Massage oils are used during table massages to ease the passage of the hands over the skin. It is necessary to lower friction as well as to work the muscles properly. The massage oils also nourish the skin and softens it so feels nice afterwards. Essential oils added to the massage oil can give the massage an extra sensory dimension as the scents affects the mind and body in different ways.
I always use natural oils since it’s the most healthy for the skin and I am no supporter of using products from the oil-industry (such as baby-oil). My preferred base oil is safflower oil, which is light and easily absorbed by the skin. A thicker oil is almond which is preferred by many. Coconut oil is also very good to use, but to be fluid at room temperature it has to be refined. Pure coconut oil is solid at room temperature, though melts as soon as it’s rubbed on the hands or skin. For extra dry skin I add avocado oil, which is highly nourishing or an oil containing a lot of e-vitamin.
For a massage oil I also add essential oils. Various oils have different properties which can aid the massage and the person receiving it. Lavender oil is highly relaxing physically and mentally, citrus oils energizing and positive, sharp oils like rosemary and eucalyptus are invigorating, sensual oils like ylang ylang, rose, sandalwood and jasmine helps the person relax, let go and trust. Especially on the mental level the essential oils can make the difference between a good massage and an outstanding massage. Scents affects our mood and psyche, which in return affects how we relax and feel.
Various scents appeals to women and men. For women I generally choose the softer and more sensual oils while for men I pick the sharper and woodier notes. Sometimes mixing a good massage oil can become like creating perfumes, finding the right balance of scents while keeping their properties in mind.
The blend of essential oils are rarely 1:1:1, but a mix depending on the strength of the scents and of what my aim with the massage oil is. For a deep relaxation massage oil I would use most of lavender, a smaller amount for the top-note, and even less again of the base-note.
A typical general relaxation oil could be lavender, geranium and lemon. Lavender for the general relaxation, which will be the major part of the blend, geranium for it’s rosy scent and balancing properties and lemon for it’s refreshing and positive effect. It is a mix that is suitable for both women and men.
For a massage for sore muscles due to sports, I would pick a mix of rosemary, cedar and lavender. Sharper oils that helps increase the blood flow, invigorating the the tissue, while relaxing the tense muscles. It is an energizing mix effectively supporting the massage and the goal of it.
For a woman before her wedding, I would choose a blend of rose, jasmine, patchouli or sandelwood, ylang ylang and possibly geranium or bergamot. Rose and jasmine are some of the most romantic and sensual oils there are. A message of love. Patchouli and sandelwood create a good base scent and are sensual as well, the choice would depend on the tastes of the receiver. The choice between geranium and bergamot would depend on the mental state of the woman. Geranium is balancing and slightly rose-like in scent, and the bergamot is uplifting and vibrant. Should the oil be really luxurious, neroli (orange flower) would be chosen as the top-note.
Mixing a good massage oil with essential oil takes skill and knowledge and talent. If you want to be safe when you mix your own massage oils, start with just one or two scents, and see how they work together. The essential oils might have one scent when alone and you think they go well together. But once you mix them you might notice that they change character completely and the result isn’t as you expected it to be.
I normally use three essential oils together, trying to find a base-note, a heart-note and a top-note in my blends. Like good perfumes are made. I only rarely add a fourth or fifth oil to the blend since it then becomes almost impossible to take all their effects and uses into account. They might even counter each other, reducing the effectiveness of the oils.
When using essential oils, always be certain that the client don’t suffer from any allergies. Even if essential oils are natural products, you can get allergic reactions from contact with them. If you’re in doubt, apply a bit of the mix to the wrist or inside of the elbow and ask the client to report the reaction to you after 48 hours. This is the only way you can be certain there is no allergic reaction. Do also keep in mind that some people are allergic to nuts and using a nut-based massage oil might trigger a reaction.
This is an interesting aspect of massage to get involved with, though it can be rather time consuming to learn about all the different essential oils and experiment with blends until you find those appealing to you and your clients. There are many providers of pre-mixed massage oils and it can be a jungle to see through. Read the labels and product descriptions carefully, be certain that the base oil is a natural oil and that the scents used are real essential oils and not synthetic replacements. It will take time and effort to find a provider you can trust, but it is worth the work. The same is true for a provider of essential oils and base oils.
I found that most legitimate massage centers use natural herbal oil.
Baby oil was used twice on me, and i had to leave the room because i realised the place was not legit, and looking for “extra” services.
There is definitely a huge difference between using a natural massage oil from real herbal extracts or otherwise rather than Baby oil, i was able to tell immediately the moment its rubbed on my skin.
Just thought i'd leave my experience here.
Thank you for sharing your experiences. It is always interesting to hear about things from your side of the table.
Many professional massage therapists, especially when it's sports massage, deep tissue and medical massage, also use a special gel. The gel is less greasy than massage oil and can be more suitable for that type of work.
Just like with scents, the type of oil/gel comes down to the purpose and intent of the massage.
Since I wrote this article, I've changed preference for massage oil as well. Now I use Jojoba oil, preferably an organic version. It's less greasy than any other oil I find, and it washes out of clothes and stones easily. I was introduced to Jojoba oil at my LaStone course, as one of the very few oils which could take the high temperature of the stones (without smelling like fries), and still be easily washed of with ordinary soap.