Massage Oils Guide

Massage OilsMassage oils are a staple for many masseuses

Not only can they heighten the massage experience by offering aromatherapy benefits in addition to allowing for greater ease of movement over the body, but many massage oils are believed to contain healing properties for everything from breakouts to arthritis. As a part of the art and science of massage for centuries, it’s no wonder that massage oils continue to be a must-have for massage therapists all over the world.

Challenges of Working with Massage Oils

One of the biggest challenges of working with massage oil is the skin irritation factor. Although there certainly are some massage oil types that are gentler on the skin and preferred by professionals, each person’s skin is different. What works wonderfully for one client may cause skin breakouts or an allergic reaction on another.

Feeling greasy after a massage is something that almost no client wants, especially if that grease will rub off onto their clothes and leave hard-to-get-rid-of stains. For this reason, many massage therapists prefer oils that absorb quickly and easily into the skin, despite their need for constant re-application.

Storage and length of shelf life are also important considerations. Oils with high levels of vitamin E and those that have been cold-pressed tend to store well over long periods of time. For all other types of oils, the addition of vitamin E or storage in a cool, dry place can help to increase shelf life.

Base Oils

All massage oils are made up of a base (or carrier) oil, which is considered the starting point for any massage oil mixture. Base oils are derived from either mineral oils or vegetable oils. Mineral oils, which are extracted from petroleum, tend to have a longer shelf life and offer the right amount of fluidity over the skin, but they do contain synthetic materials. These are more likely to cause reactions on the skin, and some people prefer the more natural approach of vegetable oils. Because vegetable oils are made from plant products, they do “go bad” faster than mineral oils, but they are easily absorbed into the skin and mix well with other oils.

Of the base oils, sweet almond oil tends to be the favorite of the majority of massage therapists. As the name suggests, it is derived from almonds, so it isn’t good for people with nut allergies. However, it is one of the most inexpensive products on the market and its absorption rate is ideal for human skin. It doesn’t have to be constantly reapplied, but it won’t linger after the massage to leave marks on clothes or chairs.

However, there are countless other base oil options on the market. Many companies offer a generic massage oil base, while others sell specific oils (such as sunflower, jojoba, apricot kernel, and many others). Each of these carries its own healing properties and uses, so many massage therapists keep a wide array of choices on hand.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are any oils that are derived from plants, including trees, roots, and seeds. They are typically added in small amounts to the base oil for aromatherapy or healing properties. For example, lavender and chamomile oil may be added to provide a relaxing smell or, when combined, they can be used to treat eczema. Essential oils can be purchased either in concentrate and added to a base oil or they can be purchased as part of a “massage oil” package.

The art essential oils for these types of uses is actually a study all on its own, and many massage practitioners develop their own unique combinations as part of their sales angle. Recipes for the different types of oil mixtures are also widely available, and are best for those just starting out.

Fragrance Oils

Fragrance oils are those that are used to add a smell to essential oils for aromatherapy purposes. They are almost never used on their own, since they tend to be of poorer overall quality and can actually be harmful to the skin when used in concentrate. They differ from essential oils primarily in their synthetic composition.

Choosing a Massage Oil

Although massage oils are used primarily to facilitate the movement of a massage therapist’s hands over the skin, they also can be used as a way to treat the skin. Dry skin, skin that is prone to breakouts, and deep muscle pains can all be treated using different types of oils.

When you consider that oils can be mixed and matched, there are literally hundreds of options for massage therapists to choose from. Each type of oil has its pros and cons, so it is important to consider the type of massage and clients you work with before using any specific one.