I’ve had a lot of people ask, “Which carrier oil is the best?” The answer is that there is no cut-and-dry answer. The better question is, “Which carrier oil is the best for this application?” Carrier oils are at the heart of many of the formulations you’ll make in your herbal journey, and of the dozens of available choices, each has pros and cons. From availability to usability, let’s examine some of the most popular carrier oils, their uses, and their applications.
What is a Carrier Oil?
Carrier oils (also known as vegetable, fixed, or base oils) have earned their name due to their ability to "carry" herbal properties to the skin and body without risk of harm. These oils are naturally derived from the fatty parts of plants such as nuts, seeds, and kernels. They are generally odorless and range in color from clear to neutral shades. Carrier oils are also typically packed with their own constituents of fatty acids, nutrients, and vitamins, making them valuable assets to a formulation as a whole. Because they differ in consistency, color, smell, absorption rate, shelf life, and benefits, there’s usually one that’s perfect for your specific needs.
What are Carrier Oils Used For?
When it comes to herbalism, carrier oils are primarily used as the menstruum for extracting an herb's medicinal properties, usually through a process called infusion. These infusions or infused oils are then used in salves, balms, lotions, body oils, creams, and other preparations.
Within your formulation, your carrier oil will not only act as a carrier for your herbal properties, but it can also perform several other important actions, such as acting as a moisture barrier, working to expedite wound healing, helping to reduce inflammation, or aiding in the reduction of oxidative stress.
Carrier oils are also commonly employed as ‘carriers’ for other therapeutic substances, most commonly essential oils. Many essential oils are often too concentrated to apply directly to the skin without risk of irritation. When the use of carrier oil is employed, you can control an essential oil’s concentration and allow the essential oils to absorb into the skin safely.
What Carrier Oil Should I Use?
The list of available carrier oils is vast. While carrier oils have been used for centuries, with some earning more popularity than others, it’s essential to note that some oils are better than others for specific formulations. For beginners, we recommend starting out with olive oil or coconut oil because they have long shelf lives and are suitable for most applications, from skincare to culinary uses, but there are many options available:
Apricot Kernel Oil
Apricot Kernel oil is lightweight and has an above-average absorbency rate. Due to its light color and soothing, anti-inflammatory properties, it's one of the best oils for skin care applications.
Mature or Sensitive Skin, Serums, and other Skin Care Products
Argan oil is a high-end skincare oil with a medium-weight oil and medium absorbency rate that can leave a slightly oily feeling. It’s excellent at regenerating and soothing inflamed skin and reducing wrinkles, but there is some evidence that argan oil can aggravate acne-prone skin.
Mature Skin, Hair Care, Serums, and other Skin Care Products
Avocado oil is a medium-weight oil with a high absorbency rate that penetrates deep into the skin. Avocado oil is commonly blended with other carrier oils since, when used by itself, it can leave a sticky or waxy feeling.
Dry Skin, Creams, Salves, Balms, Lotions, Serums, and other Skin Care Products
Castor oil is one of the heaviest-weight oils commonly used in skin care products. It can leave a greasy or shiny coating on the skin. However, since Castor Oil is a humectant, it attracts moisture to your skin.
Dry Skin, Mature Skin, Lip Balms, Salves, Balms, Creams, Hair Care and Soaps
Coconut Oil (Non-Fractionated)
Non-fractionated or raw coconut oil is lightweight with an above-average absorbency rate. It is one of the most nourishing oils for the skin, but many people have allergies to it, and the oil can clog pores for some sensitive-skinned people. Use sparingly in facial products. Note that this oil will solidify in cooler evnvirontments.
Normal Skin, Creams, Salves, Balms, Lotions, Hair Care and Soaps
Coconut Oil (Fractionated)
Fractionated coconut oil is among the lightest carrier oils available. It has a high absorbency rate and powerful moisturizing properties. It boasts a long shelf life, but again, many people have allergies to it and it can clog pores. The fractionating process allows this oil to stay liquid.
