What are carrier oils?

Oct 4, 2022 | The basics

If you ever wondered what are carrier oils, then you have come to the right place. This term is usually used to refer to the oils as the base for diluting essential oils. However, they are much more than that! 



Carrier oil is a cosmetic oil that has been extracted from nuts, seeds, pulp or other parts of the plant to get an oily substance. After extraction and quality assessment, they can be used in cosmetic products.

Carrier oils look just the same like the ones we use in cooking. In cooking we are used to canola oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil and coconut oil. Some parts of the world use other oils as well, but these are just the most common ones. 


Carrier oils used in cosmetics have way more variety – almond oil, wheat germ, jojoba, argan, watermelon, apple seed, blueberry seed and so so much more. And all of them have different benefits to the hair and skin.

Depending on the season, material, subspecies, extraction methods and a lot of other factors they come in different compositions. This is why it is crucial to look at the supplier‘s information about the extraction method, composition and other important criteria to see if this oil is something you really want.


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Usually you can get oils in a refined or unrefined forms. Unrefined oils are cold pressed and were not changed after the expression of the oils from the raw material. Though they will be filtered to make sure that there are no debris left after the expression, but the oils still maintain all the nutrients, vitamins and fatty acids. In this way the cold pressed oil is purer and have higher amounts of colors and scents.

In addition to this, refined oils are usually obtained in several stages. It involves refining, deodorization and bleaching – this is also known as RBD. The refining process is helpful to remove impurities, get rid off some unwanted fatty acids. During this stage the scent, color or texture is improved for a cosmetic use.

Bleaching is usually done with specific earth or clay. The oil has to pass through the earth – in this way all of the impurities are held by the earth molecules which leads to a cleaner oil. After filtration the oil is deodorized by vaporizing the oil and vacuuming all the volatile molecules.


We use carrier oils in a lot of formulations – from body to the hair. Think of lip balms, body oils, massage oils, oily serums, hair oils, lotions and so much more. Carrier oils are very versatile materials to work with and we can use their properties to formulate an outstanding product.

What is even better, carrier oils rarely cause irritation, sensitization or redness as they are safe to use ingredients. However, if you do have an allergy for peanuts, nuts or oats or any other kind of ingredient that also comes in oils form, you should do a patch test or avoid those oils altogether as they could not be suited for you.

But the best part is that there are a lot of carrier oils to choose from, so you may not be able to use several of them, but you can choose others that have similar properties.



All oils are made of triglycerides and some other active oil soluble compounds such as vitamins, antioxidants, phytosterols and other components. All of these actives in oils must be oil soluble otherwise they would just not be there.

As mentioned above, oils are made of triglycerides that are actually esters of a glycerol and 3 fatty acid molecules. When you look at the suppliers data sheets, you will probably see a fatty acid profile – this is a depiction of what fatty acids are in this particular oil.

For example argan oil from lotioncrafter in the specification sheet states that it has:

10.0-15.0% Palmitic fatty acid

4.3-7.2% Stearic fatty acid

43.0-55.0% Oleic fatty acid

28.0-37.0% Linoleic fatty acid


Different composition of carrier oils gives them unique properties and sensory abilities. For example castor oil is a clear yellow thick oil with a very slow absorption speed while hemp seed oil quite thin oil with a fast absorption rate and it is green in color.

All of the sensory abilities are a matter of a preference. Some people like thinner oils, some more heavier ones. But the main idea is to choose an oil for its specific purpose – a light and fast absorbing oil would be used in facial oils while more thick and greasy oils can be used in lip care to provide that extra film for keeping moisture.  


Fatty acids are usually grouped into saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. The more unsaturated fatty acids are present in the oil, the more potent it is to rancidity. And this results in a shorter shelf time.

It is important to know that all carrier oils will essentially go bad. Even the refined ones. Some of the oils will get rancid quicker than the others, but all of them will get rancid. The most important thing to know is that shelf life of each oil is determined by its chemical composition.  

This can be clearly seen by comparing hemp seed oil and coconut oil. Hemp seed oil has about 85% of unsaturated fatty acid content and very little saturated fatty acids. And it has a 6-8 month shelf life. While coconut oil has around 91% of saturated fatty acids and has a shelf life up to 2 years! That is a massive change.

To extend the shelf life of the oil we can ensure the proper storing of it. And this means we should place them where is no direct sunlight and in a cool place. For some oils storing in refrigerator is recommended (e.g. flax seed oil), but not for all.

Some oils after keeping them in a fridge will get cloudy. This means that the oil has some unsaturated fatty acids that are seen as cloudiness. After getting these carrier oils out of the fridge to room temperature, the oils will eventually get clear again.


Several carrier oils can naturally have higher levels of antioxidants such as vitamin E (soybean oil, sunflower oil etc.) which in turn leads to a more stabilized oil. Vitamin E can protect the oils from going rancid. Oils that are high in lauric acid also have longer shelf lives as it slows down the oxidation process.

6. how to choose a carrier oil?

There are several things to consider when choosing a carrier oil. This includes:

  • Composition
  • Absorption rate
  • Scent
  • Shelf life
  • Price
  • Intended use


Composition of the oil is the key to its properties. This is where you can see the benefits it can give you. This includes fatty acids and unsaponifiables – which are sterols, vitamins and other active molecules. For example avocado oil is known to be suited for dry, sensitive and delicate skin that needs softness and calming effect.


The absorption rate is usually important when formulating products that would be applied to the skin – hand and face lotions, body oils, facial serums and others. Some carrier oils can feel sticky such as avocado oil, castor oil and if they were used alone, the skin feel would not be the best.

This is why they are usually combined with other carrier oils and have a faster absorption rate. By doing this, we can a variety of pleasant skin feel products that are not greasy and glide beautifully on the skin.

6.3. SCENT

It is a bit tricky to pick carrier oil based on the scent as this is a very personal thing. One person may like one scent while the other person just can’t stand it. For example I love the light and fruity scent of passionfruit carrier oil but I don’t like borage carrier oil. This one has quite overpowering scent of eggs which I am not a fan of. 

If you are a very sensitive person for scents, I recommend choosing a refined or deodorized version of a carrier oil. Yes, these oils will be a bit different scent, color wise, but they are still perfectly fine to use it. 


Shelf life is important for everyone who is formulating cosmetics. Shorter shelf life oils should be used quite quickly while  you will have a much longer time to formulate if you choose to buy more stable carrier oils.

6.5. PRICE

Price is one of the main criteria when choosing oils. Some more exotic or unknown carrier oils will have a higher price than more common carrier oils. The higher price can be explained by the hard manufacturing process or the plant/nut matter seasonality and growth. Also, organic, cold pressed oils will have higher price when compared to refined oils.

Some suppliers can offer carrier oils in lower prices, however it usually comes at a cost – the quality of an oil, it could be not fair trade and the people harvesting/producing the oil are not paid well. There could be so many factors.

This is why it is essential to look at the supplier itself, information about the oil, manufacturing process. In the beginning it is crucial to try several suppliers to see which raw materials have better quality. Because everything you will create will come down to the quality of the raw materials.


If you want to make a face oil and a body oil, you would need different carrier oils. This is mainly considering that we will use much higher amount of body oil versus facial oil. So, in body oil we still would choose lightweight carrier oils, but they would be more common with a lower price point.

While for the face we could use more expensive lightweight carrier oils as we don‘t need much for a facial oil. In this way the face will be more luxurious product when compared to a body oil.


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