As the FDA increases censorship of traditional wisdom, it becomes vital for the health-conscious consumer to have a practical knowledge of common natural ingredients. As an aromatherapist and herbalist with over 7 years experience (and maker of alternative skin goods) I’m excited to present a new blog series devoted to profiling common and useful natural (and questionable synthetic) ingredients. In this way, we may all be empowered to make informed decisions about what goes on and inside our bodies.
Carrier Oils make up the main ingredients for many aromatherapy and herbal products. Each carrier oil is unique and are best used for specific purposes. Here we’ll go over a variety of commonly used oils, their uses and their properties.
How It’s Made
Just like citrus essential oils, most carrier oils are expeller pressed from nuts, seeds or fruit depending on the variety. Some oils are refined or partially refined, which is not immediately alarming for cosmetic use. This generally involves heating, cooling and bleaching (with the use of natural clays, not actual bleach). Some companies may use chemical solvents in their refining process, so use your best judgement and always buy oils from a trusted source.
A Note About Shelf Life:
The shelf life given in the following descriptions is for the unaltered base oil. The final shelf life of a product will vary depending on the essential oils and antioxidants used. Always store natural products in a dark, cool place and you will often enjoy them for many years. You can tell when an oil goes bad generally based on smell. It will have a slight “sour” smell whereas most carrier oils are pretty much odorless.
If you want ultra soft, smooth and non-greasy skin, use coconut oil! Highly absorbent, antibacterial and soothing, this oil is perfect for all skin types. Coconut oil is typically refined using natural methods. Solid at room temperature, this oil is white (clear as a liquid) and odorless. The perfect base oil, it can be used 100% undiluted except when needing a liquid-at-room-temperature base, then it should be blended with another oil. Shelf life: 2 years. Refined.
Sweet Almond Oil
A wonderful base oil, the highly absorbent Sweet Almond Oil hydrates and softens without clogging pores. This oil is odorless and can be used as a base oil without dilution. Look for expeller pressed oil with a light yellow tint. Sweet almond oil poses a risk to those with nut allergies and is therefore not appropriate for young children or anytime where allergies are unknown. Shelf Life: 2 years. Partially Refined
Apricot Kernel Oil
The perfect choice for babies, this oil is quite similar to Sweet Almond yet it does not generally pose an allergy risk. This oil is also expeller pressed with a light yellow tint. Odorless and can be used undiluted as a base oil. Shelf life: 2 years. Expeller pressed/unrefined.
My new favorite! Grapeseed absorbs and softens even better than Sweet Almond. This oil is particularly useful for the hair follicles and is slightly astringent – perfect for treating acne. The partially oil is a beautiful pale green and completely odorless. Totally unrefined oil is a rich, dark green and has a slight odor. Can be used undiluted as a carrier oil. Shelf life: 2 years. Partially refined.
Rosehip Seed Oil
Perhaps the best oil for healing damaged skin, rosehip seed oil is gaining much popularity. This beautiful red oil is packed with nutrients traditionally used to treat scarring and signs of aging. This oil has so many uses, it deserves it’s own post! Not recommended for acne-prone skin, but wonderful for lightening acne scars. Should be diluted depending on application (typically 10-30%), except for therapeutic purposes. Shelf life: 2 years (must be refrigerated). Expeller pressed/unrefined.
Borage Seed Oil
Mega nutrient-rich, this oil makes a perfect component for facial serums. Highly regenerative, this oil can even be used on acne-prone skin where others cannot. This oil is a pale yellow color, odorless and should be diluted to 10% of the final product. Shelf life: 1 year. Expeller presed/unrefined.
Thick and mineral-rich, Jojoba makes a wonderful addition to a carrier oil. However, this oil is not to be used undiluted as it can either be too thick/sticky or slightly irritating. This oil is a deep yellow and generally odorless. Should not make up more than 10% of an oil blend. Shelf life: 2 years. Expeller pressed/unrefined.
Olive oil has long been the standard for herbal alchemy, although this heavy-weight oil is quickly being replaced by more absorbent mediums. This oil is thick, greasy and does not absorb easily. It is best used for conditions that need serious hydrating, like ultra dry hair or skin. Even still, it is best used diluted in another carrier oil, making up 10% of the final product at most. This oil ranges from light yellow to dark green depending on the press and variety. Shelf life: 2 years. Expeller pressed/unrefined.
There are many other carrier oils, especially exotics that you will see in natural products. It’s important to find one with a high quality base oil that suits your skin. You may already have a favorite! Leave a comment below with your first choice for a carrier oil, everyone’s skin is different!