Are there Driver or Enhancer Oils? - Everyday Essentials

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Everyday Essentials by Plant Therapy

Are there Driver or Enhancer Oils?

We get asked this question often. Are there oils that can act as a driver or enhancer of other essential oils? This means are there oils that can help other oils penetrate further into the skin, thereby increasing absorption rates. While this is something best left to professionals, who understand the chemistry, I want to try and answer the question in the spirit of education!

The simple answer is yes, there are a few oils that can enhance the absorption of essential oils into the skin. But first, let’s take a look at how our skin works:

Our skin consists of:
  • Epidermis, which is our waterproof layer and provides protection against infection
  • Dermis, where the parts of the skin” live” (like hair follicles, sweat glands, etc)
  • Hypodermis, which is the fatty layer “beneath” the skin that keep us warm


Why oil can penetrate the skin and water can’t?

Our epidermis acts as a waterproof barrier for our bodies. Water doesn’t penetrate the skin since it’s made up of several layers of cells. These cells maintain their structure through a phospholipid bond.


Phospholipid refers to a group of elements that are composed of fatty acids. This means that the layers of skin are held together by the fatty acids. Remember how oil (or fat) and water don’t mix? THIS is why our skin repels water. Oils, of any kind, can be readily absorbed by the skin since they are of the same type of substance that hold our skin together.

How much EO is absorbed?

Robert Tisserand writes, in his book Essential Oil Safety, that approximately 10% (give or take) of an essential oil that is applied to the skin is absorbed into  the blood steam. This, of course, depends on the type of oils and several other variables. These include; 1) skin temperature 2) rate of dose applied 3) duration of contact 4) Humidity 5) Occlusion (or blocking off the area) and 6) skin hydration

Effect of Enhancers: how they work?

These substances reduce the skin’s ability to perform its barrier function. Then allowing the essential oil (or medication in some instances, like nicotine patches) to cross the epidermis at a faster rate. The constituents in some essential oils can disrupt that phospholipid bilayer and allow enhanced penetration. D-limonene and 1,8-cineole do just this function. A water-based cream or lotion provides the essential oil some movement in order to reach and then penetrate the skin. We go back to oil and water not being able to mix, using a water-based carrier sends the essential oil through the carrier faster to the skin and allow for deeper penetration. Since essential oil molecules are more likely to dissolve in fats and lipids – water-based creams or lotions are a better carrier for penetration than a fixed oil.  Using a fixed oil also allows for penetration – but in a slower more controlled manner.

What have we learned?

We can use some essential oils to absorb quickly in the skin. To do so, our “carrier” should be a water-based lotion or cream, since the oils will have more freedom of movement and work to penetrate the skin faster. We also know that oils that have higher amounts of d-limonene (most citrus oils, like lemon) and 1,8-cineole can be used as skin penetration enhancers.

Well, I hope that you learned a little bit more about how essential oils can effectively penetrate your skin & are absorbed to reach the bloodstream. It’s a hard topic to grasp, so don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need help understanding!

As always, direct any questions you have to our Certified Aromathereapist at [email protected] We welcome questions, comments or concerns. Please check out our Facebook page Safe Essential Oil Recipes.



15 thoughts on “Are there Driver or Enhancer Oils?”

  • Is there a list of driver oils? Was really hoping that this article would have that. It’s very informative but a list would’ve nice.

    1. I frequently use unscented Aveeno lotion a carrier for my oils. Usually because I don’t like the greasy feel of the carrier oil and it never feels like it quite absorbs. I mix small batches of about an ounce at a time and I
      recommend keeping it in a stainless steel or dark
      glass jar.

      1. This is a great idea, we also offer several unscented lotions which are great for this purpose as well. It’s smart to only make up small batches so they can be used quickly!

  • Great article Christina. I’ve heard that with carrier oils, the molecules are too big for the oils to actually enter the bloodstream. That being the case, do statements like “topically applied tamanu oil benefits arthritis” make any sense??” For a carrier oil to be able to help the joints, wouldn’t it need to fully penetrate the skin and enter the blood? Your comment would be most appreciated!

    1. Ive never heard of frankincense being a driver. Ive always heard it was an enhancer, and peppermint was a driver.

      1. I have actually read that Frankincense was a driver too….it was from some of the distributor blogs for one of those MLM……sounds like they are just trying to get people to use one of their expensive oils up faster so they can make more money from orders. Another reason why I love PT, they don’t make stuff up just for sales!

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