What Are Carrier Oils?

Carrier oil used as a massage oil
Carrier or base oils are often used in aromatherapy massage. Tom Merton/Caiaimage/Getty Images

In aromatherapy, carrier oils are oils that are used to dilute essential oils before they are applied to skin. Diluting essential oils helps to prevent adverse reactions from contact with the neat oil, such as skin irritation, and also helps with the application of the suggested amount (often a drop or two of essential oil) over a large area of skin. 

For skin applications in adults, essential oils are typically used in a 0.5-5% dilution.


Carrier oils are often called base oils or vegetable oils when used in skin lotions and creams, body oils, bath oils, hair oils, and lip balms.

Types of Carrier Oils

Carrier oils are typically vegetable oils sourced from the nut, seed, or kernel of a plant. Some of the more popular oils include:

  • Sweet almond oil
  • Apricot kernel oil
  • Grape seed oil
  • Hazelnut oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Sesame oil

Choosing a Carrier Oil

The type of oil used for an aromatherapy application may depend on the viscosity, therapeutic properties, scent, absorption/feel, stability (shelf life), and other properties of the oil. For example, a thinner oil is typically used as a hair oil because it would have to be washed out after the treatment. An oil used in aromatherapy massage should ideally have some staying power for the massage.

Carrier oils should be stored away from heat and direct sunlight to prevent the oil from going rancid quickly.

Cold pressed or cold expeller pressed oils are considered preferable because they are processed with minimal/no heat.

Related: Tips on Buying Essential Oils


Avoid peanut, almond, and nut oils if there is a risk of an allergic reaction. 

Note that diluting essential oils into a carrier oil doesn’t necessarily reduce the risk of certain side effects (particularly systemic adverse reactions such as liver, kidney, or neurological toxicity).

It is the total amount of essential oil that gets into the body that matters, so the application of two drops of essential oil applied directly may be similar to two drops of essential oil diluted in 30 mL of a carrier oil.  

When blending essential oils and carrier oils, it’s crucial to avoid direct skin exposure to the essential oils and work in a very well-ventilated area for short periods of time.

Pregnant and nursing women and children should always consult their primary care provider before using essential oils. 

Get more tips and precautions when using oils in aromatherapy.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.