The Good Oil – A guide to carrier oils

Many recipes for herbal remedies call for the use of oils of some sort. What are the differences between them all?

Essential oils – Also known as volatile, ethereal oil, or simply as the “oil of” the plant material from which they were extracted, such as oil of Chamomile. The term essential indicates that the oil carries distinctive scent of the plant, its essence, not that it is an especially important or fundamental substance. Essential oils are generally extracted by distillation. Other processes include expression, or solvent extraction.

Essential oils have been used medicinally throughout history. Reported benefits vary from skin treatments to remedies for cancer, and are often based on historical use of these oils for these purposes. The healing effects are ascribed to the aromatic compounds in essential oils and other plant extracts. Many common essential oils have medicinal properties that have been applied in folk medicine since ancient times and are still widely used today.

Carrier oils – Some recipes will call for carrier oils to dilute or “carry” the active ingredients to the skin. Your choice of carrier oil will depend on the effects you seek. These oils are generally cold pressed to retain as much of their therapeutic benefits as possible. Most health food stores will have a selection of good oils and you may even find them in some supermarkets. A word of caution if purchasing from the supermarket is that often their oils will NOT be cold pressed. They will have been heated and will have lost a lot of their good properties. More about the differences below….

Oils aint oils

Oils have different and varying degrees of quality and are processed by distinct methods.

Cold Pressed – This method helps the oil maintain its original state, constituents and depth. Temperatures are rigorously controlled to ensure no therapeutic benefits are lost to heat. Although not a practical method of extraction for all vegetable oils on the market it is highly regarded as the extraction method of choice.

Expeller Pressed – In this method of extraction a small amount of heat is produced simply through the frictional heat created by hydraulic presses. This makes the oil suitable and economical as a base for cosmetics because of its fairly undisturbed molecular state. It also makes excellent food grade oil.

Refined – fully processed oil that has been exposed to all methods of refinement. It will have no colour, odour or scent. This makes for economical oil in cosmetics and body care products, but it is not the healthiest as a food grade oil.

Partially Refined – A process where only one or two of the three available methods are used available. This most often applies to oils which have been known to go rancid quickly. This method also further stabilizes an oil or removes its heavy odour and deep colour.

Unrefined – A method of extraction and screen filtering where no additional refining process has taken place. This helps oil retain a rich, strong flavour and colour. The end product is most exquisite for food and cosmetic preparation. Unrefined oils are always darker in colour and richer in scent.

Choosing a carrier oil – You choose an oil with the properties for your particular needs. Once you know some basic facts about the properties, actions and viscosity of the oils choosing becomes easier. Many of these oils can be combined to suit your particular requirements. Experiment with your oils until you find what works best for you.

Sweet Almond

Peach and Apricot

Versatile and can be used for both body massage and facial treatments since they are light and easily absorbed
Olive Oil Olive oil is the most universal oil used for a multitude of purposes.
It has a rich, full bodied flavor with a strong aroma and is golden brown in color. Has a great conditioning effect in body care recipes and can be used in almost all applications because of its stable nature.


Perfect body oil where nut allergies are a concern – extracted from seeds
Black Seed,


Evening Primrose,


Rosehip oils

Fantastic results in facial treatments. May need diluting with lighter oil if used for body massage. None of these oils are extracted from nuts either.


Unrefined – Perfect for nourishing the skin in overnight treatment. Too heavy to use for massage. Strong smelling, deep nourishing oils to soften the skin.

To use some of these richer oils in body massage or facial treatments just add them to a lighter oil such as Almond, Apricot or Peach oil at around 15-20%, – then you can enjoy all their therapeutic benefits without the odour. You can do the same with any of the other deep-nourishing oils – this also helps keep the cost per treatment down.