Massaging your little one’s delicate skin with oil is a great way to bond — and it feels good for baby and you. Using oil to massage nourishes and helps protect your baby’s soft skin.

Even before your baby was a just a twinkle in your eye, you were told natural is best, right? And it’s true: Most natural oils are a safe option for massaging your baby’s delicate skin. You can even use some food oils — without your baby smelling like a salad.

However, olive oil isn’t something that should be used regularly on your baby’s skin — or at all, if they have dry, cracked skin or eczema.

Olive oil is made up of several kinds of fats:

  • omega-6 fatty acids
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • linoleic acid
  • oleic acid

Olive oil is definitely good for your heart health when you consume it. On the outside of the body, omega-3 fatty acids help soothe inflammation, and linoleic acid can improve the skin’s natural barrier.

However, it’s the oleic acid that makes olive oil a poor choice for skin care — for babies, children, or adults.

There’s no question that baby massage is beneficial. Massaging your baby helps you bond, get playful, and relax together. It also helps:

  • encourage more physical interaction
  • encourage more eye contact
  • your little one cope with baby anxiety (it’s a real thing)
  • calm down your baby’s stress hormones (yes, even babies have stress)
  • your baby relax and go to sleep (sometimes)
  • reduce crying (maybe)

Wait at least 45 minutes after feeding your baby. Massaging your little on a full tummy might cause them to vomit — not relaxing for baby or you!

Benefits of using olive oil specifically

It’s OK to sometimes use olive oil on your baby as long they don’t have dry or irritated skin. Along with fats, olive oil contains vitamin E and vitamin K. It’s also loaded with antioxidants, which may help calm down inflammation in the body.

One 2016 study found that babies who were massaged with olive oil or sunflower oil had better moisturized skin than those who were given dry massages.

But don’t make it a regular thing: The same study found that using these oils topically broke down the natural fat barrier in the skin. And while the antioxidants can calm inflammation, oleic acid may worsen it.

A small 2013 study that looked into the effects of olive oil on the skin found that adults who used it for 4 weeks had mild redness. This might be because olive oil can thin or break down the outer layer of skin.

If olive oil can do that to adult skin, it’s definitely not a good idea to regularly use it on your baby’s soft skin. And if you have eczema, the last thing you want to do is damage the skin’s protective barrier more. Using olive oil and other natural oils with oleic acid on the skin might cause or worsen eczema.

This is important to know, because 20 percent of children under 2 years old may have baby eczema at some point.

A 2019 study showed that using oleic acid alone on the skin can make inflammation — redness and irritation — worse. Olive oil is chock full of oleic acid. In fact, it has more of this kind of fat than the heart-healthy omega kind. While it does have other components, olive oil may therefore irritate the skin.

As we’ve already mentioned, olive oil does have benefits when consumed. So if your baby is 6 months or older and ready to taste test solid foods, it’s OK to add some to their pureed carrots. Allergies to olive oil are rare, but as with all things, try just a tiny bit first to see if your baby likes it.

Make sure you only use extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO). Extra-virgin olive oil is the purest form and isn’t made with chemicals. It also has more nutrients than other kinds of olive oil.

If you sometimes use olive oil on your baby’s skin and hair, remember to also always use extra-virgin olive oil. Try mixing olive oil with other natural oils, or using other oils alone.

If you’d like to stick to natural, there are several natural oils that are safe for your baby’s skin and yours, like:

  • Virgin coconut oil. This is rich in the fatty acid monolaurin, which moisturizes and gets rid of bacteria that’s common in skin with eczema.
  • Jojoba oil. This is a safe moisturizer that doesn’t thin the skin.
  • Borage seed oil. This is another safe moisturizer that won’t irritate the skin.

Not all natural oils are made equal — especially when used on the skin. Olive oil is definitely good for your insides, but not for the outside for you and your baby.

Stick to natural oils that have been proven to be healthy for the skin even if you or your baby have dry, irritated skin — and especially if you have eczema.

Here’s how to safely massage your baby’s smooth, velvety skin with natural oil:

  • Add a spoonful of virgin coconut oil into a small, shallow bowl (one that you can easily dip your fingers into).
  • Microwave the coconut oil for about 10 to 15 seconds. It should be slightly warm and softly melted, but not fully melted to a liquid.
  • Wash your hands carefully with warm water and soap.
  • Test the temperature of the coconut oil by dipping your finger into it and rubbing some onto the inside or your wrist. The oil should be slightly warm and turn into a liquid as you spread it on the skin.
  • Make sure you are in a warm room. Undress your baby and lay them down on a soft surface so they’re facing you. You can use a thick towel or blanket to cushion them.
  • Rub your hands together to warm them up. If you have dry or rough hands, moisturize your hands to soften them.
  • Tell your baby it’s massage time. Give them a tickle to warm them up.
  • Place a small amount of coconut oil onto your fingers and palm and rub your hands together.
  • Beginning at the stomach and chest area, slowly massage, stroke, and knead your baby’s skin.
  • Spend about 30 seconds to a minute on each area before moving on to the next.
  • Continue massaging your baby’s shoulders, arms, neck, legs, and feet.
  • Turn your baby onto their tummy and repeat the massage on their back.
  • Talk to your baby or sing a lullaby to keep them calm during the massage.
  • If doing this as part of a bedtime ritual, cross your fingers that by the end, sleepiness is taking over.

You’ve been told again and again that natural is always best. And yes, olive oil is a healthy oil — when it comes to cooking and food. But new research shows that olive oil isn’t the best for your baby’s skin or your own.

Use olive oil sparingly on your little one’s skin — and not at all if they have dry skin or eczema. Save the olive oil for the salad dressing, and ask your pediatrician what the best natural oil is for your baby’s skin.