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There are hundreds of massage oils to choose from, so we based our selections on recommendations from certified massage therapists, physical therapists, and aromatherapists, reviews of the best-selling oils, and research about specific ingredients.
If you’re looking to make your own with a carrier oil and your preferred essential oils, we’ve also got you covered.
Professional massage therapists have a lot of experience with massage oils, and have personal preferences. We’ll start with our top three picks based on their recommendations.
Massage therapist Cynthia Parsons, LMT, prefers using a gel, not an oil. “Gel gives you a glide,” she said.
Parsons’ preferred brand is Biotone. She buys Biotone Muscle and Joint Relief Therapeutic Massage Gel by the gallon. “It costs about $80, but lasts 10 years, is all natural, and doesn’t go rancid,” she said.
For some clients, she adds lavender oil to the gel for relaxation.
Parsons also notes that she often does massage without any gel or oil.
The Biotone product line includes carrier oils with various essential oils.
All the ingredients are clearly listed.
This is a brand professionals use, and it has excellent ratings.
The number of combinations of oils can be bewildering.
Open products can’t be returned, unless they’re damaged.
Nyssa Hanger, MA, LMT, a massage therapist who founded an institute promoting the science of essential oils, said that her “absolute favorite carrier oil is fractionated coconut oil.”
This type of coconut oil has had some of the fats removed through a process called fractionation.
Invivo’s product is a therapeutic-grade coconut oil in an ultraviolet (UV)-protected plastic bottle.
It’s designed to not stain fabrics.
It also comes with a free pump and dilution guide so you can add essential oils to it.
Some users reported that the pump leaks and wastes product.
There isn’t a full ingredient list.
A number of other oils may provide similar benefits. Hanger said, “I have also used almond [oil] which works OK, though it has a shorter shelf life, and jojoba, which is a bit thicker and can tend to have an odor I don’t really prefer.” She uses jojoba oil for foot massage, where its thickness is helpful.
You can purchase fractionated coconut oil and jojoba oil online.
Physical therapist Jody Coluccini, PT DPT, prefers Free-Up Professional Massage Cream.
“The product is odorless, texture is creamy and light, and it glides easily and without friction or tackiness on the skin,” Coluccini said. “This allows for good tactile perception or ‘feel’ of superficial and deep muscle and fascial tension for various massage and release techniques.”
She added, “Because it does not absorb into the skin readily, reapplication during session is rarely needed. My understanding is that the product also has no beeswax or plant oils, thereby reducing exposure to possible allergens.”
It’s highly recommended by professional therapists and other users.
This unscented cream is hypoallergenic.
It’s bacteriostatic, meaning it stops bacteria from reproducing.
It’s made without beeswax or nut oils.
It absorbs slowly, so you don’t have to use a lot.
Ingredients aren’t listed on the purchase links.
The main ingredient is petrolatum, which is derived from petroleum.
Pure sunflower oil — not the cooking variety found at the supermarket — is recommended for baby massage, according to one study.
Pure sunflower oil is a carrier oil that can be mixed with essential oils if you wish, or used on its own.
It’s unscented and undiluted.
Some find that sunflower oil has a greasy feel.
This massage oil has sweet almond oil as a base and is mixed with arnica, chamomile, mint, grapefruit, and lavender essential oils.
This is a blended oil with excellent ratings by authenticated users on Amazon.
It’s all-natural and cruelty-free.
Returns are allowed if the product doesn’t work out for you.
Some people may be allergic to one or more of the ingredients.
Note that arnica is widely thought to have pain-relieving effects, but studies are limited and show mixed results.
This hemp oil by Zatural is made from cold-pressed hemp seeds.
Reviews from hundreds of purchasers rave about the oil’s pain relief as a massage oil for arthritis, neuropathy, and other conditions that cause chronic pain. The oil didn’t work well for all users, however.
The oil is manufactured to food-grade quality.
It can be used on pets.
The oil has a 30-day return policy.
The oil doesn’t contain cannabidiol (CBD), if that’s what you’re looking for.
It wasn’t effective for pain management for some people.
This oil uses a number of vegetable carrier oils, including fractionated coconut oil, wheat-germ oil, grapeseed oil, olive oil, and almond oils.
Essential oils used include peppermint, vetiver, red thyme, wintergreen, elemi, oregano, lemongrass, and eucalyptus.
This oil is made for professional and amateur athletes to use after exercise, and it produces a warming sensation.
It’s highly rated by users.
The product is returnable on Amazon within 30 days.
