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Ask a Massage Therapist: Why Use Oil for Your Next Rubdown?

The scoop on why massage therapists use oil for their rubdowns

Getting a Massage? Here's why it's important to use oil

A good, licensed massage therapist will almost always use some type of massage oil to help his or her hands glide smoothly over your skin. This assists in their ability to reach deep muscle tissue without undue friction on the skin’s surface. But do the oils they use have other properties? Is there more to the choice of oil than just lubrication? According to massage therapists, yes. The choice of which oils to use during massage is generally a combination of personal preference for the therapist, and what the massage therapist believes will offer the most benefits for the client.

Popular Carrier Oils and Essential Oils for Massage

One popular choice of oil for massage is fractionated coconut oil. Unlike heavy, cooking coconut oil, fractionated coconut oil is light, liquid and non-greasy. Coconut oil has many benefits for the skin. According to a Harvard Medical School study, it has both antibacterial and antifungal properties and promotes overall healing. Coconut oil is ideal for those who suffer from inflammatory acne, and other skin conditions. Fractionated coconut oil retains the healing properties of pure coconut oil, but does not leave a strong scent. Coconut oil is especially beneficial in deep tissue massage.

Sunflower oil is another popular choice for massage therapists. It’s light and non-greasy. It’s also rich in essential fatty acids like linoleic, palmitic, and stearic acid. These are all components of healthy skin. These skin components tend to decline with age, making sunflower oil beneficial in restoring skin. Sunflower oil can be blended both with other oils, and with essential oils such as lavender which has many comforting benefits as well as a pleasant, familiar scent. A massage with sunflower oil improves the barrier function of the skin for deep moisturizing.

Sweet almond oil is another popular choice. It absorbs quickly but no so quickly that it needs to be reapplied often. It helps hands to glide smoothly over skin and is a good carrier oil to be infused with essential oils for other benefits. Almond oil may be blended with lavender for relaxation or mandarin oil for revitalization. Sweet almond oil can help protect skin from damaging UV rays, and helps to prevent and repair stretch marks. It promotes relaxation and has mild pain-relieving benefits, making ideal for sore muscles after a workout.

Apricot kernel oil is another oil preferred by many massage therapists. It has properties similar to sweet almond oil, but is safe for those with nut allergies. Apricot kernel oil is rich in vitamin E, making it not only beneficial for skin healing, but also giving it a longer shelf life than many other oils. It is also a good carrier oil to be infused with essential oils such as sandalwood, which studies have shown to be helpful for those suffering with eczema and other itchy skin conditions.

Massage therapists also reach often for jojoba oil. Though it’s called an oil, jojoba is actually a wax which comes from the seeds of the jojoba plant. Its antimicrobial properties make it a go-to massage oil for anyone struggling with back acne. Jojoba has a long shelf-life, and no fragrance, making it the ideal choice for a carrier oil to be infused with frankincense which has a light, sweet fragrance which is historically known to reduce stress and anxiety.

Olive oil is often used for lighter massage style, such as Swedish massage. Because it is a heavier oil, it absorbs very slowly into the skin, making it ideal for longer massage sessions. Olive oil massages help to improve circulation to promote healing. Improving circulation can bring oxygen-rich blood to help restore skin and muscle tissue, especially in the feet where poor circulation is most common, in particular amongst the aging and elderly.

Shea butter is another beneficial medium for massage. Because it’s a heavier oil that is solid at room temperature, it’s often mixed with other oils. Shea butter contains powerful antioxidants, which makes it popular in cosmetics and moisturizers.

Which Oils Should Not be Used for Massage?

There are very few natural oils that are not good massage mediums. However, some massage therapists avoid those oils that stain sheets. A client’s allergies are also important to take into consideration. For example, those with tree nut allergies should not be exposed to almond oil. Shea butter contains properties similar to latex and should not be used on anyone with a latex allergy.

Also important to note, some massage therapists avoid certain oils due to their scents. For instance, while cocoa butter’s sweet chocolate scent is delicious, it can be an odd association during a massage session.Discuss any health conditions or concerns with a massage therapist and together you can determine the massage oil that is ideal for your needs.

Resources— Monq, Style Craze, VeryWell Health