Difference Between Carrier Oils And Essential Oils

By Valeria D.

For those who are at the beginning or early stages of their DIY skin care journey, the difference between carrier oils and essential oils are mind-boggling! They're both oils, so what big difference could there be, right?

If this question echoes with your own thoughts, get ready to be surprised. Oils are used differently and have different effects on the skin — differences that can be sun and moon.

So before you dive headfirst to using any oils, you must be able to tell the difference between carrier and essential oils. Read on to be informed!


Carrier Oils

Carrier oils are the oils you use to dilute an essential oil (EO) so that it's safe to use on your body. 

Also known as vegetable oils, base oils, or fixed oils, carrier oils are usually made from plants. They are typically derived from the fatty parts of a plant, such as the seed, kernels or nuts. 

However, not all carrier oils are vegetable oils. Not to be confused with food-grade vegetable oils – the term is used to differentiate carrier oils from non-plant-based sources of oils such as fish, animal fats, and petrochemicals (e.g., mineral oil). These non-plant-based oils are best to be avoided when choosing carrier oils.

We call these oils "carriers" because they carry the essential oils into the skin. These oils generally help EOs spread more evenly unto the skin. The absorption of the EO will depend on how thin or thick the carrier oil is; while diluting the EO in a carrier oil prevents it from evaporating quickly.

Although dilution is one of carrier oil's primary use, it is not limited to this use. They also offer their own unique characteristics and therapeutic benefits. For example, rosehip seed oil has anti-aging benefits, while jojoba oil is a great natural moisturizer.

Carrier Oils Include:

  • Coconut oil
  • Rosehip seed oil
  • Jojoba oil
  • Olive oil
  • Argan oil
  • Sweet almond oil
  • Apricot kernel oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Babassu oil
  • Flax seed oil
  • Hazelnut oil
  • Hemp seed oil
  • Sesame oil

And tons more!

What Are Essential Oils? 

Essential oils (EO) are highly concentrated oils. These oils are the pure essence of seeds, flowers, leaves, roots, and other parts of plants. They are typically extracted through steam distillation, a process that involves applying steam until the oil vaporizes.

You will often encounter EOs sold in raw form, bottled in tinted glasses. Apart from this, essential oils can also be found in skin care products, cosmetics, soap, lotion, shampoo, bath salts, and candles. 

These oils are highly concentrated and too potent to be used directly on the skin. Therefore when using on skin, you must dilute EOs in a carrier oil. According to the second edition of Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, using a 2% essential oil dilution is generally considered a safe guideline for topical use of essential oils on adults.

However, diluting an essential oil in a carrier oil doesn't necessarily reduce the risk of specific side effects or allergic reactions. A patch test should always be done when using a new essential oil to see if you are allergic to the particular oil.

Essential Oils Include:

Essential Oils
  • Frankincense oil
  • Lavender oil
  • Orange oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Tea tree oil
  • Bitter almond oil
  • Angelica oil
  • Basil oil
  • Star anise oil
  • Parsley oil
  • Bay oil
  • Dill oil
  • Rosemary oil
    *  And many more since​ there are over 94 different essential oils!

Difference Between Carrier Oils And Essential Oils 

Now that we know what carrier and essential oils are, it's time to understand their difference.

Essential oils are thin, often runny oils with intense aromas. Meanwhile, carrier oils are heavier in comparison and have a much more subdued aroma, if any.

Further, carrier oils are rich in vitamins A, D, E, and K, while those cannot be found in essential oils. The reason behind this is that EOs do not contain water or fats that are necessary for holding vitamins.

In my opinion, the main difference between carrier oils and essential oils is in the application. You can use carrier oils safely on your skin as they are. On the other hand, if you don't dilute essential oils, they can irritate your skin or cause chemical burns. You can safely apply carrier oil alone to your lips, eyes, and other sensitive areas. You cannot do the same with essential oil.

Another difference between carrier oils and essential oils is their means of extraction. Steam distillation is the most widely accepted process for the production of essential oils on a large scale. Meanwhile, various methods are accepted in extracting carrier oils. These methods include super-critical extraction, cold-press, and solvent extraction.

​Carrier oils make it possible to use essential oils safely. However, not all base oils make good carrier oils. For example, you should avoid using mineral oil. I talk about mineral oil in detail in one of my posts. Check it out so you don't miss it out!

Final Thoughts

So, as you can see, there is a big difference between carrier oils and essential oils. The two are not interchangeable and shouldn't be confused with one another. I will be sure to cover the uses and benefits of the different carrier and essential oils in future posts.

 In general, when it comes to our skin and overall well-being, we should be cautious. Knowing all that we can about a particular ingredient or product is a must before we apply it to our skin. 

So never let your thirst for knowledge be quenched! Keep on searching, studying, and discovering.

I hope this post was helpful, and I thank you for reading it!

Do you incorporate carrier or essential oils in your skin care regimen? Share your experiences in the comments below. 

Stay tuned and take skin care 💋

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The Information on this website has not been evaluated by FDA and is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. The content is for educational purposes only and not intended to substitute medical advice. You should seek the advice of your health care practitioner before undertaking any health changes. 


Some of the links in the posts are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

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  • The details you shared is great help to me .. Please tell me about onion oil ( both essential and carrier ) and there details and how to check it ?

    • Honestly, I’ve never heard about onion oil 🙂 Just checked it up and I will read about it more. If it makes sense to use it in skin care, I might give it a try and dedicate a post to it. Thank you for the idea 🙂

    • Omg, Olive! I am glad you found this post before applying essential oils neat and burning your skin! Essential oils are really potent and powerful and deserve a certain extend of caution. Make sure you always dilute your essential oils in carrier oils. Stay safe and take good care of your skin <3

    • Hi Glenda. Carrier oils alone won’t cause you facial hair growth. I used to have the same fears because I knew almond oil for example is recommended to increase the density of the hair. So I thought if I use it on my facial skin it will cause my facial hair to get more “dense” too. The truth is oils cannot do this. What causes facial hair growth is hormones. So if you have such concerns, checking your hormone levels is something you can consider. Hope this is helpful 🙂

    • The oils don’t cause facial growth by themselves. Facial growth is the effect of hormonal disbalances. Is your skin oily, combo, normal, or dry?

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