Understanding What Carrier Oils Are

Carrier oils are oils with little or no scent that are used to dilute essential oils before they're applied to the skin during aromatherapy massage and other aromatherapy applications.

Also known as base oils, carrier oils are often mixed with an essential oil in a dilution of 0.5% to 5% for an adult; however, the dilution depends on the type of essential oil, where the oil is applied, and the size and health of the person.

Essential oils are also mixed with carrier oils in skin lotions, creams, body oils, bath oils, hair oils, and lip balm.

Carrier oils should be stored away from heat and direct sunlight to prevent the oil from going rancid quickly.

Aromatherapy carrier oil with essential oil
VOISIN / Getty Images

Types

Carrier oils are typically sourced from the nut, seed, or kernel of a plant. Some of the more popular oils include:

Jojoba oil, which is technically not an oil but a liquid wax, is also commonly used as a carrier oil. Lotions, distilled water, or aloe vera can also be used as carriers.

Essential oils should not be applied directly to the skin; diluting these highly concentrated oils spreads the small amount of essential oil over a large skin area, helping to prevent skin irritation and other adverse reactions.

Choosing a Carrier Oil

The type of carrier oil that is best for you depends on your skin type, whether you have any allergies, and how and where you'll be applying the oil.

Those labeled organic, cold-pressed, expeller-pressed, or unrefined tend to indicate that the oil is high quality and wasn't heavily processed and/or grown with certain chemicals or pesticides.

To find the best oil for you, experiment with a few oils using a patch test and see how your skin responds.

For Your Face

If you're applying a carrier oil to the skin of your face, look for thinner oils like grapeseed or sunflower seed oil, particularly if you have acne-prone skin.

Jojoba oil is another option that is similar to the skin's sebum and can be balancing and moisturizing. Lab research also suggests that jojoba oil can sometimes enhance antimicrobial activity of essential oils while reducing their potential for toxicity.

Oils labeled as noncomedogenic means they have received a low rating on a comedogenic scale and may be less likely to clog pores and lead to acne. However, the ratings scale isn't standardized and how skin responds can vary widely between individuals.

For example, oils that are typically considered more comedogenic, such as coconut oil, may be problematic and lead to acne in some people, whereas other individuals may not have any issue from using it.

Noncomedogenic
  • Argan oil

  • Grapeseed oil

  • Neem oil

  • Safflower oil

  • Sunflower seed oil

Comedogenic
  • Avocado oil

  • Coconut oil

For Your Hair

Applying oils to your hair can help if you're dealing with dry, dull, or damaged hair. A thinner oil such as grapeseed or argan oil may be better suited to those with fine hair, while thicker oils such as coconut oil are better suited to those with coarse, dry, or damaged hair.

For Massage

For an aromatherapy massage, the massage oil should have some staying power to allow the massage therapist's hands to glide over the skin. Popular massage oils include almond oil, fractionated coconut oil, jojoba oil, sunflower oil, or apricot kernel oil.

It's also best to not exceed a 1% dilution (one drop of essential oil per teaspoon of carrier oil) for massage oil since it will be used generously and sometimes over a large region of the body.

For Bath Oils

Most carrier oils that you may use for other purposes can be used for baths and can either be rubbed on skin or poured directly into the bath. Always do a patch test before you do a full soak. You can opt for essential oils that you find relaxing, such as lavender.

For Homemade Soaps

If you start making your own soaps, carrier oils are a way to make them more moisturizing and to blend in scent from essential oil. Most carrier oils will work well in soap recipes. You could try apricot kernel oil, sweet almond oil, olive oil, or jojoba oil.

Another option is to use unscented liquid soap as a carrier for essential oil in the same ratios as you'd used for carrier oil.

How to Mix Carrier Oils with Essential Oils

To mix carrier oils with essential oils, first measure out the carrier oil and then add drops of essential oil. Many essential oils have a cap that lets out one drop at a time or you could use a dropper. You may want to start with a low dilution and then add more drops if desired. Shake the oil mixture to blend it and then apply it.

Most carrier oils have a shelf life of six months or more, so you can make a large batch for later use. If the oil starts to smell rancid, discard it.

Dilution Essential Oil Carrier Oil
0.5% 3 drops 1 oz (2 tbsp, 30 ml)
1% 6 drops 1 oz (2 tbsp, 30 ml)
2% 12 drops 1 oz (2 tbsp, 30 ml)
3% 18 drops 1 oz (2 tbsp, 30 ml)
4% 24 drops 1 oz (2 tbsp, 30 ml)
5% 30 drops 1 oz (2 tbsp, 30 ml)

Always discuss essential oil use with a physician if you plan to use a carrier oil mixture on children. The dilution should also typically be kept between 0.25% to 2.5% for kids.

How to Do a Patch Test

Prior to fully applying an essential oil in carrier oil to your skin, it's recommended to do a patch test to see if you develop any skin reactions. If at any point during the patch test you develop signs of an allergic reaction (hives, rash, difficulty breathing), rinse the area with water and seek medical attention.

Follow these steps for a patch test:

  • Dilute the essential oil in a small amount of carrier oil that's preferably twice the concentration that you plan to use. For example, if you plan to use a 1% dilution, you would make a 2% dilution (1 drop of carrier oil in a 1/2 teaspoon of carrier oil) for the patch test.
  • Apply two or three drops of the diluted mixture to a Band-Aid and apply the Band-Aid directly to your skin (the forearm is often recommended).
  • After 24 to 48 hours, remove the Band-Aid and check for any signs of a skin reaction (rash, redness, itching, blisters). If the skin is irritated or inflamed in any way, avoid using that oil on your skin.

Try to keep the skin as dry as possible during the patch test, especially in the first 24 hours after you apply it.

Precautions

It's important to note that certain oils may trigger allergic reactions, especially among individuals with nut allergies. 

Diluting an essential oil in a carrier oil doesn’t necessarily reduce the risk of certain side effects from the essential oil (such as allergic contact dermatitis, or skin reactions after sun exposure).

The total amount of essential oil that comes in contact with the skin and is absorbed is what matters. Ingesting the oil can result in systemic adverse reactions such as liver, kidney, or neurological toxicity.

When blending essential oils and carrier oils, it’s crucial to avoid direct skin exposure to the essential oils and to work in a very well-ventilated area for only short periods at a time.

If you plan to spend time outdoors, avoid using blends that contain citrus essential oils, such as orange or lemon, since research suggests that these essential oils may make your skin more sensitive to sunlight and more likely to burn or become irritated.

Pregnant and nursing women and children should always consult their primary care providers before using essential oils.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many drops of essential oil should you put in 10 millileters (ml) of carrier oil?

Use one drop (0.5% dilution) or up to a max of 10 drops (5% dilution).

Where can I buy carrier oil?

You can buy carrier oils at grocers or online.

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Article Sources
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