I know, it can get confusing. The term ‘oil’ is used to describe a number of aromatic ingredients in aromatherapy, including ‘essential oil’ and ‘carrier oil’ (but also ‘fragrance oil’ – which is NOT an aromatherapy ingredient and a story for another day!).
Essential oils and carrier oils are basic ingredients in one’s aromatherapy tool kit. Here are some differences and similarities for you to consider.
Essential oils are the highly concentrated, aromatic components extracted from flowers, wood, herbs, roots, seeds, grass, and citrus peels. The main method of extraction is by water distillation, but there are others such as cold expression of citrus peels.
Carrier oils, on the other hand, are vegetable oils that have been extracted from the seeds, kernels, or nuts of a plant. The main method of extraction is by cold expression.
One of the main differences: essential oils are highly volatile, meaning they deteriorate quickly when exposed to heat and/or sunlight — but equally important, ‘volatile’, means an essential oil will evaporate quickly when exposed to air. So don’t leave the cap off of your essential oil bottles :).
Although most carrier oils are shelf-stable and not volatile, like essential oils, they are still very sensitive to heat (especially temperature fluctuations), sunlight and moisture —they will mold, go rancid and/or deteriorate, jeopardizing their healing properties.
Two of the main similarities:
1) Essential oils and carrier oils are both hydrophobic (i.e. not water soluble). This means if you add an essential oil to a water-base, such as a room spray, you will need to shake vigorously before each use. Think of an oil and vinegar salad dressing – unless you shake well before adding to your salad, you will get mostly oil and little vinegar when you pour. The same sort of thing happens when you add essential oil to water – the essential oils will float to the top, and when you spray you will get mostly water and little, if any, essential oil! And, since the spritzer tube-hole rests at the bottom of your bottle, you end up getting a more concentrated dose of essential oil with each succeeding spritz since you would have expressed most of the water with each preceding spritz if you haven’t shaken well before each use.
2) Essential oils and carrier oils are both lipophilic or lipid-soluble. It therefore makes sense that these two ‘oils’ have a great enthusiasm for one another. In aromatherapy, we use a carrier oil whenever we want to apply essential oils topically. The term ‘carrier oil’ in this instance is descriptive – a carrier oil ‘carries’ your essential oil into your skin safely.
To learn more about aromatherapy, please join in one of my upcoming workshops. Click here for the details.
P.S. This article was featured in the January/February Edition of The Nose Knows. To read more, click here.