In this post, I want to broaden the focus of therapeutic plant oils to put carrier oils in the spotlight that they deserve.
A quality carrier oil is a virgin base oil derived from specific oil-containing plant parts – primarily nutrient rich nuts and seeds and certain fruits.
They are also known as vegetable oils and are true oils with much larger, heavier molecular structures than the lighter, volatile essential oils (essential oils evaporate, carrier oils oxidize with extended exposure to air, and eventually go rancid).
So, in aromatherapy, we use carrier oils primarily to dilute essential oil applications and assist absorption, but the truth is that carrier oils go far beyond being merely a supporting role to essential oils.
They are in fact some of the most nutritious and restorative natural extracts on the planet. And if you are genuinely interested in nurturing sustainable health, you will find that few things can have such a significant healthful impact on your body.
Though the simple balanced diet of the hunter gatherer is all but lost to us, the wisdom therein is transparent today. We now know that certain fruits, seeds and nuts contain vitamins, minerals and fatty acids that our body cannot produce and yet are essential to the healthy function of every cell in every part our body.
So what we have when we make a careful oil extraction, to produce a virgin carrier oil, is nothing less than a concentrated measure of life-sustaining compounds; an elemental medicine that we can use in many ways to help to restore the fundamental balance of our natural health.
To understand good oils, we need to talk about food
For many years, the main research on oils was connected with the focus of fats in our diets… as a very bad thing. Though many people still believe that fat and cholesterol is all bad, this has been pretty much exposed as a myth.
And it is a dangerous myth too. Because a fat free diet can actually deprive the body of those essential elements needed for healthy function and eventually kill us!
At some point the focus shifted a little to the healthy Mediterranean diet and its staple of virgin and extra virgin olive oil and we were bombarded with new health information on essential fatty acids, polyunsaturated vs. saturated fats and so on, but the single most important detail for creating healthy oils is still not commonly understood.
Assuming you start with virgin materials, the most important detail for creating pure healthy oils is this - no or little heat. You want to draw out the oil with all its natural compounds in their natural healthy state.
This is done through slow extraction, ideally with an expeller press that simply squeezes out the oil (which is then filtered and bottled in a light-protecting dark glass).
Essentially all the oils you see in clear plastic bottles on the supermarket shelf have been commercially produced with an industrialised heat and solvent process that actually creates an end product with traces of chemical residue, and cancer- and age- inducing free-radicals caused by heat-related molecular changes.
Even when you avoid the cheap stuff and cook with the edible high-value virgin oils, you don’t want to heat them past their ‘smoke point’ or the same free-radical damage will occur.
This is why extra virgin olive oil is best in your salad and virgin avocado oil is better for cooking – it has higher heat stability.
Why health-food oils are basically good skin oils
When you understand how a healthy, nutrient-packed oil is produced, you will see that often the health-promoting oil you put on your salad has natural benefits that can apply to skin and hair care too.
There are a few carrier oils that are simply not edible. And a few edible oils that are maybe too heavy for topical use.
Basically a virgin plant oil carries the vital nutrient compounds that the body requires at cell level. This is why our skin can benefit so radically from using them and why they can be absorbed into the skin to benefit deeper body health too.
The main difference between your salad oil and our therapeutic carrier oils is that purity generally involves an even higher level of production and handling standards.
It is also worth noting that while we are more familiar with using creams to condition our skin, oils at this level of purity are much more readily and cleanly absorbed.
Creams have to contain emulsifiers (eg natural beeswax) to bind the water and oil and this is actually what we then need to remove with cleansers to allow the skin to breathe properly.
The Top Five Most Useful Carrier Oils
These days there are many wonderful specialist oils that go some way towards representing the vast spectrum of nutritional seeds and nuts that are found in nature.
Among the many, you can find walnut, peach, blackcurrant, cumin and hazelnut oils. All of which contain beneficial properties that you might find interesting to experiment with.
As it is, the main carrier oils that we commonly use already provide extraordinary benefits which can be extended and enhanced by using them also in combinations.
If you only have one carrier oil, it should probably be this. It has many therapeutic qualities including anti-inflammatory, immunity-boosting and anti-toxicity effects.
It has a fine silky texture that is wonderful for massage and soft and gentle enough for facial or baby skin. It is super-nourishing and soothing with emollient properties that can help to improve tone, scaring and even chronic dryness.
If you have a pure virgin oil you can of course also eat it. Apart from being highly nutritious, Almond oil is also thought to be healing for irritable bowel syndrome, colon cancer and cholesterol imbalance.
Jojoba oil is a misnomer. It is in fact a liquid wax and close to sebum (natural skin oil) in construction.
It is very easily absorbed, helps to balance the skins own oil production, with a cleansing action on pores. It also protects skin and hair against moisture loss and UV damage (factor 4), and shields the skin against impurities.
Jojoba oil is also high in nutrients and exceptionally nourishing and rejuvenating, plus it is a healing oil and has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. It is very stable and an anti-oxidant. (Note: Jojoba is not edible).
Made from the fruit’s flesh, the unrefined oil with nutrients in tact is bright green and thick (Note: it turns brown so beware of oils that stay bright green, this is not the natural color).
Avocado oil is great for soothing and conditioning the skin, with anti-inflammatory properties and a moisture-high, fast absorption.
It is known for its anti-aging benefits because it is high in anti-oxidants and stimulates collagen production to promote soft, supple skin (menopausal women have great results on dry skin with this oil).
When we eat nutritious Avocado oil, we gain digestive aid to absorb further anti-oxidants and nutrients from our diet.
Avocado oil has a very high smoke point so it is one of the better oils for cooking with too.
Made from the part of the wheat that is typically left out of modern bread, it is exceptionally rich in vitamin E and best known for its antioxidant properties.
Wheatgerm oil is also high in many other vitamins, proteins and minerals and is often used as a nutritional supplement. It provides support to the nervous system, the immune system, the digestive system and the circulatory system.
It contains folic acid that is beneficial to healthy nails and hair and cell regeneration, and has anti-inflammatory and anti-neuralgic properties that have particular benefit for muscle and joint conditions.
Wheatgerm oil has been found to bring healing to conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, as well as burns and skin ulcers. (This one is best kept in the fridge.)
Argan oil is a relative newcomer to the carrier oil scene but it is creating a big impact because it has the highest and most unusual concentration of vitamins and fatty acids found in any single oil.
Anti-oxidant, moisture rich, anti-inflammatory, protective and healing, it has been linked to cancer prevention, healthy digestion, anti-aging, healthy circulation and wide-reaching therapeutic skin and hair care.
There are of course other carrier oils worth mentioning such as Castor oil, for example, which is exceptional for body care and repair.
Or Evening Primrose which is healing and balancing not only for the skin but for a variety of conditions too, including menopause and high blood pressure.
Rosehip is especially nutrient rich for dry and mature skin with a regenerative and healing effect on burnt tissue and scaring.
Even common old olive oil, when extra virgin and organic, fits in with the super oils for natural health – not only for a healthier diet, but also for its anti-inflammatory and massage qualities, as well as for healthy digestion.
When you realise that right here are all the natural materials needed to promote not only skin health but also internal balance and regeneration, it puts modern beauty care in a whole new light.
If you are already using carrier oils on your body, you are basically at the forefront of a body care revolution.
Medicinal-grade essential oils must be 100% pure. At Absolute Essential we use certified organic or wild grown (sustainable) plants to produce our oils and all extraction processes are strictly controlled to produce the best quality oil with a maximum purity and therapeutic value. See more at Absolute Essential