Carrier Oils, Carrier Base Oil General Help & Information.
Essential oils are concentrated and powerful and most cannot be used directly on the skin or they will cause irritation. Because of there concentration they need to be diluted in what are called 'carriers'. Most carrier oils are simply used for lubrication, but a few have therapeutic properties of their own, which can be chosen to complement those of the essential oils used with them. For example, peach kernel, apricot kernel and particularly avocado oil are all rich and nourishing and help dry and ageing skins. Wheatgerm oil (rich in Vitamin E) is used to reduce scar tissue after injury or operations and also facial scarring caused by severe acne. Wheatgerm is also a natural antioxidant which helps to prevent other oils from becoming rancid (i.e. oxidising). Small amounts (up to 10%) will improve the keeping ability of any other oil by two or three months.
Cold Pressed Oils - Cold pressed vegetable oils are the best and are generally superiour oils. In the cold pressing process, excessive heat is avoided in order to minimise changes to the natural characteristics of the oil.
Traditionally, there are two methods of cold pressing. In one, the raw material (seeds, nuts or kernels) is simply pressed with a hydraulic press and the oil is squeezed out. This process is only used for soft oily seeds and plant material such as olive, sesame and sunflower etc. Harder seeds, such as safflower, require more force and a large, powerful screw device known as an expeller is used to crush the plant material, which may be passed through the expeller more than once. The crushed shells, etc are removed from the oil by a succession of filters, the last of which is made of paper. The oil obtained is usually clear (avocado is an exception as it is usually cloudy, especially in cold conditions) and has its taste and nutritional properties intact.
Macerated Oils - Macerated oils have additional properties to all the vegetable oils described because of the way they are produced. Particular parts of certain plants are chopped up and added to a selected carrier oil (usually sunflower or olive) and the mix is agitated gently for some time before placing in strong sunlight for several days. All of the oil-soluble compounds present in the plant material (including the essential oil chemicals) are transferred to the carrier oil, which consequently contains extra therapeutic properties. The macerated mixture is then filtered carefully to remove all the added plant material.
Organic Vegetable Oils - Strictly speaking, organic oils can only be produced from organically grown plant material using approved processes. The rules for organic processing generally exclude the use of chemicals, and a truly organic fixed oil is obtained only from plants which are both organically grown and organically processed.
Vegetable Oils - Vegetable oils constitute the bulk of the mix used to perform an aromatherapy massage. There function is to carry or act as a vehicle for administering the essential oils to the body, hence the term carrier oil. They also act as a lubricant, making it possible to carry out massage movements. All carrier oils are emollient, to a greater or lesser degree.
Basic Vegetable Oils - Sweet almond, apricot kernel, grapeseed, peach kernel and sunflower are among the most common carrier oils, and can be used with or without essential oils for a straightfoward body massage. They are generally pale in colour, not too thick and have very little smell.
Special Vegetable Oils - Certain vegetable oils tend to be more viscous and heavier than basic ones, and can be rather expensive. These include avocado, olive, sesame, rose hip and wheatgerm. The really rich oils such as avocado and wheatgerm are seldom, if ever used on their own. It is more usual to add 10-25% of these two to 75-90% of a basic carrier oil.
Massage Carrier Oils
For massage with essential oils use a carrier oil made specifically for that use. These are all extracted by cold-pressing, ie they are put under high pressure in their natural, raw state when first harvested to squeeze out the oil, and neither heat nor steam is used in the process. This retains the nutrients in the oils ( the proteins, minerals, vitamins, etc) that allow them to be readily absorbed by the skin. Virtually any vegetable oil can be used as a carrier, but anything other than a specific massage carrier will have several drawbacks. All will be too heavy to be easily absorbed by the skin, and most are not cold-pressed and will often contain additives, flavorings or colouring. Ordinary vegetable oils have little or no therapeutic value in themselves, whereas massage carriers will have their own benefits. Baby oils and other mineral oils are not suitable for aromatherapy massage as they are specifically made to lie on the surface of the skin and will not be absorbed.
