Aromatherapy is a unique science that demands great care and attention from the practitioner. And not everyone can master it. Anyone new to essential oils can be confused with the name tags associated to groups of oils. A beginner can be baffled by terms like Base Oils, Carrier Oils, Hydrosols, Vegetable Oils, all and sundry. If you are illiterate about essential oils, you may assume all these oils to be of one variety or may think they fall into different categories. You may even confuse essential fatty oils with aromatherapeutic oils. To avoid all such confusion, this article will brief on the differences (and similarities) between Essential Oils, Base Oils, Carrier Oils and Hydrosols.
Essential Oils: As you must have by now known, essential oils are extracts from the root, bark, stem, leaves and aromatic portions of the plant. There are several extraction methods in practice like the steam distillation method, cold-pressing method and solvent extraction method to produce essential oils of absolute or concrete kinds. Essential oils are thin oils with strong aromas. They evaporate pretty quickly and are classified into Top Notes, Middle Notes and Base Notes based on their evaporation levels. Essential oils do not go rancid over time, but they can oxidize and often lose their therapeutic properties. Every essential oil should be within a particular therapeutic grade to be effective. Very diluted oils yield no sort of therapeutic benefit and are no better than aromatic fragrances. Essential oils should be stored in tinted glass bottles in dark, cool places to avoid evaporation and oxidization.
Carrier Oils: Carrier Oils are vegetable oils that are used to dilute Essential Oils. Since essential oils can cause skin irritations or itching when used in undiluted forms, Carrier Oils are used as base oils to dilute them. Also called as Base Oils, Carrier Oils are derived from the fatty portion of plants like seeds, nuts and kernels. Since each Carrier Oil has its own set of therapeutic benefits, an essential oil’s value, worth and effectiveness depends on the proportion and properties of Carrier Oils used in the blend.
Natural skin care products, body lotions, bath oils, lip balms and other skin products are produced using Carrier Oils. From a simple oil to a complex blend, Carrier Oil can make huge differences to the properties of Essential Oils with which they are mixed. They can change the aroma, color, texture, shelf life and quality of essential oils in aromatherapy. Carrier Oils are either odorless or have faint, nutty odor. They turn rancid in a short period of time and hence have to be bought and used immediately. They do not evaporate readily as Essential Oils and hence are mixed with them during massages and topical applications.
Base Oils: Base Oils or Fixed Oils are nothing but vegetable oils, used as Carrier Oils. However, it should be noted that not all Base Oils/Fixed Oils are vegetable oils. Especially, animal-based oils are not used in aromatherapy work.
Hydrosols: Hydrosols are floral waters that are byproducts of the distillation process of plants. First used by American herbalist Jeanne Rose in 1990, Hydrosols are referred also as distillate waters. Anti-inflammatory and water soluble, Hydrosols are used in general skin care. They are also free of irritants and hence can be used in children and adults as well. Sometimes, they are even ingested into the body owing to their antiseptic, styptic and refreshing properties. They serve as natural substitutes of tonic lotions used in the cosmetic industry.