In most people's minds, massage and oil always go together. Indeed, even though there are creams, lotions, and even powders for massage, oil is the traditional lubricating medium that can not only help your hands glide on the skin, but also provide nourishment and individual care. There isn't one best massage oil: they all suit different purposes!
When choosing a massage oil, you have to think, first of all, of the type of massage: is it a more relaxing, soft massage that requires great friction and, thus, a richer oil? Or are you doing a deep-tissue massage for an athlete, which requires more friction to deal with those muscle knots? Second, you have to take into account the person’s skin: is it beginning to age and in need of anti-oxidants, or perhaps it is prone to acne and requires something antibacterial? Third, you have to know if the person is allergic to anything: say, almond oil cannot be used on people with a nut allergy. Finally, think of the time of day and what the person has to do later in the day: some oils leave greasy stains on clothes, so they are not suitable for someone who has to go to work afterwards!
Some oils are used by themselves, while others are usually added to enrich the mixture. Let’s look at a few great basic, or carrier, oils, from the lightest to the heaviest.
1) Grape seed oil – this one is very light, yet it feels silky and great; it has anti-acne properties, is rich in vitamin E and acts as an anti-oxidant (see, for example, this study). It is also a perfect carrier if you want to add some essential oils.
2) Coconut oil – this comes in two forms: whole and fractioinated. The fractionated version lackes the fattiest part (the so-called coconut butter): is very thin and almost without odour. It has been used for centuries in Southeast Asia; it is unexpensive, doesn’t go rancid, and absorbs very well into the skin. It is a great moisturizer (more here) and doesn’t clog the pores.
3) Sweet almond oil – silky and rich enough to provide great gliding, yet still rather light, almond oil doesn’t absorb too quickly, so you won’t need to apply it again and again. However, people with nut allergies cannot use it, in which case, choose apricot kernel oil. It has a similar texture, stays fresh for longer and doesn’t leave stains, but it also costs more.
4) Sunflower oil – while olive oil is often used for massaging babies, it is not often used on adults due to its specific smell (though it was the oil of choice in ancient Greece and Rome). Both olive and sunflower oil have a rich yet light texture and don’t produce an effect of greasiness, but sunflower oil has been shown to be more beneficial for the skin. However, unrefined sunflower oil tends to go rancid and should be kept in the dark.
A well-chosen basic oil may be enough on its own, but you can further increase its benefits by adding other ingredients. Some vitamin E will make the skin more elastic, while aloe vera helps restore skin damage and promotes collagen production. Jojoba oil will help against acne, and shea butter moisturizers. Finally, don’t forget the infinite possibilities offered by essential oils. The best for sore and tired muscles are said to be Roman chamomile, cypress, ginger, rosemary, and clove. Add about 10 drops of essential oils per 100 ml of massage oil – but first, make sure that the person you are giving a massage to has nothing against the particular aromas you have chosen!