Whenever you are using essential oils, you need a vehicle to carry them into your body. Whether used topically, aromatically, or internally, it is good practice to dilute your essential oils so that they can be absorbed readily into your body. While some essential oils may be safe to use topically undiluted, I recommend diluting oils for a few reasons. See more about dilution in my post about Essential Oil Safety.
What are Carrier Oils?
Since essential oils are “oily” substances, they dilute best in other oily substances. Carrier oils are the fatty oils from plants, usually from the seeds, kernels or nuts. Unlike essential oils, carrier oils are not “volatile” which means they don’t evaporate quickly, which is great because they help “seal” the essential oil to your skin. They also don’t have strong aromas of their own. So while they don’t contain the therapeutic constituents of essential oils, they can play an indispensable companion of topically applied oils.
Most vegetable, nut, and seed oils used for cooking and food preparation can be used as carrier oils. However, many of the oils you find in grocery stores are highly refined and contain solvents and petroleum residues. It is important to choose Carrier oils that are natural and unadulterated, so look for oils labeled “organic” and “cold-pressed”. These oils will be free from contaminants and the cold processing best preserves the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in the oil.
Vegetable butters are not carrier oils, but the beneficial properties of vegetable butters like Cocoa Butter and Shea Butter make them suitable for use in with essential oils. Vegetable butters are similar to vegetable oils but are solid at room temperature. Vegetable butters are processed by a wide variety of methods, so it’s especially important to check the method of extraction when shopping for butters, and only use butters that are cold pressed.
Vegetable shortening, butter, and margarine are best left in the kitchen—they’re NOT intended for topical use. Mineral oil and other petroleum derivatives like petroleum jelly should also NEVER be used as carrier oils.
Storage and Shelf Life
Carrier oils can go rancid over time, but essential oils do not. Essential oils “oxidize” and lose their therapeutic benefits, but they don’t go rancid. Some carrier oils are odorless, but generally speaking, most have a faintly sweet, nutty aroma. If you come across a carrier oil that has a strong, bitter aroma, the carrier oil may have gone rancid. Toss it out and buy a new bottle. The shelf life of carrier oil can be prolonged by adding Vitamin E oil. Adding 400IU of Vitamin E for every ounce of carrier oil is recommended. In addition to prolonging the shelf life of your carrier oil, Vitamin E has a variety of benefits for your skin. It can help heal scar tissue, and prevents aging by rejuvenating the cellular activity of the skin.
For fragile carrier oils or for those that you will be keeping for a long duration, store them in dark glass bottles with tight fitting tops, and store them in a cool, dark location. If you will be using up an oil well before its lifespan, it really doesn’t need to be transferred to dark glass. When you purchase carrier oils, the supplier may have packaged it in a plastic (PET/HDPE) bottle. This doesn’t mean that the oil is inferior. Often suppliers use plastic bottles to save packaging and shipping costs and because many customers use up the oils shortly after purchase. Unlike with essential oils which should always be stored in glass (essential oils can dissolve the plastic), carrier oils can be stored in plastic.
Most carrier oils can be stored in the refrigerator, and this can help prolong the lifespan of fragile oils like Borage Seed Oil. Avocado Oil, however, should not be stored in the refrigerator. Oils stored in the refrigerator may solidify or turn cloudy and will need time to return to room temperature prior to use.
Mixing Essential Oils in Water
There are a number of reasons to mix essential oil in water solutions, but since oil and water don’t mix, you need to mix the essential oil with a dispersing agent so that it doesn’t just float on top of the water undiluted.
Essential oil baths are wonderful. You get the aromatic effects of the essential oils as they evaporate from the warm water as well as the soothing effects of warm water and the topical effects of the oils as you soak. For baths, there are several strategies to disperse the essential oils in the water. Many sources advise using a carrier oil to dilute the essential oils and then add that to your bath. This isn’t my favorite method though, since carrier oil, like essential oil, doesn’t mix well in the water and it leaves a messy ring in the bath tub. However, some people really like the effect of bath oils, especially those with dry skin. It does dilute the essential oil effectively and it forms a thin layer of oil on top of the water which envelopes you as you enter the bath. So if you don’t mind cleaning up the sticky bathtub ring, I recommend mixing 2-12 drops essential oil in a tablespoon of carrier oil and adding to your bath water. My preference is to mix 2-12 drops of essential oil with 1 cup of milk or cream, 1 tablespoon of honey or castile soap, or 2 oz. Himalayan or Epsom bath salts, then add to your bath. Lavender, Chamomile, Vetiver, Frankincense, and Myrrh are all wonderful additions to your bath water. If you like the fragrance of the rich florals like rose, ylang ylang, or geranium, I recommend using only a drop or two. These scents are lovely, but can quickly become overpowering.
Mixing EO in water in spray bottles is another useful application for EO. These solutions can be used for a variety of purposes, such as household cleaning solutions, air fresheners, body sprays, and aromatherapy sprays. Castile soap, vegetable glycerin, baking soda or salt can help disperse the essential oils through the water in these applications.
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