Body & Soul: Carrier Oils 101

article image
Carrier oils also go by the following monikers: natural oils, base oils or fixed oils.

Carrier oils are so named because they help “carry” the scented oils of aromatherapy, which are sometimes highly concentrated and too strong to use directly on the skin. Thanks to their own properties, carrier oils–also known as natural oils, base oils or fixed oils–also can help deliver health, beauty and a state of well-being.

6 Healing Herbal Oils

Relaxing Massage Oil
Revitalizing Foot Oil
Energizing Massage Oil
Lavender Healing Oil
Head Calming Oil
Body Oil

Try These Editor-Recommended Carrier Oils.

The most common way to use carrier oils is in combination with essential oils, which are highly concentrated aromatic plant extracts, usually of a single plant. They come in a wide variety of scents, ranging from common (rosemary and peppermint) to the more exotic (patchouli and sandalwood). Because these oils are so concentrated, they are usually too strong to be used directly on the skin, which is where carrier oils come into use.

Mixed together, they can be daubed onto or massaged into your skin. Sometimes one drop of an essential oil is all you need, and with carrier oils you can deliver that drop of essential oil to your whole body. Another common way to use carrier oils is to infuse them with herbal and plant ingredients. To accomplish this, fresh or dried herbs are placed in airtight containers and covered with oil. After a week or two, the oil absorbs the scent and healing properties of the ingredients.

Carrier oils are made from various plants and are generally odorless, which enables them to carry the properties of the scented oils and ingredients without interfering with their scent. These base oils are also easily absorbed by the skin and have a long shelf life.

You will want to store your carrier oils in a cool, dark, dry spot or in amber bottles, because sunlight and heat can alter their properties. 

9 Natural Carrier Oils

Sweet almond oil: Pale yellow oil from the nut kernel. Rich in protein and good for all skin types. Helps relieve dry, itchy skin, and can help reduce inflammation.

Corn oil: Pale yellow oil that contains protein and minerals and is soothing to all skin types. Look for oil that doesn’t contain genetically modified corn, generally found at health-food stores.

Grapeseed oil: Colorless and odorless, made from pressed seeds. Contains vitamins and minerals, and can be used by all skin types. 

Avocado oil: Dark green oil from the avocado fruit. Contains vitamins, protein and essential fatty acids. Can be used by all skin types, especially dry skin, and by those who suffer from eczema.

Olive oil: Pale yellow to dark green. Contains protein, minerals and vitamins, can be used in hair care and is soothing to sore, achy muscles and joints.

Sesame oil: Dark yellow and rich in vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Can be used to treat arthritis, psoriasis and eczema. Good for all skin types. 

Sunflower oil: Pale yellow oil that contains vitamins and minerals. Can be used by all skin types.

Jojoba oil: Popular because it is similar to our own skin oils. Contains protein and a waxy substance that is similar to collagen. Useful in reducing inflammation and treating acne. Can be used by all skin types. 

Castor oil: Pale, unscented oil made from the seeds of the castor plant. One of the few oils soluble in alcohol. Can be used by all skin types and also can be used on hair, nails and lips. 

Make a Basic Aromatherapy Kit

Lavender, tea tree, peppermint, chamomile, eucalyptus, geranium, rosemary, thyme, lemon and clove: These essential oils will help you address a wide range of health issues from headaches to insomnia.

What is an essential oil?

Essential oils are distilled from the leaves, bark, roots and other aromatic parts of useful plants. They are highly concentrated–a few drops are all you need. They should not be confused with perfume oils or scented oils, as these oftentimes are not as concentrated or even contain synthetic scents.

Citrus peel provides an easy example of a plant’s essential oils. When you gently bend the fresh peel backward, you see a fine spray of orange-scented oil. This is the essential oil being released, and the part that is captured during the distillation process. The price of the oils will vary, based on how expensive they are to produce. 

Janice Cox is the co-author, with her daughter Lauren Cox, of EcoBeauty (Ten Speed Press, 2009). To buy, visit

Need Help? Call 1-800-456-6018
Mother Earth Living
Mother Earth Living
The ultimate guide to living the good life!