Carrier Oils – Aromatherapy’s Unsung Heroes
The base oils used in aromatherapy are more commonly known as carrier oils and are fundamental to aromatherapy itself.
Not only do they help to dilute essential oils and ‘carry’ them into your body’s systems, but many of them have therapeutic and healing properties that can be used on their own as well.
Technically classed as fixed oils because they are more dense and do not evaporate like essential oils, carrier oils are also known as vegetable oils since they were derived from vegetal sources. These oils are largely derived from nuts and seeds, although there are a few exceptions to this generalisation. For example, coconut oil is not extracted from the nut, but instead it is obtained by a special process from the white flesh which is known as ‘copra’.
Versatile and vital
Carrier oils play a far more significant role in aromatherapy than at first it may seem, often appearing to be of much less importance than the essential oils. However, it would be a huge mistake to believe this since carrier oils provide a wide range of benefits, not to mention they are vital for true aromatherapy and natural beauty treatments. Carrier oils are nothing if not versatile.
As well as being needed to dilute essential oils for aromatherapy, these vegetable-based oils contain essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, plus they provide the necessary lubrication to allow the hands to glide freely over the skin and not drag. Carrier oils soften and improve the condition of the skin, and at the same time help with the absorption of essential oils into the body. They are indeed, the unsung heroes of aromatherapy.
During an aromatherapy massage treatment, not only do you enjoy the therapeutic properties of the carrier and essential oils, but you also get the added benefits that the massage brings to the circulatory system as well. This is true whether you visit an aromatherapist, or mix and apply them for yourself at home.
Through skilled massage using the correct techniques, all functions within the organs of the body, skin, muscles, nerves and glands are stimulated. The increased circulation of the blood and lymph also assists with the clearing away of toxins from the body. All of this would not be possible without the help of you humble carrier oils. Not a bad performance – despite playing ‘second fiddle’ to essential oils!
Refined or unrefined?
Certain carrier oils such as avocado, coconut and wheatgerm are usually available from good aromatherapy suppliers in two forms known as ‘refined’ and ‘unrefined’ . If such a choice is available when you are buying, it’s usually advisable to go for the unrefined oil if you want the best results. In practice though, unrefined coconut oil is messy and quite difficult to work with since it sets solid like butter and needs warming to make it liquid, but fortunately it is also available in a liquid form known as ‘fractionated’ coconut oil. This is an excellent carrier oil due to the fatty acid triglycerides it contains, and it’s very, very long shelf life.
Unrefined avocado oil is a dark greenish-brown colour and has quite a strong odour that is not to everyone’s liking. If you can get along with its aroma (which is not difficult), this carrier oil is rich in lecithin and vitamins A and D which make it ideal for intensive skin care treatments. Similarly, the unrefined form of wheatgerm oil is a dark orange colour and again has quite a noticeable aroma which is typical of the cereal.
This carrier oil also contains high levels of essential fatty acids such as linoleic, palmitic and oleic as well as some vitamin E, although it is not as rich in this vitamin as many books and articles would have you believe. Nonetheless, wheatgerm oil is extremely good for moisturising very dry and mature skin types.
Supply and demand
If unrefined carrier oils are so great you may be wondering why more of them are not available in their unrefined form, and this is entirely due to market forces. The darker colours and heavy odours associated with unrefined carrier oils can have an adverse effect on products that contain them. For this reason the cosmetics industry prefers to use refined oils in products, as do the food and pharmaceutical industries. Since these three vast industries all consume a very large quantity of vegetable oils to manufacture skin care products, food and medicines, world production is geared towards them.
This is a shame because in aromatherapy, the benefits of using an unrefined oil that is rich in essential fatty acids far outweighs the odours which can be masked with essential oils. That said, the unrefined oils that are available offer some unique benefits that you would be wise to take advantage of, especially if you suffer from very dry skin or have reached an age when you need far more moisturising power than can be acquired from high street cosmetics.
A wide range of carrier oils are available for use in aromatherapy, but there is actually very little written about them in most aromatherapy books, and surprisingly only a couple of aromatherapy books are dedicated to studying them solely, and in some depth. In fact, to many newcomers the range of carrier oils can seem a little bewildering at first, but choosing which one is for you is not really complicated at all. See our article How to choose carrier oils for in-depth guidance about this important subject.
Copyright © Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd 2016. Written by Sue Charles