Why Use a Carrier Oil and What the Heck Are They?
Introducing My New Essential Oils Database & A Cool New Website Design Feature Revealed
Notice anything different?? Phew…it’s been about a two-month process, but the new design for my website is complete!! Kudos to the designer…thanks Matt!
If you’re an essential oil lover, you’re going to love one of the new features. It’s my essential oils database! Yup, my database has all my articles on each oil and specific topics easily sorted for you. Here’s some examples:
- You love the scent of basil and want to know what it’s good for? Just click here.
- Are essential oils safe for children? Click here to see all articles.
- What is peppermint oil good for? Hmm, check out the four articles here.
- Or, maybe you were concerned about the interaction of medications with essential oils? No worries, click here again.
- What the heck is a carrier oil? Should you use them with essential oils? Ah, read more below!!
To Use or Not to Use (a Carrier Oil)? That’s a Good Question!
According to our good ol’ friend, Mr. Wikepedia, a carrier oil is “also known as base oil or vegetable oil, is used to dilute essential oils and absolutes before they are applied to the skin in massage and aromatherapy. They are so named because they carry the essential oil onto the skin. Carrier oils do not contain a concentrated aroma, unlike essential oils, though some, such as olive, have a mild distinctive smell. Neither do they evaporate like essential oils, which are more volatile. The carrier oils used should be as natural and unadulterated as possible. Many people feel organic oils are of higher quality. Cold-pressing and maceration are the two main methods of producing carrier oils.” [bold emphasis added]
A more succinct definition by PubMed Health (National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine) is, “An oil with little or no scent that is used to dilute or “carry” essential oils (scented liquid taken from plants).”
According to a 2015 article in Drug Development and Industrial Pharmacy, some of these oils are considered penetration enhancers “due to their “safety profiles”. These oils contain fatty acids promoting skin permeability through lipid fluidization within the stratum corneum; and might therefore be able to effectively enhance transdermal drug delivery.”
Dr. Z listed several carrier oils and some great studies which support their use in vitro, in vivo, and in human studies here. These carrier oils can have beneficial synergistic properties when used with essential oils for skin applications.
I’ve listed his four categories below, along with a review of some additional studies for your geek-out pleasure:
1. Beginner Oils (coconut and olive oil)
One in vivo study that included three small trials with rodents demonstrated that virgin coconut oil healed wounds faster and was linked to positive biomarker shifts in antioxidants as compared to controls.
Coconut oil is good for people too! A study with pediatric children showed that it improved outcomes in atopic dermatitis. In another small study with 34 adult subjects, it was also reported to have benefits in those with a skin condition, xerosis (dry, rough, scaly skin with a defect in barrier function and treated with moisturizers). Although the control was mineral oil, both demonstrated positive effects, with coconut oil being superior.
Interestingly, one in vitro study demonstrated coconut oil to have a SPF of 8, as did olive oil! Furthermore, they found UV protection with essential oils! The abstract reads:
It can be observed that the SPF values found for nonvolatile oils were in between 2 and 8; and for volatile oils, in between 1 and 7. Among the fixed oils taken, SPF value of olive oil was found to be the highest. Similarly among essential oils, SPF value of peppermint oil was found to be the highest. The study will be helpful in the selection of oils and fragrances to develop sunscreens with better safety and high SPF. Oily vehicles are more effective for producing a uniform and long-lasting film of sunscreen on the skin, and their emollient properties protect the skin against the drying effects of exposure to wind and sun. (Pharmacognosy Research. 2010;2(1):22-25. doi:10.4103/0974-8490.60586.)
You can read 49 more uses for coconut oil with some good evidence of its use here.
Now, interestingly, I wrote this blog in 2014 which discussed coconut oil to be a comedogenic ingredient, basically clogging the skin in some people. As serendipity would have it, I now can use coconut oil and ingest it! This is probably related to dealing with my microbiome and assisting my immune response from the black mold that was found in my living quarters at that time.
Probably one of the most revered oils, olive oil has been linked to many health benefits, most notably its cardiometabolic effects. There are a variety of reasons for its amazing powers, including its phenolic content, tocopherols, carotenoids, and rutin. Interestingly, a recent study was just released entitled “Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil reduces the incidence of invasive breast cancer in a randomised controlled trial.” This is not the first trial stating a positive effect with dietary associations and breast health.
As far as skin health, a 2015 study that included 94 nasopharyngeal carcinoma patients (NPC patients) demonstrated that, “The prophylactic use of olive oil was associated with a significant decrease in the intensity of acute dermatitis in NPC patients.”
Animal studies also demonstrated olive oil’s protective effects on irradiation. Another showed protective effects on rodents who received olive oil after exposure to UVB. Finally, one study showed olive oil aided in improvement in healing foot ulcers of diabetics.
As far as negative effects, one small study did show aggravation in little ones. Which leads to an important question…is it really olive oil (see below)?
The Olive in Corn Coating!!
Please make sure you’re actually getting olive oil! Recent studies reveal “olive oil” can be spiked with corn and sunflower oil. Uh-oh! Better read about it here and here. As one abstract concludes, “The overall quality of table olives and olive oil is influenced by the fruit ripening stage. Olive fruit ripening is a combination of physiological and biochemical changes influenced by several environmental and cultural conditions, even if most events are under strict genetic control.”
