August 22, 2019

A question that comes up often is “what carrier oils can I use in place of fractionated coconut oil” 

To answer this question, I compiled a list of 11 whole carrier oils that you can use instead. But before I go into that I want to look at what makes fractionated coconut so popular and why I’ve never liked it or wanted to include it in my work. 

Fractionated coconut oil is an oil manipulated to be the “perfect” carrier oil. 

It is: 

  • colorless making a neutral base for essential oils. 
  • odorless and won’t affect the final scent of a product.
  • very long shelf life (to achieve this it is a highly processed “fractionated” oil) 
  • won’t solidify in cold temperatures

It looks for a moment like the perfect carrier oil, but here’s why I don’t like it. 

To create fractionated coconut oil (and MCT oil) requires blasting apart, literally “fractionating” the oil to achieve the characteristics I mentioned above. 

Plus, during this process all the unsaponifiables (the healing fraction) is also removed so there are no anti-oxidants, minerals, tannins or vitamins left in the oil. It is no longer a whole oil. 

It feels thin and too slick on my skin. 

It is essentially the “junk food” of carrier oils. Convenient, disturbingly long shelf life and characterless enough to do almost everything, without doing anything very well at all. 

  • So to replace fractionated coconut oil we need to find oils that: 
  • have little to no scent 
  • are clear or have very light color 
  • will be compatible with most (if not all skin types) 
  • shelf-stable for at least 12 months (many are longer) 

I went through my workshop cupboards and evaluated several dozen whole oils and came up with this list of 12 that you can easily use in place of fractionated coconut oil. 

This list includes oils that are easy to find from most suppliers or sometimes even at your local grocery store and some of the more exotic oils that I’ve been working with. 

Sweet Almond Oil

Sweet almond oil is an old standby and a lovely oil for most skin types. It is one of the first carrier oils I used when I was first starting to work with oils decades ago. One thing to note though is the potential for an allergic reaction in people with nut allergies. Almond oil is a monounsaturated dominant oil that will last 12 to 18 months stored properly. It is a mild emollient oil that is rich in vitamin E and squalene. 

Camellia Seed Oil

Many of the camellia seed oils I’ve worked with are completely clear and odorless though I have seen some that are pale yellow with a delicate scent. It is a ‘dry’ oil meaning it feels dry on the skin. Camellia seed oil — which comes from the plant family that produces black and green tea — is high in naturally occurring tannins. It is these tannins that give the oil its dry feel. Camellia seed oil is a good all-around base oil, but it is exceptional as a facial oil for people with naturally oily skin. 

This is clear camellia seed oil I have in my workshop.
On a recent trip to Spain, I met a camellia seed oil producer who gave me these two samples of his work.

Jojoba Oil 

Jojoba ‘oil’ is another great carrier oil for rollerball applicators and as a general base for aromatherapy applications, It is made up of waxy esters and is non-allergenic. Rather than a true oil, Jojoba is a liquid wax ester that feels and acts like an oil. It can sometimes smell slightly smoky and has a golden yellow color. 

Meadowfoam Seed Oil

Meadowfoam seed oil feels and acts similar to jojoba but is a true oil where jojoba is technically a liquid wax. When I first started working with meadowfoam seed oil, I could only get expeller-pressed versions that were very pale in color and had no scent. Since this oil has gained popularity, the demand for less refined versions has created more diversity in the market. Some meadowfoam seed oils I order now have some scent that could interfere with the final product. I recommend purchasing a small amount to start until you get to know a supplier. Meadowfoam has a unique combination of fatty acids that give it a long shelf life, measured in years rather than months. 

Kukui Nut Oil 

Kukui nut oil is a light beautiful oil with no color or scent. Feels wonderfully light on the skin and absorbs well. It is however high in polyunsaturated fatty acids which makes it more prone to rancidity. This is one oil I store in the fridge but you can also store it in a cool dark cupboard with a tight-fitting lid. To help extend the shelf life of products and blends made with kukui nut oil, you can add a little vitamin E to your combinations.

Marula Oil 

Marula oil is a beautiful oil from Africa that is one of the premium oils for skincare. It is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. You could use it alone as a facial oil or add it to a blend. It is also odorless and pale in color making it a good carrier oil for a wide range of uses though it tends to be more expensive than some of the other carrier oils. Marula oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids with a shelf life of 12 + months when stored well. 

Safflower Oil

Safflower oil an inexpensive, light oil that is readily available in grocery stores. It has little to no scent and is light in color. Safflower has a slightly complicated history. It has been hybridized for years and so most of the safflower oil you’ll find at grocery stores is high in oleic acid while the original safflower seed was high in linoleic acid. Oleic acid is more shelf-stable than linoleic acid. The hybridization process doesn’t take away from the oil in my option, though I haven’t sourced an unhybridized safflower oil high in linoleic acid yet so I don’t have a specific comparison. It’s not an oil I use often, but it is a good standby and it makes a wonderful neutral carrier oil for a wide range of applications. 

