In aromatherapy or other holistic therapies vegetable oils often used for massage are referred to as ‘carrier oils.’ The term ‘carrier’ oil in some ways belittles the practical value and dynamics that lie behind the ubiquitous vegetable oils. Nutritionists have long known the true value of oils and fats and their necessity in our diet. Different plant- based oils have special properties of their own and aromatherapy has certainly pioneered their use and has brought them to prominence in a number of ways. Oils and fats do not have the glamour of essential oils. It’s true they lack aroma and the excitement of essential oils but they are always there. Indeed the term ’fat’ like ‘carrier’ is not very exciting or interesting.
In reality nothing could be further from the truth. Oils and fats have astounding benefits and fundamental applications for anyone concerned with holistic body work. They can actually form the foundation or even the actives in many cosmetic formulas and expensive treatments. Vegetable oils are an intrinsic part of the Materia Medica or repertoire of an aromatherapist in most parts of the world. In particular the UK has promoted the use of vegetable oils as ‘carriers’ for essential oils used in massage. Essential oils and vegetable oils are of course very compatible.
All vegetable oils are defined as lipids and are organic compounds containing carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They are largely composed of fatty acids which in turn are composed of two parts, one fatty and the other acid. Linked together they are fatty acids. Oils and fats differ from one another mainly in the amount and variety of fatty acids they contain. Some fatty acids are ‘essential’ meaning that the body cannot synthesize them but we have to ingest them to be healthy. Linoleic acid and linolenic acid are the two essential fatty acids. The quality or the use of the oil will very often depend upon the fatty acid profile or the fatty acids it contains.
The big question: Do the plant based oils contribute anything within itself to a treatment or skin regime.
Why lipids are important for your skin ?
Aromatherapists are perhaps the leading proponent these days of topical application of oils and fats to the skin. However they have been making a comeback in the skin care industry. One of our newer trends is oil based cleansers and the therapeutic application of oils to our skin as part of our daily regime, particularly for mature skin. Fats or oils are the major components of cell walls and intracellular membranes so it’s not surprising that these oils are important in skin care.
Plant derived oils provide, at the very least, emollient properties to the skin. They are amongst the oldest used health and cosmetic materials known to mankind. They are regularly used and chosen because of their low incidence of irritation, sensitization and comedogenicity. Moisturizing and skin softening are basic uses for oils. As we age our own natural moisture factors do decrease and so these precious plant oils are a natural replacement.
Some oils are absorbed more quickly than others; some are thicker than others based on their chemical structure. Coconut for example can feel greasy due to its saturated fat content, unless it is fractionated oil, medium touch oils are usually monounsaturated oils such as Avocado, Almond, Olive and Sesame. Sunflower and Walnut are polyunsaturated oils and are much thinner and lighter oils. Logic might say to us that thinner oils might penetrate more easily. However each oil has a certain viscosity, a more accurate term than thickness or thinness. What might be classed as thick oil, when placed on a warm skin can behave very differently.
When describing treatment oils we use the term ‘carriers’ not just meaning they hold or mix with essential oils in bottles but rather they carry essential oils into the skin. Essential oils are volatile; their nature is to go upward into the atmosphere not downward into the skin. In general terms we need to understand that when essential oils are blended with vegetable oils they travel down into the skin more efficiently.
When the skin is dry, oil will penetrate to the lowest levels of the skin. It becomes a moisturizer not only as a barrier to water loss but being bio available, contributes to the natural moisturizing factors of the skin even as a breakdown product of bio synthesis and it is supportive of skin activity.
Following the menopause, fatty acids are found to reduce in older skin. As these constitute NMF’s or natural moisturizing factors, it would be appropriate to apply them at the site where they are needed, on the skin and /or by digestion. As the skin condition deteriorates with age or stress it may become more sensitive, with the potential for irritation and disturbance in oil production.
Dry skin and topical eczema typically always show up poor lipid barriers and low ceramide content in the epidermis. As the skin becomes drier and less elastic as we age, the alteration in structure in part due to the important lipidic film on the surface of the skin. The composition of the film includes essential fatty acids, phospholipids and ceramides. It follows then, that blends of oils topically applied and containing the right compounds can only benefit the skin as it ages.
The epidermis is capable of metabolizing the elements necessary to recover its corrective barrier function. It should be perfectly possible to improve the skin’s health and appearance by topical applications of suitably balanced oil blends or complexes. What cannot be dismissed is the value of vegetable oils in the treatment of difficult skin conditions. With or without essential oils, combinations of topically applied plant oils have been shown to be of great value in the treatment of psoriasis and eczema. This particularly applies to oils rich in Gamma Linoleic acid.
The Dermatological Archive in 1993 reported the following:
Topical applications of individual lipids or incomplete mixtures of lipids interfere with barrier recovery, while complete mixtures of cholesterol, fatty acids and ceramides allow for normal barrier repair.
So get blending with whole oils!!!!