There are several different massage carrier oils produced, but we have detailed here the most often used carrier oils:
- Sweet Almond
- Peach Kernel
- Evening Primrose
Carrier Oils Storage Information
All oils, essential and carrier, have a limited 'shelf life' and over time will degenerate by oxidisation and become rancid. Adding Wheatgerm to any blend will extend its life, and a blend with essential oils will keep for longer than the carrier alone. The best method is to mix only as much as you will use for one treatment.
Latin name: Vitis vinifera. Grapeseed oil has little or no smell at all, and very light and virtually colourless.
Method of extraction: Grapeseeds are washed, dried, ground and pressed. The extracted oil may then be refined to improve clarity and flavour.
About the plant and its environment: The plant is a deciduous climbing vine which grows to a length of about 18-30 metres. The cultivated vine has hermaphrodite flowers while wild forms are unisexual. There are about 3000 cultivated varieties all with grapes that usually contain no more than two seeds.
About the oil: First produced in France, grapeseed oil is now produced mainly in Spain, Italy and California. Grape seeds yield a high quality oil which is edible and it is now widely known thanks to its food and dietetic properties.
Therapeutic properties (internal use): Grapeseed oil is easily digested and does not contain any cholesterol.
Therapeutic properties (external use):
- Leaves the skin with a smooth satin finish without being greasy.
Folk-lore and traditional plant uses: It is believed that this oil was first produced during times of hardship in Napoleonic France. Michelet refers to a grapeseed oil mill in Tarn at a time when France was struggling to feed herself.
Latin name: Prunus persica. Aroma: Peach kernel is essentially odourless, and a slightly paler yellow than sweet almond.
Method of extraction: The oil is obtained by cold pressing of the kernels. (The best quality oil is obtained by cold pressing).
About the plant and its environment: The peach tree is a small deciduous tree growing to a maximum height of only about 8 metres (25 feet) with its origins in China. It was Alexander the Great who brought news of the peach from Persia, and by the first century AD peaches were being enjoyed by the Romans, who brought the peach to Europe. California and Texas are now the world's major producers even though the tree grows well, sometimes for centuries, in an alkaline soil with plenty of sun.
About the oil: Chemically and physically peach kernel oil is similar to apricot kernel and sweet almond oils, but it is more expensive than sweet almond, possibly because it is not produced in such large quantities and is mostly cold pressed. Persic oil is expressed from the seeds of persica and, armeniaca (apricot) and is largely used in the manufacture of toilet preparations and as a substitute for almond oil.
Therapeutic properties (internal use): As with both sweet almond oil and apricot kernel oil, peach kernel oil is said to be effective in reducing blood cholesterol levels.
Therapeutic properties (external use):
- Skin protection (emollient, nourishing and it is slowly absorbed).
- Relieves itching.
Peach kernel oil is suitable for sensitive, dry and ageing skins and makes a good facial massage oil.
Folk-lore and traditional plant uses: The plant - bark, leaves, expressed oil - has been used for its sedative, diuretic and expectorant properties. It has been used in coughs, whooping cough and chronic bronchitis and also for irritation and congestion of the gastric surfaces.
Latin name: Prunus dulcis. Aroma: Delicate, sweet and practically odourless. Colour: Virtually clear, with a hint of pale yellow.
Method of extraction: This oil is obtained by cold pressing the kernels. The best quality oil is obtained by cold pressing.
Vitamins: A, B1, B2, B6 and E.
About the plant and its environment: The almond tree is indigenous to the Middle East, and is now cultivated in the supportive warm climates of the Mediterranean countries and California. It is an ancient tree, which has been cultivated for thousands of years.