Abyssinian Oil

Abyssinian oil has similar properties and fatty acid structure of meadowfoam seed oil shares the signature long shelf life. It is a versatile oil that is good for skincare, has the light color and minimal scent for a base carrier oil and it has some unusual long-chain fatty acids that give it a rich yet absorbent feel and action on the skin. 

Rice Bran Oil

Rice bran oil often easy to find at grocery stores making it a good go-to carrier oil. It has a neutral scent and pale color. Rice bran oil is high in phyto-sterols (which have anti-inflammatory properties) and squalene. 

Daikon Radish Seed Oil

Daikon seed oil is clear, odorless and light feeling. It is a good carrier oil for hair, especially fine hair giving it a silky texture. It has a generous 12% omega 3 fatty acid content, which make it more prone to oxidation so I recommend storing it in the fridge to extend the shelf life. Sealed at room temperature it should last about six months. 

Grapeseed Oil

Grapeseed oil is often easy to find at grocery stores in the US and is generally light in color and without scent. Some unrefined versions have more color and a little scent. It is a polyunsaturated oil that is prone to oxidation. Store it in a cool dark place or in the fridge and, to extend the shelf life of grapeseed oil-based products, you can add a little vitamin E to your recipes. Grapeseed oil is slightly astringent and is good for oily skin. 

a selection of carrier oils in beakers
From left: Almond Oil, Meadowfoam Seed Oil, Kukui Nut Oil, Marula Oil, Grapeseed Oil

Carrier Oil Shelf Life

Any discussion of shelf life revolves around how oils are stored. My mantra is cool and dark! This is a general recommendation for all oils. Oils with high percentages of polyunsaturated fatty acids oils need to be kept colder and darker and used up more quickly than monounsaturated dominant oils and saturated butters. Shelf life is not something easily measured in specifics. An unopened oil stored in a cool dark space can last for years, while the same oil sitting next to the stove could go rancid in under a year. 

A note on Refined vs Unrefined Carrier Oils

Two different versions of grapeseed oil.

Unrefined doesn’t mean good and refined isn’t bad. Most oils go through at least some light refinement process to remove plant material. I try to avoid highly refined oils as they have most if not all of the unsaponifiables like anti-oxidants, minerals, tannins, and other compounds stripped out. 

Are any oils on this list new to you or is there one you’re particularly excited about? leave a comment below and share the next oil you want to try. 

  • Hi, This is not a carrier oil question, but is a question on magnesium oil. Can it be used in any recipes being that it is good for hair and skin?

    • Magnesium “oil” is not an oil so would not work to substitute for an oil in a recipe. It is a water soluble mineral solution so you’d need to introduce it to a formula in ways that it would be compatible.

    • Magnesium “oil” is not actually an oil. It is concentrated sea water high in magnesium, and easily absorbable through the skin. It is best sprayed, diluted, onto the skin. Nothing should be added to it. And it cannot stand as a substitute for a carrier oil which conveys essential oils onto the skin.

    • I love macadamia nut oil – the Mac nut oils I’ve bought in the past are usually very nutty smelling and the scent hard to overcome with essential oils so that is why it wasn’t included in this list. This was just a sampling of what is available.

  • Good morning, thank you for this concise discussion and listing of properties of these oils, some of which I use. I hope to try more of them, especially meadowfoam.

    I’m counting 11 oils listed, am I overlooking an oil or are the 2 versions of grapeseed oil making up the total?

  • This is so helpful. Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge with us. I recently used rice bran oil and I liked it for clearing up skin tone and age spots infused with rose buds, …and it is affordable. I also like RBO because it can tolerate some heat and I can use the double boiler method on LOW to make a quick one day infusion if I find I need something and can’t wait. I love places that will sell smaller bottles so we can try something first. I want to try these oils but right now I can’t use up the bigger bottles quickly. While I am playing around and find the ones that I want to use as staples, smaller sizes are great for me. I want to try it all lol.

    • Hi Diana, Argan is an excellent carrier. I didn’t include it in this list as it can have a strong smell sometimes. I was focusing on oils with little scent and color.

  • Hi Susan,
    I love this list and I wanted to know what oils would you not use with animals? I do use grapeseed, jojoba, extra virgin olive oil, salfflower and virgin coconut . I use macerated oils with animals as well.
    I find your blog very informative.

  • Jojoba oil is my go-to for essential oil blends as well as using it in many of my products. I have recently started working with Meadowfoam oil and have loved that too! I still have so many oils to try. Thanks for the great article Susan!

  • Hi Susan,
    Thank you for the informative email about the carrier oils. I love all the oils you have mentioned. What you think about Sesames seed oil, since I have started formulating with meadow foam seed oil and Sesame seed oil I have felt that their shelves life longer. I would love to have your feedback on that.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Amina, Sesame is a lovely oil but was not included in this list as it does have a nutty scent – even the non toasted variety – I was going for no scent and light coloration. Yes the meadowfoam does help extend shelf life.

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