Essential oils should always be diluted in carrier oils, alcohol, or vinegar with topical use. These highly volatile plant extractions have been proven more effective with less harmful side effects when diluted. Experts agree, using essential oils neat can result in painful skin irritations, or worse! Professional aromatherapy organizations and learning institutes recommend a typical 2% dilution with the topical use of essential oils. These institutions include: NAHA, AIA, ARC, ACHS, The Tisserand Institute, and Aromahead.
Pictured: Safflower Carrier Oil
What is a carrier oil and how does it differ from an essential oil?
Carrier oils are typically extracted by pressing plant parts, such as nuts, seeds, and fruit. Cold pressed oils are usually preferred over hot pressed oils. This is because heat can destroy some of the beneficial properties. Further, unrefined carrier oils are usually a better choice, without the additives. (However, keep in mind that some carrier oils are refined to remove harmful constituents).
Essential oils differ from carrier oils because they are typically steam distilled. Only the lightest, most chemically volatile constituents that have a molecular weight under 250 are extracted, leaving all heavier components and plant matter behind. This typically only representing about 1% of the plant’s matter. Thus, an essential oil’s chemistry can be quite different than that of the overall herb.
Industry Recommended Essential Oil Dilution Ratio In Carrier Oils
For general topical use, dilute to 2%. This is about 10 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil.
With the more fragile population, research possible contraindications and dilute to 1% topically. This is about 5 drops per ounce.
Excessive and inappropriate use of essential oils can be especially harmful to pregnant women, young children, pets, and those with serious health conditions. Further, these listed populations should not use certain essential oil species at all. Research possible contraindications before use.
Dilute up to 10% for acute local skin areas. Do not use essential oils undiluted on the skin. Do not exceed less than a 10% dilution. And if you are thinking…”I have used essential oils on my skin neat tons of times, what’s the problem?” Realize, even though you haven’t had a reaction yet, this doesn’t mean you or someone you care about couldn’t have one in the future!
Pictured: Shea Butter
Besides the safety factor, there are many benefits of using carrier oils in combination with essential oils.
Carrier oils moisturize and nourish the skin.
Carriers aid in absorption and reduce evaporation of volatile essential oils.
Diluting makes essential oil use more cost effective. The price per ounce of essential oils is so much higher than that of carrier oils.
In summary, experts agree that it is safer, more effective, and cheaper to dilute!
Pictured: Coconut Carrier Oil
Listed below are some of the most common carrier oils.
Apricot Kernel Oil (Prunius armeniaca) is light, easy for the skin to absorb, and good for mature and dehydrated skin.
Avocado Oil (Persea gratissima or P. Americana) is excellent for dry skin. This thick oil is high in fatty acids and vitamins and is good to mix with lighter carrier oils. It is a good emollient and very absorbant.
Beeswax (Cera alba) is typically added to salves. It is skin protective, softening, regenerative, and antimicrobial actions.
Castor Oil (Ricinus communis) is a very thick carrier oil. It is protective and helps moisturize the skin.
Coconut Oil (Cocos nucifera) is available in either fractionated and in liquid form at room temperature, or as a solid at room temperature. The later format is preferred because it contains more beneficial nutrients. High in saturated fat, coconut oil is skin protective and moisturizing.
Cocoa Butter (Theobroma cacao) comes from the chocolate cacao been, and helps with skin protection, moisturization, and stretch marks.
Grapeseed Oil (Vitis vinifera) is a light carrier oil that absorbs easily into the skin.
Hempseed Oil (Cannabis sativa) has shown to be anti-inflammatory and may help with skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Jojoba Oil (Simmondsia chinensis) is light, with a consistency very similar to our own skin’s sebum, so it absorbs easily. It is helpful with eczema, psoriasis, and dry or sensitive skin. It is a good carrier oil to use on the face, because it does not clog pores.
Neem Oil (Azadirachta indica) is antimicrobial and insect repelling. However, it’s aroma is powerful and not very pleasant.
Olive Oil (Olea europaea) is a thick carrier oil that is good for dry skin, burns, wounds, and inflammation. It is, however, strongly fragrant, and may not blend well with essential oil aromas.
Rose Hip Oil (Rosa canina, R. moshata, or R. rubiginosa) is good for aging, dry, or damaged skin. It has regenerative properties and absorbs easily. It may also help with pigmentation issues and stretch marks.
Safflower Oil (Carthamus tinctorius) is a light and absorbs easily into the skin. It is also a great carrier oil for strengthening hair.
Shea Butter (Butyrospermum parkii) aids in sun protection, scars, stretch marks, eczema, burns, moisturization, and aging skin. It is also a good emollient.
Sunflower Oil (Helianthus annus) is a good emollient that helps keep the skin moist. It may also help relieve mild skin irritation.
Sweet Almond Oil (Prunus dulcis or P. communus), of the rose family, is non-greasy, and easily absorbed. This oil is skin nourishing and conditioning. It also makes a good emollient and is helpful to dry or irritated skin.
Wheatgerm Oil (Triticum vulgare) is excellent for dry or cracked skin. It is a super thick carrier oil that has antioxidant, protective, and skin conditioning qualities.
Pictured: Witch Hazel
Other Non-Oily Carriers
Essential oils are oil soluble. That means they do not dissolve in water. Depending on the essential oil species, it will be partially to mostly soluble in carriers listed below. Light essential oils, like citrus oils high in monoterpenes will be the most soluble.
Witch Hazel (Coryalus avelana) – is an astringent, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic carrier that has been used for conditions included acne, dermatitis, herpes simplex, and psoriasis.
Alcohols, such as gin, vodka, and whiskey, are an antiseptic, astringent, and skin tonic.
Vinegars, similarly to alcohols, are also an antiseptic, astringent, and skin tonic.
Vitamin E (Tocopherol) is good for stretch marks, age spots, scaring, and wrinkles.
Aloe (Aloe barbadensis) – is especially good for burns.
“Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick.”
By: Kathy Sadowski, MS in Aromatherapy, RA (ARC), Professional NAHA and AIA Member, LMT