How to choose carrier oils: Let’s talk carrier oils and why they’re necessities in a #LifeFromScratch skin and body care routine, as well as in homemade skin and body care items.
Before I began my journey in earnest, I used pretty much any thing on my face, skin, and body. It was all just about that awesomely scented lotion, scrub, or whatever other product mainstream media told me I needed. Honestly, I rarely even took a glance at ingredient labels in my blissful ignorance. I had a really hard time when I was younger with acne-prone skin and never thought twice about using harsh abrasive cleaners, which in turn dried my skin out, which made me reach for the chemical-laden moisturizers.
It was like being on a toxic carousel that never stopped!
When I started getting serious a couple years ago about changing how my family was living and started experimenting with making my own body care items, one of the first things I did was to stop using commercial facial cleansers and moisturizers. I started the oil cleansing method instead. This is when I began to learn about carrier oils, what they were, what role they played within products, and how they could be used to benefit my skin. I was left wondering, though…what how to choose carrier oils that will work best for me!?
Let’s start at the beginning…
The 411 on Carrier Oils
Carrier oils are “base” oils and are derived from (mainly) nuts and seeds of different plants. Different carrier oils offer different therapeutic properties and are suitable for different skin types and products. They can be used by themselves (or in conjunction with another oil) as a moisturizer or to treat problem areas.
Carrier oils are perfect to use when you need to dilute strong essential oils and other fragrances and products to make them safe to apply to the body. When they are used in the latter manner, they effectively “carry” the other ingredients into the skin and body and stop the essential oil from evaporating too quickly. They are also used for their therapeutic properties in homemade body care products such as deodorants, soaps, body butters, scrubs, and many other recipes.
It has taken me some time experimenting with different carrier oils to find what works best for my personal situation. Every so often I try something new, and make changes to my skin care routine, but I usually have about 4-5 different carrier oils in rotation which I use during different times of the year (with or without essential oils &/or in homemade products).
How To Choose Carrier Oils
You want to make sure you are using the highest quality carrier oils that you can afford. If possible you should be purchasing cold-pressed, pure, unrefined oil with no additives. Cold pressed oils have not been heated and therefore retain their innate beneficial properties. Unrefined oils have undergone little refining and (usually) retain their richness and strength.
Since there are so many different base oils out there to choose from, I’ve put together a list of the top carrier oils along with some information that will educate you and assist you in how to choose carrier oils for your needs. With the information, you will then be able to choose based on the properties you will need for your particular application.
Just remember that the key to success in knowing how to choose carrier oils is experimenting with your oils and ingredients until you find what works best for you, your skin, and your product.
Learn more below about carrier oils that I have personally used and carrier oils that I want to use!
Carrier Oils I Have Used
Coconut OilThe medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil work as antimicrobial agents to help kill bacteria and other viruses. It is very similar to our natural sebum secretion. All of the properties of coconut oil lead to moisturized skin, fewer breakouts, and clearer complexion. For DIY recipes, keep in mind that refined coconut oil has no scent while unrefined coconut oil will have a noticeable coconut scent.
Most coconut oil solidifies at about 76 degrees, so it’s best to use another liquid carrier oil in combination with this oil to keep it in a more fluid state. Suitable for all skin types, even acne prone. It is widely used for lip lotions and other body care products. This is one of my “go-to” oils that I use in my nightly oil cleansing routine, as a makeup remover, and in numerous homemade DIY body care products. For more information on coconut oil, click here.
The proteins, omega 3 fatty acids, and antioxidants in this oil make it a great moisturizer. It absorbs deeply into the skin and helps increase collagen to keep your skin supple (2). Avocado oil is a thick oil and works great when combined with other carrier oils. I find that it is a fantastic addition to soaps, creams, and lotions. Dry, mature, sensitive, and problem prone skin can benefit greatly from this vitamin rich oil.
This oil is a neutral lipid and is easily and deeply absorbed by the skin. It penetrates deep to replenish our skin’s natural oils. A natural source of Omega 3, 6 & 9 – fatty acids, these nourish our skin from the inside out (4). It will not clog pores and can assist with joint pain and swelling. It is one of the best, and more expensive, oils out there.
Emu oil has quickly become my new favorite oil and it is what I use when my skin is not dry enough to need the avocado oil before bed. Holy softness! Personally, I think this may be too expensive of an oil to use on a larger scale for DIY recipes, but as a moisturizer and for small needs, it’s fabulous.
Sweet Almond Oil
The amino acids and vitamins in this oil go on light and smooth and help the more solid or thick oils (such as coconut, neem, castor, and tamanu) penetrate more deeply. It absorbs easily and softens very well. The emollient properties in almond oil help to improve skin tone and complexion (5). Great for massage; suitable for all skin types especially dry and sensitive.
