Saturday, March 21, 2015

Essential Oils 101: Carrier Oils

When you first start learning about essential oils, it won't be long before you hear the words "carrier oil" and wonder what that's all about!

A carrier oil is usually an oil derived from a vegetable, nut, or seed. Common carrier oils are coconut oil and almond oil.

The purpose of a carrier oil is to literally carry the essential oil. Essential oils are very potent, and often times less is more. Only one or two drops are needed to access the benefits of the essential oil. A carrier oil helps to carry the essential oil over a greater surface. If someone had a sore back and you wanted to rub some peppermint on their back, it would require a lot of peppermint oil to cover the entire surface of the back. That much oil would be very irritating to the skin, and it would be very costly to use that much essential oil. The solution is to use a carrier oil to allow the essential oil to spread over a greater surface without irritating the skin. In the example of applying essential oils to a back, you would pour some carrier oil into your hand, drop a few drops of peppermint into the carrier oil, mix it together in your hand, and rub it over the surface of the back.

Another benefit to using a carrier oil is that it traps the more volatile molecules of the essential oil so they don't evaporate before they can be absorbed into the skin. In the book "Butterfly Miracles with Essential Oils" the author's husband explained it this way: "Imagine putting an alcohol-based primer on hot asphalt prior to painting it. That would be almost impossible since the alcohol would evaporate almost before it touched the road. Essential oils behave in a similar manner. They are made of several different constituents, some of which evaporate at lower temperatures and faster rates than others. Place these essential oils on the skin (90 - 95 degrees) and the higher, more volatile notes dissipate before they can be absorbed. A carrier oil stabilizes the essential oil, holding onto all the constituents until they can be absorbed. The chemical composition of the oil remains intact."

Carrier oils (of good quality) contain healing properties within themselves and aid the essential oils in healing the body. Most people choose to use almond or coconut oil as a carrier oil because of their affordability, light feel, quick absorption, and less-oily texture. If you want to learn more about the healing properties of individual carrier oils, I recommend LaRee Westover's book "Butterfly Miracles with Essential Oils". There is a section just for carrier oils with detailed descriptions of various oils and their therapeutic properties. There are also many references online.

If you come across an essential oil that causes skin irritation, washing it off with water can increase the irritation because water enhances the action of the oil. Applying a carrier oil over the irritation will lessen the discomfort and reduce the potency of the essential oil.

There are various opinions regarding the use of carrier oils. One opinion is that essential oils should never be used on the skin without a carrier oil because they are too potent. I personally use oils "neat" (without a carrier oil) all the time without any problems. Your skin may be more sensitive and require a carrier oil to avoid irritation. Always use a carrier oil with children and babies! Their skin is more sensitive than an adult and more likely to be irritated.

When using a carrier oil with an essential oil, only the mix them together right before applying them. Do not mix them together and store them. It doesn't take long for the carrier oil to break down the essential oil, which decreases the essential oil's potency and therapeutic properties. Carrier oils have a shorter shelf life than essential oils and will go rancid. This is why you want to make sure the essential oils you purchase do not have carrier oils added to them. (Note: I was really surprised to find that of the 4 bottles of doTerra oil that I own, 2 had coconut oil added to them! Read your labels!)

Coconut oil is my favorite carrier oil because it has the lightest feel and absorbs quickly. I keep a small bottle of it in my case of essential oils. I apply it to the feet before a foot zone to soften the skin (so I don't tear up the skin on my knuckles) and to aid in distributing the essential oils that I apply all over the foot. I also use it when using essential oils for an ear ache. The essential oil (whichever you choose to use--I like lavender or tea tree) is too strong to be dropped directly into the ear. It's best to mix one or two drops with a carrier oil, then drop it into the ear and let it sit in there.

As always, if you have any questions, please contact me!