Almonds were prized by the Greeks, who introduced them to southern Europe. The trees were grown in Italy for hundreds of years before they spread to France in the 8th century and on to Britain some 800 years later. The tree is small, reaching only 3-7 metres (10-23 feet) in height and bears white or pink blossom in the springtime, which appears at about the same time as the leaves begin to show. The fruits have a light-green, furry outer skin and have the appearance of a small, green apricot.
About the oil: Sweet almond oil is one of the most used carrier oils; it is pale yellow in colour, slightly viscous and very oily. In pharmacy, almond oil means strictly the oil of Prunus amygdalis, although the oils of the peach kernel (Prunus persica, apricot kernel (Prunus armeniaca) and hazelnut are chemically similar. Indeed, it is a difficult matter to discriminate between these, both chemically and physically. An advantage that these oils have over some others is that they have less of a tendency to become rancid.
Therapeutic properties (internal use): Sweet almond oil is said to be effective in reducing blood cholesterol levels.
Therapeutic properties (external use):
- an excellent emollient, alleviating and nourishing dry skin.
- helps to sooth inflammation.
- beneficial in relieving the itching caused by eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis and all cases of dry scaly skin.
- has been used to ease irritation on baby's bottoms.
- soothes sunburn.
Pharmacological studies reveal that sweet almond oil is absorbed slowly through the skin. Sweet almond oil can be used for massage.
Folk-lore and traditional plant uses: Almonds were very popular in Elizabethan England soon after they were introduced into the country and were much used in cookery, which often also included almond water. Sweet almond seed or seed oil has been used as a folk cancer remedy for bladder, breast, mouth, spleen and uterine cancers, among others says that the expressed oil is useful in bronchial diseases, tickling coughs, hoarseness, nephritic pains etc.
Latin name: Prunus armeniaca. A fairly light aroma, marzipan like. Virtually clear with a hint of yellow.
Method of extraction: The oil is obtained by cold pressing the kernels. (The best quality oil is obtained by cold pressing).
About the plant and its environment: The tree is native to China when it was transported to the Middle East, following which the Romans established many apricot orchards in southern Europe. Eventually, in 1720, the apricot tree reached the USA, where it continues to flourish. Apricots are grown commercially in the south of France. The apricot tree is deciduous, growing up to about 9 metres (30 feet) high. Around February to March white flowers tinged with red appear, followed soon after by the leaves, which also have red tips when young; this feature gives the tree an attractive appearance and distinguishes it from the peach tree.
About the oil: Apricot oil is almost identical to sweet almond oil, but slightly more expensive (probably because less is produced).
Therapeutic properties (internal use): Apricot kernel oil has similar uses to those of sweet almond oil ie it is said to be effective in reducing blood cholesterol levels.
Therapeutic properties (external use):
- excellent for skin protection, being both emollient and nourishing.
- readily absorbed because of its texture.
- beneficial in relieving the itching caused by eczema.
- suitable for sensitive, dry and ageing skins.
The finely milled shells are sometimes used in facial scrub to cleanse away dead skin cells. Apricot kernel oil has traditionally been incorporated into cosmetic products for its softening action on the skin and is used in soaps and creams.
Folk-lore and traditional plant uses: The crushed fruit has been used as a facial mask to soften the skin. In traditional Chinese medicine apricot kernels are used as an antitussive and antiasthmatic and in treating tumours.
Latin name: Cocos nucifera. Aroma: Has a virtually odourless aroma. Colour: This oil is clear in colour.
Method of extraction: Coconut oil is obtained by cold pressing the flesh found inside the shell of the coconut.
About the plant and its environment: The palm tree grows to about 25 metres (80 feet) and is of great commercial significance. The origin of the coconut is unknown, but it is believed to have spread from the Indian Ocean to Malaysia and Polynesia. The outer fibres of the coconut are impervious to salt water and when fruits from plants growing at the water's edge dropped into the sea they were taken by currents and tides throughout the South Sea Islands. Now, because of its economic importance, the coconut is cultivated in many tropical areas, especially Africa and south east Asia. The fruit is a large drupe with a hard endocarp and fibrous pericarp, the seed and its endocarp making up the commercial coconut. The seed albumin consists of the milk and a solid - the copra, which contains about 65% lipids.
