Carrier oils are often overlooked in aromatherapy as ‘base oils’, simply used as a medium to blend essential oils for massage, baths or skin care. However, most carrier oils have their own therapeutic properties. They also make up the largest percentage of any aromatherapy blend and therefore deserve more thought when choosing which one to use.

Why Are Carrier Oils Used To Dilute Essential Oils?

The majority of essential oils are too powerful to be applied neat to the skin (lavender and tea tree are exceptions to this rule) and need a medium in which to be diluted, blended and carried. Carrier oils are vegetable oils such as olive, sunflower and sweet almond o. They are not mineral oils such as those used for baby oils or petroleum jelly. Essential oils readily bond with the lipid (fat) molecules in vegetables oils. This allows their potency to be dispersed and diluted for use on the skin.

As a massage medium, carrier oils help spread a small quantity of essential oils over large body areas. They also ensure that the essential oils are completely diluted in a blend, and slow down their evaporation rate so that they can be more readily absorbed into the skin.

A common massage blend for an average-sized adult would be:

30 ml carrier (vegetable) oil such as sweet almond or sunflower

3 to 4 essential oils at a ratio of 4 to 6 drops each

The above blend makes an approximate 3% dilution of essential oils to carrier oil. In the UK, 3% is considered the maximum highest concentration suitable for safe use in massage and on the skin.

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Why Use Carrier Oils To Dilute Bath Oils?

Essential oils do not dissolve in water and should not be added neat to a bath. The oil will not disperse but float around the bath in undiluted oil droplets. If these should come into contact with delicate areas of the body – they will sting! For children’s baths, this is particularly risky as the child may put their hands in the water and then in their eyes or mouth, damaging their eyes or causing them to swallow the essential oil.

Carrier oils dissolve easily in baths and can be used as a medium to ‘carry’ essential oils around the water, dispersing them at a safe dilution. You can use any type of vegetable oil as your base.

A simple blend for a bath oil would be:

10 ml carrier oil, eg olive oil

10 drops of an essential oil of your choice

This blend makes a 5% dilution of essential oil, which is safe to use in baths for adults. For children or the elderly, reduce to a 3% dilution. For pregnant women reduce to 1.5%; also seek advice from your doctor or midwife before use.

Properties Of Carrier Oils

The most commonly used carrier oils in aromatherapy are sweet almond and grapeseed. However, there are many more carrier oils you can choose for your blends.

Sweet almond

The most popular oil of choice. Readily and easily spreads around the body in massage and rarely causes skin irritation. This oil is rich in linoleic acid, which makes it nourishing to the skin and good for treating dry skin conditions. During pregnancy or if you have a nut allergy, substitute for sunflower oil.

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Grapeseed

This oil is also rich in linoleic acid and nourishes the skin. It is particularly useful for oily skins and problem skins. It is used in the cosmetic industry as an anti-aging product due to its potent antioxidants and it is useful for sun-damaged skin.