Carrier (vegetable) oils are fat oils used in nutrition, skin care and as a carrier of essential oils. Essential oils are lipophilic, concentrated herbal substances that, prior to use, must be diluted in some lipid, and for this, most suitable are carrier oils which are called carriers of essential oils for this reason.
Carrier oils used in aromatherapy must be of superior quality, “cold-pressed”, unrefined because only in this way oil keeps its nutrients (poly and monounsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, flavonoids, aromas, etc.)
For a long time through history, carrier oils were obtained exclusively by “cold-pressing” process. Vegetable material was mildly heated and by pressing, a certain quantity of oil was obtained from it. As technology and food industry were developing, a new method of obtaining vegetable oils was introduced – “hot extraction”, where vegetable material was exposed to high temperature and therefore the yield of oil was much greater. Not much attention was paid to the side effects of such production because the process was fast, cheap and was bringing big profit. Although today we know that there are negative effects of such processing such as oxidation of fatty acids and emergence of cancerogenic products of fat still on the shelves of retail chains you can find such oils that are daily used in nutrition.
Vegetable oils can be also obtained by extraction using organic solvent – hexsanes (in this way oil is still produced from grape seeds). Such oils can have traces of organic solvents in their composition and as such are neither suitable for eating nor for aromatherapy.
Oil refining process consists of more phases. The essence of the process is primarily to extend oil shelf life. By neutralization process, the excess of free fatty acids is removed. Substances giving the colour to the oil such as carotenoids, chlorophyll, etc. are removed by adsorption, and in this way, oil becomes visually more acceptable for customers. Of course, in this process the oil is losing valuable therapeutic properties! By deodorising process, the oil odours are removed (by means of water vapour) and oil becomes odour neutral. By vinterization process, i.e. wax removal, the oil obtains clarity, but again, one more therapeutic component of the oil is lost – waxes being exceptionally important in skin care and protection. For this reason, refined oils are undesirable in aromatherapy! It should be said that refined oils can be also obtained by “cold-pressing”; simply, these are two separate processing processes, and attention should always be paid to product declaration in order to know what oils you are consuming. Always choose unrefined and “cold-pressed” vegetable oils because only such oils retain therapeutic properties.
Vegetable oils are therapeutic sources of essential fatty acids, omega 3, 6, 9 – they feed body with fatty acids which cannot be produced by our body and which must be intaken through food. Oils also contains phytosterols, flavonoids, tocopherols important natural antioxidants which protect us against effect of free radicals and oxidative stress, reduce inflammatory processes, redness and dryness of the skin, protect skin against UV radiation, etc.
Plants from which the most important carrier oils in aromatherapy are obtained are as follows: argan, avocado, almond, borage, black-cumin, grape seeds, jojoba, hazelnut, flax, sesame, sunflower, macadamia, apricot stones, olive, wheat germs, wild rose hip, coconut, etc.
Bojana Mandić, MD, Family Aromatherapist