About the oil: Coconut oil is a solid being a white, crystalline, highly saturated fat, having a distinctive, easily recognised odour. It is stable when exposed to air. When solid coconut oil is fractionated a clear liquid oil results. It is the fractionated oil whitch is used in aromatherapy.
Therapeutic properties (internal use): The fractionated oil contains triacylglycerols with a medium chain length and it is used in the diet of cystic fibrosis sufferers. This is because the high proportion of medium chainlength fatty acids make the oil more easily absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract. It is used in suppositories because it softens and melts at bodt temperature.
Therapeutic properties (external use): The oil is frequenty used in massage creams because of its emollient properties.
Folk-lore and traditional plant uses: As it lathers easily coconut oil is used in the making of white soaps; it is also a source of fatty alcohol for the manufacture of soapless detergent. The hard shell is burned for charcoal and the coir (outer fibre) is a valuable raw material used in the manufacture of rope, mattresses, mats etc. Copra, the dried kernel of the coconut, no longer white but brown and shrivelled, yields two thirds by weight of the oil and the cake resulting from extraction provides animal fodder. In india the coconut is considered to be the fruit of aspiration; a coconut is split at the beginning of functions to gain the blessing of the gods, whether launcing a ship or making a film. The coconut provides milk, water, cream. and oil to Ayurvedic medicine for use in the treatment of burns, hair loss, dissolution of kidney stones, heart and circulatory problems.
Latin name: Triticum vulgare. Aroma: Wheatgerm has a stronger aroma than most carrier oils. Colour: A strong orange colour.
Vitamins: A, B1, B2, B6, F, and rich in vitamins E. Mineral content: A, C1, Co, Cu, Fe, K, Mg, Mn, Na, S, Si, Zn.
Method of extraction: Milling the grains of wheat for white flour separates out the wheat germ, which contains 25% protein, and a wide selection of vitamins and minerals. The oil is extracted from the germ and then extracted in a process that is similar to maceration.
About the plant and its environment: A cereal grass native to West Asia but widely cultivated in subtropical and temperate regions. The stems, up to 1 metre (3 feet) high, each bear a cylindrical head of up to a hundred flower clusters grouped in vertical rows. T durum is used for the making of semolina and pasta, while T. aestivum is used for bread. The wheat grain consists of the husk (bran) 12%, the germ 3% (containing vitamins, minerals and protein, with the endosperm, consisting mainly of starch, making up the rest.
About the oil: The oil contains high levels of vitamin E, a natural antioxidant, so it can be added to other carrier oils to act as a preservative. Although it is fairly expensive, wheatgerm oil is the richest food source we have for vitamin E; soybean oil also has a high tocopherol content.
Therapeutic properties (internal use): In growing children, the oil helps to maintain healthy spines, bones and muscles. It can also be taken to help prevent eczema, indigestion and the development of varicose veins and it is said to be anticoagulant. Wheatgerm oil has antioxidant properties due to the high tocopherol content and helps to remove cholesterol deposits from the arteries and is a useful food oil in the battle against low density lipoprotein; the pharmaceutical industry uses the antioxidant properties of tocopherols, often in synergy with ascorbic acid.
Therapeutic properties (external use):
- Rich in lipid soluble vitamins therefore very good for revitalizing dry skin.
- Believed to help relieve symptoms of dermatitis.
- Beneficial for tired muscles, making a good base for after sport massage.
Wheatgerm is useful on ageing skin where its natural antioxidants are an effective weapon in the war against free radicals, softening the skin and making it more supple because of its cell regenerative properties.
Latin name: Oenothera biennis. Aroma: A light and sweet aroma. Colour: This is a light pale yellow oil.