Almond oil is my second “go-to” oil which I tend to use as my morning moisturizer by applying to my face and neck along with two drops of cedarwood essential oil. I love to add a few drops to my kids’ baths to help moisturize their sensitive skin without leaving them greasy. Add a few drops into your liquid soap dispenser along with castile soap and essential oil(s) of choice to add a luxurious and cleansing effect.
Check out Scratch Mommy’s DIY super moisturizing hand soap recipe here.
A luxurious oil that absorbs quickly. Works well as a carrier oil with essential oils as well as in homemade products. Argan oil is considered to be a rare (and expensive) oil due to the small area in which it grows. It contains antioxidants and is high in vitamin e. I find that it has a very light nutty scent which should be taken into consideration when blending into products. Suitable for all skin types. It seems to be a lovely dry oil. This is a new oil for me and I have tried it a few times at night, mixed with lavender essential oil. I like it so far and look forward to gaining more experience with it.
As you think about how to choose carrier oils, this is one that you probably already have in your kitchen cabinet! I’d guess that olive is is probably one of the most universally known and used oils. Olive oil can be a great skincare option for those who have nut and seed allergies. Olive oil has a strong aroma and a rich golden color. Suitable for all skin types and those with dry skin. Truthfully, this is not my first choice as a carrier oil as I find it doesn’t absorb very well. However, I have found it useful when crafting homemade body scrubs for people who have a nut allergy and also cannot use coconut oil due to allergies. It’s also great for scrubs, salves, and other skin care products. When used in these circumstances, I’ve found that the feedback has been very positive.
Carrier Oils I Want To Use
While Scratch Mommy Founder Jess looooooves this carrier oil, I’m not as familiar with it. Through my research I found that the high content of essential fatty acids make this oil very restorative. Known as a healing oil (7), it is suitable for all skin types, especially for acne prone and damaged skin. It has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antibiotic properties. Works well as a carrier oil with essential oils as well as in homemade products.
You’ll find that Tamanu oil is solid at room temperature, has a very rich scent, and is greenish in color (8). You will want to keep in mind the strong scent when working with this oil; choose essential oils or other ingredients that will help cover and work with the natural scent of this oil.
Looking for DIY recipes with tamanu? Click here.
Neem OilAgain, Scratch Mommy Founder Jess is big fan of this very rich, thick, and strongly scented oil, but it’s one that I haven’t used. contains Omega 3, 6, and 9. It is one of the oldest used Ayurvedic therapeutic and medicinal oils. In addition to its use in body and skin care products, neem oil can be used as a bug repellent due to insecticide properties (9). Neem oil is a very strong smelling oil, so keep that in mind when using it (and dilute it with another oil &/or butter).
Some people suggest that neem oil is toxic. Research does not suggest that neem oil is toxic for topical treatments; in fact, the opposite has been shown to be true. It’s worth mentioning here, though…we suggest caution for internal use and neem oil should not (generally and esp. in excess) be used by pregnant women or on children (10).
Neem oil tends to be a semi-solid, so it works best when mixed with another carrier oil. Not the best as an essential oil carrier oil as it does not get absorbed well into the skin, but works well in scrubs, salves, deodorants, and other skin care products. It is incredibly moisturizing and regenerative so it is great for all skin types including mature skin. Again, you will want to keep in mind the strong scent when working with this oil; choose essential oils or other ingredients that will help cover or work with the natural scent of this oil (11).
Looking for DIY recipes with neem oil? Click here. Also, check out Scratch Mommy’s DeFunkifying DIY Deodorant Recipe (or purchase a stick here).
Apricot Kernel Oil
This nourishing oil is similar to avocado oil and it is very rich in vitamin A and vitamin E (12). Apricot kernel oil penetrates the skin without leaving an oily residue. It is particularly suitable for sensitive and prematurely aged skin.
Looking for DIY recipes with apricot kernel oil? Click here; we have a lot for you!
Yup, Jess also loves this carrier oil, and I can see why! When thinking about how to choose carrier oils, this is one should rise to the top of your list. The proteins and minerals in this oil mimic collagen and is closest to our natural skin oil. Anti-inflammatory effects have been shown (13). An interesting fact about jojoba is that it is actually a liquid plant wax as opposed to an oil, and it will get cloudy and solidify as the temperature drops. Jojoba oil is great for all skin types — especially acne prone skin since jojoba actually breaks down excess sebum. This makes a great base for a face serum to protect your skin against environmental issues. Click here for more information on jojoba oil.
A soothing oil that has been used medicinally for thousands of years and has antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-fungal properties. It is widely used in cosmetics and skincare products. Castor oil is a strong, thick oil that works best when diluted with another carrier oil. It’s not the best as an essential oil carrier oil, but works well in scrubs, DIY Face Wash Recipes, soaps, salves, and other skincare products.
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There you have it! LOADS of information on the top carrier oils available, how they can be used, and what skin types they are best suited for. All the basics you need to know for how to choose carrier oils.