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Getting to Know Carrier Oils

Essential oils and carrier oils have a symbiotic relationship in aromatherapy. While carriers are often thought of in terms of their reflexology and massage uses, these oils actually posses their own virtues. Instead of thinking of them as merely the method of applying essential oils, we can explore the unique qualities of carrier oils separately [...]

Essential oils and carrier oils have a symbiotic relationship in aromatherapy. While carriers are often thought of in terms of their reflexology and massage uses, these oils actually posses their own virtues. Instead of thinking of them as merely the method of applying essential oils, we can explore the unique qualities of carrier oils separately with great results. Most likely, your aromatherapy techniques will be enhanced by using your special essential oils with carriers that actually increase their medicinal qualities.

To begin with, it is important to remember that fats are essential for human life. Fats, called lipids, are critical for maintaining warmth, providing protection and ensuring healthy cellular function. Although the world of nutrition is engaged in discovering which fats are best for internal health, aromatherapy is concerned with how plant-derived oils deliver health from the outside in. Externally-applied oils help the body maintain vital functions in unique ways through both chemical changes and mechanical assistance.

Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen combine to make a lipid molecule. It’s not necessary to tune into the chemical make-up of carrier oils, but it can be helpful because these terms are used in relation to many food and supplement products as well. A simple way of viewing a fat molecule is to know that some lipids have carbon atoms that form two bonds, which means they have a shared electron. These lipids are known as unsaturated fats, and you mostly find them in liquid form. They come from plant matter, and most carrier oils fall into this category. The second type of fat, saturated lipids, do not have double bonded carbons. They are usually found in animal fats, but some plants create saturated fats, too. A popular carrier oil, coconut, is actually a saturated fat. It can also be found on the market in its fractionated form, which is derived from breaking off part of the molecular chain. This results in a liquid oil. The oil functions the same way as in its solid, but it is much easier to apply in massage or reflexology.

Many carrier oils have the essential fatty acids omega-6 (linoleic acid) and omega-3 (linolenic). Essential fatty acids must be acquired through outside sources, primarily through diet, and are critical to maintaining health. According to aromatherapist Salvatore Battaglia, omega-6, which is important for skin, hair, liver function, joints, healing wounds and circulation, is especially powerful in evening primrose oil, a popular and versatile carrier oil. Omega-3 is also in many carrier oils. Taken internally, it helps with vision, muscles and growth. It is found in fish and some vegetable oils, like linseed and canola. It is know to help circulation, assist in heart health, lower cholesterol and blood pressure and prevent inflammation. The most important thing to remember about lipid structure in carrier oils is that choosing high-quality, nutritious oils will greatly assist the skin in its vital functions. Since the skin is the largest organ in the body and often needs assistance in maintaining its elasticity, vitality and moisture, carrier oils are truly the skin’s best friend.

Carrier oils are primarily derived from nuts and seeds. They are extracted via cold-pressed technology, meaning high heat is not used. Once oils reach temperatures exceeding 160 degrees Celsius, their structure is altered, making them trans-fats, a kind of mutated fat that the body cannot assimilate properly. Expeller-pressing is another common extraction method. By placing seeds or nuts in an expeller, the precious oil is pressed out and then bottled. Superior carrier oils are mechanically pressed oils and have not been subjected to chemical changes.

Many carrier oils can be used in multiple applications, and consumers often choose oils based on the thickness or scent they prefer. Individual carrier oils do have some specific qualities though that can be used to your benefit. The main carrier oils can be divided into three general groups, reflecting their common aromatherapy applications. Sweet almond, sunflower, hempseed and fractionated coconut are excellent choices for massage and reflexology. A mixture of 10-15% essential oil and 85-90% carrier oil will ensure a powerful oil that is smooth and great-smelling. Facial skin care is another aspect of aromatherapy where carrier oils shine, bringing health to sun or acne damaged skin. Apricot kernel, rosehip, and hazelnut oils are deeply nourishing in these applications, and rosehip can even be used to treat scars Dry skin and other bodily skin disorders, such as eczema, can be helped with tamanu, avocado, evening primrose, jojoba, sesame, grapeseed and shea. When choosing your own carriers, experiment with a few and see how your skin responds. Once you find one you love (and there’s definitely a carrier oil for everyone) you can begin mixing the carrier with your favorite essential oils.

Mixing carrier oils with volatile oils allows the essential oil to be used more efficiently. Volatile oils have a short lifespan once they hit the air. In about an hour, these oils are no longer active. A carrier oil, with its viscous body, keeps the essential oil vibrant, allowing the essential oils to exhibit their healing qualities longer. A way to remember this is to consider what happens when you put a drop of ylang ylang on your skin. Within an hour the scent is decreased. If you mix the ylang ylang with a carrier, however, the scent, and the oil’s medicinal qualities will last much longer. Aromatherapists have found that essential oils are most effective when they are applied on a regular basis, and carrier oils allow us to do so. Because some essential oils may cause sensitization of the skin, carriers also protect the skin from this potential pitfall – remember this: you will NOT be reducing the efficacy of your essential oils by diluting them properly in carriers, you will absolutely be enhancing the ability of your body’s ability of making use of these precious gifts of nature!

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