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The ultimate guide to massage oils

a guide to the best aromatherapy massage oils
Massage oils – there are so many to choose from. What do they all do? Which one should you use for a back massage, and which one should you use to hydrate skin? Learn which is the best masage oil
Massages and massage oils go hand-in-hand. Like the Yin to our Yang, soap and water, hide and seek and cheese and wine (yes please!) Massage is the art of rubbing and kneading different parts of the body, back, legs, arms, shoulders, head, to help aid relaxation, release muscle knots, ease tension, improve blood circulation, and generally, feel better! Booking in for a massage is something we can all do, either because we fancy a little me-time or because there’s something niggling away joints or muscle-wise that could benefit from being massaged. Massages are also something you can carry out on each other at home or on yourself (obviously on the bits you can reach!) Just as there are lots of different reasons to go for a massage, there are all sorts of different types of massages:1
  1. Swedish
  2. Hot stone
  3. Aromatherapy
  4. Deep tissue
  5. Pre-natal
  6. Sports
  7. Shiatsu
  8. Trigger point
  9. Thai
  10. Reflexology
  11. Indian head
  12. Chair
As much as we’d enjoy talking about massages all day, we’re here to focus on point number 3 – aromatherapy massages, which are carried out using massage oils.

What kind of oil is used for body massage?

Naturally derived oils are generally used for body massage, and there are loads of them to choose from!2 Let’s take a look at some of them…

Best massage oils

  1. Olive oil
Is a heavy oil that gets absorbed by the skin much slower than other oils because it is thicker.
Massage type Benefits
Lighter massages, such as Swedish massage
  • Can help soothe skin by reducing oxidative stress
  • Improves blood flow to tired muscles
  • Helps prevent sports injuries
Learn more, ‘Olive oil benefits for skin.’
  1. Coconut oil
Is light and non-greasy and absorbed by skin quickly.
Massage type Benefits
Heavy massages that involve shorter strokes on target muscles, e.g. deep tissue, pre-natal, Shiatsu and reflexology massages
  • Contains medium-chain triglycerides, which are more effective for shorter massage movements
  • Sinks easily into skin and moisturises well because it’s made up of saturated fats
  • Prevents moisture from escaping from skin
 
  1. Jojoba oil
Isn’t actually an oil, it’s a wax with oil-like qualities…
Massage type Benefits
Back and aromatherapy massages
  • Non-greasy
  • Has cleansing properties
  • Absorbs quickly into skin
  • Helps to soothe delicate skin
 
  1. Grapeseed oil
Has a light and silky texture and leaves skin looking glossy.
Massage type Benefits
Most massages
  • Odour-free
  • Packed full of Vitamin E, linoleic acid and phenolic compounds that keep skin healthy
  • Is a carrier oil and therefore perfect for blending with essential oils and herbs
 
  1. Argan oil
Like grapeseed oil, argan oil is light. It’s also non-greasy and instantly softens skin,
Massage type Benefits
Spa or deep tissue massage
  • Boosts the ability of skin to retain moisture
  • Relaxes muscles
 
  1. Sesame oil
Is a thick oil that can potentially leave skin feeling oily and greasy and has been widely used in Ayurveda treatments for many years. Sesame oil is a key part of Taiwanese medicine.
Massage type Benefits
Most massages
  • Helps reduce the negative effects caused by UV exposure
  • Can be warmed and mixed with herbs for Ayuvedic massage techniques
 
  1. Avocado oil
Has quite a heavy make-up and tends to be mixed with lighter oils for massages. (Note: it contains natural latex, so should be avoided if you have a latex allergy).
Massage type Benefits
Most massages
  • Contains all sorts of essential vitamins and nutrients, including linoleic acid, oleic acid, beta carotene, beta sitosterol, lecithin
  • Contains Vitamins A, C, D and E
  • Has soothing and calming properties
  • Protects skin and can boost skin quality
 