Method of extraction: Evening primrose oil is expressed from the seeds.
About the plant and its environment: Native to North America, the evening primrose was introduced into Europe in 1619, and is now common in the Mediterranean; it is cultivated also in the UK. It has a golden-yellow ephemeral flowers which burst into bloom in early evening and soon die, leading to the formation of pods containing tiny seeds (similar in size to mustard seed) from which the oil is obtained. The following evening the next circle of flowers blooms and so they progress toward the tip of the stem. It can grow almost anywhere - by riverbeds, on mountains, by the seashore and even in the desert.
About the oil: Like borage oil, evening primrose oil is highly unsaturated (the seed contains up to 25% of an oil rich in unsaturated fatty acids) and is therefore more reactive and less stable than most other oils.
Therapeutic properties (internal use): Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is now known to lower blood cholesterol and is therefore extremely useful in the prevention of heart disease. Both linoleic and gamma-linolenic acids are classified as 'essential fatty acids' - vitamin-like materials which are vital for cell and body function but which cannot be made by the body itself. Evening primrose oil is claimed to be useful in treating degenerative disease and is said to reduce blood pressure, inhibit thrombosis, control arthritis, treat atopic eczema, decrease hyperactivity in children and help in dealing with alcohlism (by reversing liver degeneration), and PMT.
Therapeutic properties (external use):
- Useful for dry scaly skin.
- Dandruff conditions.
- Has benefited those with psoriasis.
- Helpful for eczema.
- Acelerates wound healing.
The oil can be used in antiwrinkle preparations at levels of around 20%. Once the triacylglycerol is broken down the GLA is used by the body in the repair and maintenance of skin tissue.
Folk-lore and traditional plant uses: Native North Americans made an infusion of the seeds to be used for healing wounds. They also used the leaves and roots. In Europe's past, evening primrose has rarely been used for medicinal purposes, but the plant was described by the English herbalist John Parkinson in 1629.
Latin name: Simmondsia sinensis. Aroma: A faint, and slightly sweet smell. Colour: It has a yellow, golden colour.
Method of extraction: The seeds are crushed to produce the oil.
About the plant and its environment: This perennial leathery-leaved shrub grows well in arid and semi-dry areas, growing naturally in the desert regions of Southern California, Arizona and north-west Mexico. The plant, which is either male or female, grows slowly and female bush only begins to bear seeds in its fifth year. It takes 12 years to achieve maturity, when it reaches a height of 2 - 7 feet; it is characterized by the blue-green leaves with a thick cuticle which limits water loss. The hulls of the fruit turn from green to brown before they crack and allow the seed to fall to the ground. The seeds are similar in appearance to coffe beans and are produced in the summer.
About the oil: Jojoba is not an oil but a golden coloured liquid wax. This is because it is not composed of triacylglycerols but of esters formed from long chain fatty acids (average chain length C20) and long chain fatty alcohols (average chain length C21). The oil does not oxidize easily, has a good thermal stability and does not become rancid, therefore it has a long shelf life and remains chemically unchanged for a period of years.
Therapeutic properties (internal use): The seeds have the reputation of being appetite depressant. The oil is not readily broken down by the digestive juices, thus it has a more direct beneficial action on the intestines.
Therapeutic properties (external use):
- Contains myristic acid which is an antiinflammatory agent, thus the oil can be beneficial in mixes for arthritis and rheumatism.
- Beneficial to all types of skin.
- Dry scalp.
- Chapped skin and nappy rash.
- Molecular structure similar to sebum and reportedly prevent its build-up.
- Control accumulation of excessive sebum and reportedly prevent its build-up.
There is evidence that jojoba can permeate the skin. Photographs have been produced showing the oil in a pool at the base of a hair and moving through the follicle wall into the corneal layer. Jojoba conditions the hair and is an ingredient in many commercial soaps and shampoos.
