils (studies such as Fleischer 1877 concluded this).  However, various studies in the 20th century (including that of Valette and Sorbin 1963) have concluded that carrier oils can be absorbed by the skin.

Carrier Oils in Aromatherapy

Understanding the use of carrier oils in aromatherapy is essential to making successful aromatherapy blends and the therapeutic effects a carrier oil may have; combined with the properties of various essential oils, carrier oils can be used effectively to relieve a large number of health difficulties.  However, as is the case when using any essential oils or carrier oils, or if unfamiliar in the practice of aromatherapy, seek further professional advice from a qualified person.


- Price, Len 1999 Carrier Oils For Aromatherapy and Massage UK: Riverhead
- Price, Shirley 2000 Aromatherapy Workbook UK: Thorsons

This article was written by Sharon Falsetto and appeared in its original format on Suite101 as Using Carrier Oils in Aromatherapy Blends

It is expressively prohibited to copy or use this article in any way unless written permission is given by the author Sharon Falsetto.  If it is discovered that copyright laws have not been complied with, legal action will be pursued by the author Sharon Falsetto.

CopyrightSharonFalsetto2010 All Rights Reserved
Carrier oils are the basis of aromatherapy blends; carrier oils  are often blended together with several essential oils and help to overall make a safer aromatic mix.

The Importance of Carrier Oils

In the practice of aromatherapy, carrier oils are often thought of as secondary to essential oils; in fact, carrier oils are the primary basis of aromatherapy blends and are needed to effectively, and safely, use the majority of essential oils.  Carrier oils have many properties, in their own right, in addition to the essential oil properties in an aromatherapy blend.
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carrier oils and aromatherapy blends