Unlike essential oils which are distilled or expressed from the aromatic components of a plant, carrier oils are derived from oily seeds, kernels, or nuts.
At this point you may be asking, aren't these the same types of oils I use for cooking? The simple answer is, yes. When talking about these oils in the skincare industry they are usually referred to as fixed oils or carrier oils.
When using with essential oils the name "carrier" oil makes sense. These oils help "carry" the concentrated essential oils onto the skin without changing their therapeutic properties.
Carrier oils allow you to dilute concentrated essential oils so that they be safely applied to the skin, but they are not all alike. Each oil contains different fatty acids and nutrients and has its own set of therapeutic properties.
Why do we need an OIL? Essential oils are soluble (will dissolve) in oil and alcohol. Since you are not going to use alcohol as a base for a skincare product, carrier oils are the perfect option.
Also note that essential oils are insoluble (do NOT dissolve) in water or water-based liquids like hydrosols, milk, aloe, or even witch hazel. When mixed with a water-based ingredient the molecules of the essential oil will float in tiny droplets on the surface (think of oil droplets on the surface of the water).
Those droplets can behave like undiluted essential oils on your skin and cause irritation. So please do not simply pour undiluted essential oils into your bathtub!
To learn more about Carrier Oils please read our blog, "Essential Oil Basics: Guide to Carrier Oils" in which I discuss the following topics:
- Why we need carrier oils with essential oils
- How to choose a carrier oil
- A list of common carrier oils and their attributes