Young Living is a reputable brand that’s used by professionals, and it’s one of the largest suppliers of essential oils.
Young Living lists some of the essential oils as therapeutic grade or organically grown.
It’s more costly than other massage oils.
It doesn’t give the source of ingredients.
A couple of reviewers complained of its smell.
Massage oil fast facts
- Commercial massage oils are a combination of carrier oils and essential oils.
- Carrier oils are often plant-based, made from seeds and nuts. Some of the most common include sweet almond, cold-pressed coconut, grapeseed, jojoba, and olive oil.
- Essential oils are steam distilled or extracted from aromatic leaves, flowers, and other parts of plants.
- The percentage of essential oil to carrier oil can vary from 2 percent to 10 percent.
Professional massage therapists use different products for different purposes. In selecting a massage oil, think about what you want the oil to do and the properties of each ingredient.
In the case of essential oils, it’s important to rely on evidence and not hype or fads.
Aromatherapist Tanya Colson Seneff suggests that you seek out an experienced aromatherapist for advice on which oils to use for specific therapeutic purposes.
Here are some considerations:
For soothing sore muscles and joints
Many carrier oils, gels, and creams are effective for massaging sore muscles and joints.
A 2018 study found that a mixture of carrier oils including sweet almond, grape seed, avocado, jojoba, and macadamia oils was helpful.
The same study mixed the carrier oils with these essential oils:
Lavender oil is at the top of the list, with
Many other essential oils may be effective for calming, including:
To promote circulation to your hands or feet
Hanger recommends blending cypress, ginger, and black pepper oils with a carrier oil to promote circulation. These oils stimulate circulation by dilating blood vessels. She recommends using a small amount of these oils, not too much.
For pain management
Studies of specific essential oils have shown that they may help relieve pain by numbing or heating the area or by reducing inflammation.
According to research from 2013, the following ingredients may also be effective for relieving pain:
- German chamomile oil
- lemon grass
- black pepper
Studies also found that massage with these oils relieved pain:
To moisturize skin
Many carrier oils and essential oils can help moisturize your skin. A
- aloe vera
- grapeseed oil
- almond oil
- olive oil
- wheat germ
- cucumber extract
Here are some other things to consider when choosing a massage oil:
- Quality. Buy from a reputable company to ensure that you’re getting a pure product without unwanted additives. Note that a filtered oil is more refined.
- Allergies. Check out the ingredient list if you’re allergic to nuts or to particular fragrances. Some people may be allergic to coconut oil, which is frequently used as a carrier, or to other tree nut oils.
- Cost. Look at the cost of the massage oil per ounce. If you plan to use the product often, consider buying from a massage therapist supplier. In some cases, a larger size may be more economical.
- Truth in advertising. Beware of claims that sound too good to be true. If in doubt, check with the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. This government agency has a
list of herbsand botanicals with information on claims, cautions, and side effects.
- Manufacturing concerns. Look at the country of origin, how the products are grown, and how the final product is made. Some products are labeled “cruelty free.”
- Shelf life. Some products may become rancid over time. Carrier oils can oxidize when exposed to heat, light, and air. Some essential oils may also degrade and cause irritation. Pay attention to the expiration date of the oil, and store it as directed.
- Greasiness. Some ingredients may leave you feeling greasy. Also, they may not wash out of clothing easily. Olive oil and apricot kernel oil may stain.
- Test a small amount of the oil on your forearm before using. This is important if you’re concerned about allergies. You may find a store where there are samples you can try before you buy.
- Don’t get any oil near your eyes. Massage therapist Parsons cautions that you should stop using an oil if you have a negative reaction. “Listen to your body,” Parsons said.
- Consult with an experienced professional if you’re looking for an essential oil to target a particular condition. Essential oils aren’t cures or one-size-fits-all approaches.
- Use pure oils. It’s possible that pesticides on the original plants used to make the oils can cause an allergic reaction.
- Buy from a reputable manufacturer. And be sure to check the reviews for potential problems.
- Follow the dilution directions for each oil. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can irritate your skin if not properly diluted.
- Pay attention to the expiration date. Some oils have a shorter shelf life than others.
The wide variety of massage oil products can make it very confusing to choose one. Start with what you want the product to do and what your personal preferences are. This will help you narrow down the possibilities.
Check out the product’s ingredients before you buy. Massage oils are a highly individual product, and something that’s popular on the Internet may not be right for you.
It’s a good bet to go with something recommended by professionals who use the products every day.