  1. Sunflower oil
Is light and thin and commonly used to cook with, as well as to carry out massages. It can go off quickly and should be kept in a cool, dry place.
Massage type Benefits
Most massages
  • Boosts skin moisture levels and texture
  • Contains essential fatty acids that rejuvenate skin
  • Can make skin look radiant when regularly massaged
 
  1. Shea butter
Shea butter is, in fact, made from the fat of the shea butter tree’s seeds, which is native to Africa. When it’s at room temperature, it can look a lot like a block of butter. (Note: contains natural latex, so should be avoided if you have a latex allergy). Learn more, ‘Shea nut oil: Benefits and uses.’
Massage type Benefits
Most massages
  • Rich, heavy and, luxurious texture
  • Renowned for its anti-oxidant properties, which is why it’s widely used within the beauty industry, in beauty products and for massages
 
  1. Apricot kernel oil
Also goes by the name of bitter apricot oil and has the same texture as almond oil.
Massage type Benefits
Aromatherapy/Swedish massage
  • Has a longer shelf-life than any other massage oils
  • Is easily absorbed by skin because it is so light
  • Has a smooth texture and emollient properties that keep skin hydrated and make it appear tight, plump and healthy
 
  1. Peanut oil
Is usually warmed up and then massaged into skin. Do not use it if you are allergic to peanuts.
Massage type Benefits
Aromatherapy massages
  • Hydrates skin while improving its ability to retain water
  • Nourishes skin and can potentially relieve muscles when used regularly
  • The nutty scent helps create a relaxing and rejuvenating environment
 
  1. Pomegranate seed oil
Smells nice and is extremely light, so doesn’t make it feel greasy or oily.
Massage type Benefits
Deep massages
  • Is rich in Vitamin E and phytosterols that keep skin hydrated
  • Has soothing and calming properties
  • Can potentially improve skin texture and overall skin hydration levels
 
  1. Wheat germ oil
Has got a bit of a reputation for being a good massage oil, it's extremely nourishing for skin.
Massage type Benefits
Most massages
  • Contains Vitamins A, D and E
  • Works wonders on dry and ageing skin
  • Keeps skin smooth and promotes healing
  • Helps soothes dry skin
  1. Sweet almond oil
Is a light oil that can be a bit on the greasy side, but is suitable for most skin types.
Massage type Benefits
Most massages
  • Mild and gentle on skin
  • Has soothing and calming properties
  • Relieves itches and rashes
  • Can help prevent the negative effects caused by external factors like pollution
 

How to choose a massage oil

If you’re new to the world of massages and massage oil, then you’re most probably thinking, which massage oil do I choose now? Of all the different massage oils out there, which one should I try? Think about:[3]
  • Purpose – what sort of massage are you planning on doing and which massage oil works best for what you have in mind?
  • Quality – filtered oils are more refined than unfiltered oils. Purchase your oil from a reputable place and always check the small print to avoid any unwanted ‘extra’ additives that can reduce the purity of oils
  • Allergies – a few of the oils we listed above, avocado, peanut and shea butter, are on the list to swerve if you’re allergic to peanuts or latex. It’s possible to be allergic to other massage oils too, so always check the ingredients list
  • Shelf life – not all oils are ok to use after being left for the same period of time. Sunflower oil’s a prime example. Take a look at the best before date when you purchase
  • Storage – some oils can oxidise and become spoilt if exposed to heat, light or air. Follow the guidance on how to store them, e.g. in a dry, cool place, out of direct sunlight, to preserve them for longer
  • Oiliness – sounds a bit of an odd thing to say when we’re talking about oils, but some are greasier than others. And some can possibly stain materials, sheets, clothing etc. which you may want to be mindful of
  • Patch testing – always do this before using any new product, especially if you are allergic to certain ingredients. Dab a small amount of oil on your forearm and leave for 24 hours before using
Yes, there are lots of massage oils to choose from, but they all have their own special ‘jobs’ in relation to helping look after skin, muscles and joints. We hope this article has answered any queries you may have had in relation to massage oils and inspired you to book in for a massage or have a go at doing your own. For more massage oil advice, have a read of this, ‘How to use massage oils.’ 

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