What is the Best Massage Oil?

Find out what oils massage therapists like to use

massage oil
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Whether you're giving yourself an at-home massage or work as a massage therapist, using a massage oil allows your hands to glide over skin without friction. There are plenty of oils and lotions to choose from, some can make skin feel greasy while others go rancid quickly and take on an unpleasant smell.

If you're giving a massage, it's a good idea to let the person know what type of oil you're using and be sure there are no allergies.

Knowing some of the differences between the oils can help you choose the best oil for the situation. 

1) Fractionated Coconut Oil

Although you may think of coconut oil as being a thick, white solid oil, fractionated coconut oil is a light, non-greasy, liquid oil and a good massage oil. Fractionated oil only contains part of the whole oil. The long-chain triglycerides are removed, leaving only the medium-chain triglycerides. The result is an oil that is stickier and has less glide than coconut oil, making it well-suited for the shorter strokes that are used to target areas of muscle tension.

Fractionated coconut oil has a very long shelf life and is usually less expensive than other oils. It washes out of sheets and tends not to stain sheets like many massage oils do. Fractionated coconut oil also doesn't have the characteristic coconut scent.

Don't use fractionated coconut oil on people with coconut allergies (and possibly latex allergies).

2) Jojoba Oil

Although jojoba oil is called an oil, it is actually a wax extracted from the seed of the jojoba plant. It doesn't feel greasy and tends not to stain sheets as easily as true oils (with the exception of microfiber sheets).

Jojoba is considered a good option for most people prone to back acne because it is thought to have antibacterial properties and long chain wax esters that closely resembles skin sebum.

Jojoba has a very long shelf life and doesn't go rancid easily, so it's a good choice if you don't use massage oil regularly. It is very well-absorbed, which makes it a favorite carrier oil for aromatherapy. Jojoba doesn't have an odor and is usually not irritating to the skin. 

One drawback: jojoba oil is silky and absorbs quickly, so you may need to reapply it often or combine it with other oils listed here. Also, it is more pricey than other massage oils.

3) Sunflower Oil

Sunflower oil is a light, non-greasy oil that won't leave skin feeling oily. The oil, extracted from sunflower seeds, is rich in the essential fatty acid linoleic acid, as well as palmitic acid and stearic acid, all components of healthy skin. The amount of linoleic acid in skin declines with age and can be stripped by harsh soaps and cleansers.

Sunflower oil can go rancid quickly, so it should be purchased in small quantities and stored in a dark cool area. Squeezing one or two capsules of pure vitamin E oil into the bottle may help to extend the shelf life.

People with allergies to the sunflower plant family should avoid sunflower oil.

4) Almond Oil

Sweet almond oil is one of the most popular massage oils among massage therapists.

Extracted from almonds, sweet almond oil is pale yellow.

It is slightly oily, which allows hands to glide easily over skin. Sweet almond oil absorbs fairly quickly, but not so quickly that you need to keep reapplying it.

Compared with other oils, sweet almond oil is reasonably priced. It usually does not irritate skin. People with nut allergies should not use almond oil. Note that the oil does build up on sheets and tends to stain.

5) Apricot Kernel Oil

Apricot kernel oil is similar in texture and color to almond oil, but costs slightly more. It is rich in vitamin E, a quality that gives it a longer shelf life (making it less likely to go rancid) than the typical oil.

Like almond oil, apricot kernel oil is absorbed into the skin, so it won't leave people feeling greasy afterward. This property also makes it a good oil to use for aromatherapy massage.

Apricot kernel oil is a good alternative to sweet almond oil for people with nut allergies.

Other Massage Oils

  • Avocado Oil. Pressed from the avocado fruit, avocado oil is a heavier deep green oil and is usually mixed with lighter massage oils such as sweet almond oil. Avocado oil is roughly double the cost of sweet almond oil. People who are sensitive to latex may be sensitive to avocado oil.
     
  • Cocoa Butter. A rich oil with a distinctive aroma, cocoa butter is solid at room temperature and has a heavy texture, so it is often blended with other oils or used only for small areas.
     
  • Grapeseed Oil. In some respects, grapeseed oil makes a great massage oil. It has little-to-no odor and a smooth, silky texture without being greasy. However, grapeseed oil is said to be one of the worst oils for staining sheets. 
     
  • Kukui Nut Oil. A light, thin, non-greasy oil. Native to a Hawaii, kukui nut oil is typically used ​on all skin types, including oily skin and sun-damaged skin.
     
  • Olive Oil. Most people are familiar with olive oil as a cooking oil, but it is occasionally used for massage. It is a heavy oil with a greasy or sticky texture and recognizable aroma that many associate with cooking, so it's usually not used on its own for massage.

    A study compared topical olive oil with sunflower oil and found that olive oil had no effect on epidermal barrier function, whereas topical sunflower oil resulted in significant improvement in the skin barrier.
     
  • Sesame Oil. Sesame oil is prized in Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India. It is used in a daily Ayurvedic self-massage called abhyanga, as well as shirodhara.

    According to Ayurveda, sesame oil is especially useful for nourishing and detoxifying and for ailments associated with the vata type, such as anxiety, poor circulation, constipation, bloating, and excessive dryness.

    Sesame oil is a rather thick oil that may leave skin feeling oily, so it can be blended with lighter massage oils. The unrefined oil has a strong aroma.
     
  • Shea Butter. Extracted from the seeds of a tree native to Africa, shea butter is a solid at room temperature. Like cocoa butter, shea butter is heavy and can leave an oily feeling on skin, so it is usually not used on its own for massage. It may be combined with other oils or used for very small areas. Shea contains a natural latex, so people with latex allergies should do a patch test before using it.
     
  • Wheat Germ Oil. Wheat germ oil is too thick to use on its own as a massage oil, but it can be blended with lighter oils. Wheat germ oil is rich in vitamin E.

 

  • Massage Gels, Creams, and Lotions. Instead of oil, massage therapists often use specially-formulated professional massage gels, creams, and lotions.

Related:  10 Massage Questions You're Too Embarrassed to Ask

Sources:

Darmstadt GL, Mao-Qiang M, Chi E, Saha SK, Ziboh VA, Black RE, Santosham M, Elias PM. The impact of topical oils on the skin barrier: possible implications for neonatal health in developing countries. Acta Paediatr. (2002) 91;5: 546-54.

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.

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