This makes first testing it on your skin and determining the quality of the oil important to consider when using olive oil. Furthermore, rancidity and purity are also considerations when dealing with delicate oils and could be a reason why pre-application of this oil may not be ideal when going out in the sun.
2. Nuts and Seed Oils (almond and jojoba oil)
This oil has some evidence of support for psoriasis, eczema, and skin rejuvenation. There is also a rodent study demonstrating protection for photoaging and it has a very low toxicity profile.
Jojoba oil has been studied for skin healing properties and wound healing. According to one abstract, “The review of literatures suggest that jojoba has anti-inflammatory effect and it can be used on a variety of skin conditions including skin infections, skin aging, as well as wound healing. Moreover, jojoba has been shown to play a role in cosmetics formulas such as sunscreens and moisturizers and also enhances the absorption of topical drugs.”
One observational, pilot study found that jojoba clay masks helped with acne. You can read more about jojoba oil in this article from Gale’s Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine if you’d like.
3. Fruit oils (apricot, avocado, grape seed)
One in vitro study found this regarding apricot oil, “apricot melanoidins, significantly counteracted and ultimately abolished hydrogen peroxide-induced intracellular oxidation, mitochondrial depolarization and cell death.”
Apricot oil is made up of many beneficial components and healing nutrients and could translate to skin benefits. I wasn’t able to find a lot in randomized studies, however.
Several rodent studies reported benefits of avocado oil on collagen formation (though the oil was extracted by hexane) and on wound healing. A 2013 study in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine states:
The best profile in the rate of contraction of wounds of animals treated with 50% SSFAO or avocado oil (13th and 14th days) is probably related to the properties of the avocado oil (PUFA, MUFA, ?-sitosterol, ?-carotene, lecithin, minerals, and vitamins A, C, D, and E), which encouraged the migration, proliferation, and cell differentiation during the proliferative phase of wound healing. This finding corroborates those of Nayak et al.  and Vega et al. , which demonstrated the effectiveness of topical or oral administration of an extract from avocado fruit in different types of wounds using rats.
A 2001 study reported that B12 cream in avocado oil, as compared to a vitamin D analog, demonstrated long-term benefit in 13 psoriasis patients, though the study sample was small.
Grape Seed Oil:
Grape seed proanthocyanidins (GSPs) were demonstrated to decrease the growth of melanoma cells in rodents. It has some support for wound healing in rodents as well. It also has a very beneficial nutrient profile.
4. Essential Fatty Acids (borage oil, evening primrose oil)
Borage oil has some beneficial effects in studies, but also some non-responders. One study showed this mixed effect with atopic eczema as well as in another small trial with allergic dermatitis. The later review concluded:
Overall, the data suggest that nutritional supplementation with borage oil is unlikely to have a major clinical effect but may be useful in some individual patients with less severe atopic dermatitis who are seeking an alternative treatment. Which patients are likely to respond cannot yet be identified. Borage oil is well tolerated in the short term but no long-term tolerability data are available.
Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil was shown to improve skin parameters in healthy adults in a randomized trial. Another small study demonstrated benefit in atopic dermatitis via modulation of an immune response. University of Maryland reported on many other health effects of evening primrose oil, though not strictly related to topical application.
The Benefits of Carrier Oils
- For those who have sensitive skin, carrier oils are a great way to dilute these powerful secondary metabolites.
- For the added benefit of the carrier oil’s properties. Many studies with massage have used both a carrier oil and essential oils in their applications. Most found more benefits with the essential oils (like this study which shows that the addition of essential oils helps to support immune cells.)
- For more “coverage.” The carrier oil will allow for you to spread the oil application over a larger surface area.
- For more effect?
Here’s where Dr. Z and I may have a difference of opinion. I believe neat application (using the oil alone) is more effective for an acute condition. This is as long as you are using therapeutic, quality-assessed essential oils.
Essential oils drive in other beneficial compounds (like the carrier oil) and they actually are very effective in dermal application when used alone. I cite studies for this here.
Bottom line: If you want the benefits of the carrier oil and more “surface coverage”, use the carrier oil with your essential oils. If you need quick results and trust your oil company, apply neat… if you are an experienced user and don’t have sensitive skin.
Did you know there’s a gut-skin connection? Gut Pathology reports:
Over 70 years have passed since dermatologists John H. Stokes and Donald M. Pillsbury first proposed a gastrointestinal mechanism for the overlap between depression, anxiety and skin conditions such as acne. Stokes and Pillsbury hypothesized that emotional states might alter the normal intestinal microflora, increase intestinal permeability and contribute to systemic inflammation. Among the remedies advocated by Stokes and Pillsbury were Lactobacillus acidophilus cultures. Many aspects of this gut-brain-skin unifying theory have recently been validated. The ability of the gut microbiota and oral probiotics to influence systemic inflammation, oxidative stress, glycemic control, tissue lipid content and even mood itself, may have important implications in acne. The intestinal microflora may also provide a twist to the developing diet and acne research. Here we provide a historical perspective to the contemporary investigations and clinical implications of the gut-brain-skin connection in acne
I learned some amazing things these past few weeks reading up on the microbiome. Time for a little update here.
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. Please check the original study for sources and manufacture.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.