Folk-lore and traditional plant uses: Members of the Pueblo tribe, native to Mexico and south-western USA, crushed the jojoba seeds to produce an oil to use on their skin and hair to combat the drying effects of the desert sun. Warm jojoba oil eased their aches and pains, and was also used on skin abrasions. The seri used jojoba to care for inflamed eyes, colds and sore throats, and it was used for indigestion and wounds that refused to heal; it was topically applied to head sores. Early Spanish missionaries also became jojoba users, with Father Valardes in 1716 referring to the plant as the 'wonders gift of the desert'. Early settlers used the seeds as a survival food and the seeds were roasted as a substitute for coffee.
Latin name: Calendula officinalis. Colour: A yellow & orange colour.
Method of extraction: Calendula oil is obtained by means of maceration (see above).
About the plant and its environment: The plant originated in the Mediterranean area and the annual herb has been grown since the Middle Ages for its single or double, yellow or bright orange flowers. It is now to be found in gardens all over the world where it grows to a height of 50 cm (20 inches) and seeds itself once established.
About the oil: A fixed oil is not obtained from this plant but extracts (including the volatile elements) are produced, although not by distillation. The flowers are macerated in a fixed oil to produce calendula oil, also known as marigold oil.
Therapeutic properties (internal use): Calendula has vulnerary, choleretic and antispasmodic properties.
Therapeutic properties (external use): Calendula oil has a favourable effent on the skin and can be used for
- Broken veins.
- Varicose veins.
The application of calendula blossom decoctions for beauty purposes is known, eg for facial compresses. The oil has proved highly successful in preparations for chapped and cracked skin - especially hand and body products. It is often incorporated in oily and emulsified cosmetics for cleansing, softening and soothing.
Folk-lore and traditional plant uses: Historically, calendula has held a reputation as being antispasmodic, mildly diaphoretic, antiinflammatory, antihaemorrhagic, emmenagogic, styptic and vulnerary. Herbalists value calendula as a healer and been widely used as a remedy since ancient times. Internally it is used for gastric and duodenal ulcers, indigestion, gallbladder complaints, amenorrhea and dysmenorrhoea. Extracts, tinctures and infusions of its flowers have been employed topically in popular medicine for slow healing wounds, bed sores, bruises, cuts, scratches, varicose veins, gum inflammation, piles, persistent ulcers and burns. Calendula is recognised, along with witch hazel, as an effective astringent. The plants have a tightening affect on the skin by virtue of a reaction between the tannins they contain and skin proteins. The flowers are rubbed on to bee stings to soothe the irritation. Calendula extract is indicated for enlarged or inflamed lymph nodes, sebaceous cysts and acute or chronic skin lesion. A mouthwash suitable for use after tooth extraction can also be produced from a calendula extract.
Latin name: Corylus avellana. Aroma: A pleasant, light, sweet and somewhat nutty aroma. Colour: A light amber-yellow colour.
Method of extraction: The oil is usually obtained by cold pressing, after which it is left for a few days for the sediment to settle before filtering.
About the plant and its environment: This is a small deciduous tree (3 metres - 10 feet) is native to, and can be seen growing wild in the whole of northern Europe, although it may have originated in Greece. It has both male and female flowers on the one tree and the long, yellow catkins which appear in February or Martch are a conspicuous feature.
About the oil: Hazelnut oil is amber-yellow in colour and has a very pleasant taste. The oil is often used as a substitute for almond oil, to which it has a similar composition.
Therapeutic properties (internal use): Hazelnut oil is said to be digestive and vermifuge, and is used internally in cases of urinary stones, kidney colic and tapeworms. It is recommended for adolescents, old people, pregnant women and diabetics.
Therapeutic properties (external use):
- Said to penetrate the skin quickly.
- Nourishing to the skin.
- Light astringent action.
- Stimulating to the circulation.
It is often used for oily skins and, in cases of acne, sometimes diluted with grapeseed oil or another base oil such as sunflower.