Normal Skin, Creams, Salves, Balms, Lotions, Hair Care and Soaps
Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil is a high-end skincare oil with a medium weight and an above-average absorbency rate. It is one of the best oils for acne-prone skin and closely resembles your skin’s natural oil (sebum).
All Skin Types, Massage Oils, Serums, and other Skin Care Products
Grape seed oil is a light, ‘dry’ oil with a high absorbency rate. Since it is exceptionally high in antioxidants and omega-6 fatty acids, it’s an excellent choice for formulations to treat eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis. Be aware that Grapeseed oil has a short shelf life.
Normal Skin, Oily Skin, Massage Oils, Serums, and other Skin Care Products
Made from the cannabis plant and rich in omega fatty acids and proteins, hempseed oil is lightweight with a medium absorption rate and slightly nutty aroma. It’s wonderful for cosmetics and other applications where you don’t mind a slightly darker color. We recommend using our non-GMO, organic hempseed carrier oil for most applications.
Dry Skin, Mature Skin, Creams, Salves, Balms, Lotions, Hair Care, Soaps, Skincare Products
Jojoba oil is a medium-thick with a high absorbency rate and a long shelf life. It’s rich in nutrients and works well for most skin types. It’s an excellent moisturizer with a ‘grippy’ texture that reduces the slide or glide of a lotion product. Because of that, you may want to omit it from massage oils.
All Skin Types especially Sensitive Skin, Hair Care, Lotions, Lip Balms, Salves, Serums, and other Skin Care Products
Olive oil is a medium-weight oil with an average absorbency rate. Due to its allergy-friendly and shelf-stable nature, it is one of the most widely used carrier oils in skin care products.
Dry skin, Massage Oils, Facial formulations, Hair Care, and Soaps.
Neem oil is a thick oil with a slow absorption rate, a dark color, and a robust earthy odor. Though heralded for its skin-healing and antibacterial properties, its smell and color make it less suitable for everyday applications.
Dry Skin, Salves, Balms, Bug Reppelant Formulations
Sweet Almond Oil
Sweet Almond Oil is a light to medium-weight oil with a medium absorbency rate. It’s known for its ability to soften and re-condition the skin. Because it has no flavor, it is an excellent choice for lip balms. Note that some people with nut allergies may have a reaction to Sweet Almond Oil. Also, Sweet almond oil has a shorter shelf life.
All Skin Types, Hair Care, Massage Oils, Lip Balms, Serums, and other Skin Care Products
Rosehip Seed Oil
Rosehip seed oil is a premium oil with a medium weight and high absorbency rate but a short shelf life. Storing it in the refrigerator can extend the shelf life. Due to its high essential fatty acid and antioxidant content, it’s particularly suitable for mature, sun-damaged, or weathered skin.
Mature Skin, Massage Oils, Serums, and other Skin Care Products
HOW DO I CHOOSE A CARRIER OIL?
At first glance, choosing a carrier oil may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be! Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when determining which carrier oil is best for your needs:
What is the desired effect?
Each carrier oil has a unique weight, absorption rate, and properties. The first step is determining the skin feel and texture you want your finished formulation to have.
What skin type is your product for?
Some carrier oils are better suited for specific skin types than others, particularly when making formulations for facial products; consider the skin type your product will be best for.
Work With the Best Ingredients Possible
Whether you’re making a thick balm for dry, cracked heals, a first aid salve for minor cuts, or a soothing soap for sensitive skin, the carrier oil you choose will impact the success of your product. Always make sure you buy the best quality oil your budget allows, and whenever possible, choose cold-pressed, 100% pure, and unrefined oils with no added additives or preservatives.
Getting the Formula Right
Whether you’re mixing healing salves for your family in your home or whipping up natural creations in your small-batch apothecary, understanding how different carrier oils work will help you create products that are as therapeutic as they are beneficial to your body. Tell us all about your favorite carrier oils in the comments below and until next time,