Our perfect Sunday goes a little something like this: Wake up late, meet friends for brunch before shimmying over to our favorite spa and getting a deep tissue massage to undo all the tension from the week. Ah, pure bliss. Sadly, time and budget don’t always allow for a professional back rub, but thankfully, with the right massage oil, you can create an at-home experience that’s almost as good as the real thing.
Not only do massage oils help hands glide over skin smoothly, but depending on the oil you choose, there are also a host of benefits to your skin and mood. But how do you know which one to pick? You’ll want to avoid oils that make skin feel greasy, ruin clothes or go rancid quickly (you’ll know this has happened if the smell is off). Instead, find the best massage oil for you with one of these options below.
(Psst... A note on buying oils: Be sure to opt for the cold-pressed, organic variety, which will retain the most antioxidants.)
1. Jojoba Oil
Frequently added to cosmetics and beauty products, jojoba oil isn’t an oil at all. It’s actually wax that comes from the seed of the jojoba plant, a small shrub native to North America. But there’s nothing wax-like (read: greasy) about it—this moisturizing product glides on smoothly and won’t clog pores. In fact, thanks to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, jojoba oil is frequently used for back acne and eczema. It’s also non-irritating (meaning that allergic reactions are rare) and may even speed up wound healing, per this study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
Unlike some other oils, jojoba doesn’t need to be diluted and can be applied directly onto skin where it is easily absorbed. But it also makes a great carrier oil that can be combined with other products for an ultra-soothing blend. Another bonus? Jojoba oil is odorless and won’t stain your sheets.
2. Sunflower Oil
Extracted from sunflower seeds, this lightweight oil works well on all skin types and won’t leave skin feeling greasy. Sunflower oil is rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps to protect against harmful free radicals that can cause premature aging of the skin. It also boasts a high amount of the essential fatty linoleic acid, which helps the skin retain moisture.
But there are some downsides to sunflower oil. It can go rancid quickly, so you’re better off buying it in small quantities. To extend its shelf life, you should store it in a cool, dark space. You can also try adding a capsule of pure vitamin E oil to the bottle, which can help it last longer. Finally, people who are allergic to the sunflower plant family should (obviously) avoid this oil.
3. Sweet Almond Oil
Thanks to its nourishing qualities (almond oil is high in vitamin E and essential fatty acids) and easy absorption, almond oil is a popular choice with massage therapists. It’s also relatively inexpensive, although users should know that its pale-yellow color can stain sheets.
Opt for oil that’s extracted from the sweet almond tree (instead of bitter almonds) for a pleasant aroma. But keep in mind that almond oil shouldn’t be used by people with nut allergies.
4. Apricot Kernel
Allergic to nuts? Give apricot kernel oil a try. It has a similar texture and color to sweet almond oil and is just as easily absorbed. Packed with vitamins A, C, E, and K and omega fatty acids, apricot oil helps nourish and soften skin. It can also be used to hydrate dry hair and smooth frizzy strands.
This sweet-smelling oil is slightly higher in price than its nutty counterpart, although thanks to its high vitamin E content, apricot kernel oil has a longer shelf life than many other oils.
5. Avocado Oil
The green fruit is your favorite toast topper but did you know that the oil extracted from avocado can be used on your skin? Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, D and E, avocado oil is particularly nourishing for parched skin. It may also help speed up wound healing, per one Brazilian study.
Green in color (so be careful with your sheets), avocado oil is quite heavy on its own, which is why it’s typically mixed with lighter massage oils like apricot kernel or almond.
6. Grapeseed Oil
Made from—you guessed it—the seeds of grapes, this lightweight oil glides on smoothly and offers long-lasting moisture. It’s often used on those with sensitive skin (allergic reactions are rare) as well as acne-prone skin (thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties).
7. Olive Oil
You use it every day for cooking but did you know that your go-to salad dressing can also be used for massaging? It’s not one of the most popular choices since olive oil is quite heavy and can leave a greasy residue (not to mention its distinct aroma) but it can be a good choice for lighter massages (like a Swedish massage) since it will absorb into the skin at a slower rate. Olive oil can be used with other oils to create a relaxing experience.
8. Fractionated Coconut Oil
The coconut oil you use for cooking is typically solid (and not ideal for massage) but fractionated coconut oil is a whole other story. This liquid oil has had long-chain triglycerides removed, which results in a lightweight and non-greasy substance that’s an excellent choice for a relaxing DIY spa day.
It doesn’t have a distinct coconut aroma (which some people might see as a negative) and has a long shelf life. Coconut oil shouldn’t be used on those with coconut allergies.
9. Kukui Nut Oil
This thin oil comes from the Hawaiian Kukui tree and was traditionally used to massage royalty. (So fancy.) It’s a favorite with celebrities like Lupita Nyongo for moisturizing skin and taming flyaways and often used to soothe sun-damaged skin. It has a long shelf-life (usually one to two years) and a neutral odor.
Other Massage Oils That Are Best Suited for Combining
Shea butter: Solid at room temperature, shea butter has a heavy and fairly oily texture on skin, which doesn’t make it ideal for massage. When combined with other oils, however, it can create a luxurious experience. Note: Shea contains natural latex, so people with latex allergies may want to avoid it.
Cocoa butter: This one’s also too heavy to be used on its own and better suited for blending with other oils. Cocoa butter has a distinctive scent that some people may find unappealing.
Wheat germ oil: Rich in vitamin E, wheat germ oil is greasy on its own but can be blended with other oils.
Sesame oil: Traditionally used in abhyanga, the daily ayurvedic self-massage, sesame oil has a distinct aroma and thick texture.
What About CBD Oil?
A CBD massage is just like a regular massage—except the lotion or oil used on your body is infused with CBD, or cannabidiol, an active ingredient found in cannabis and hemp. CBD is thought to interact with receptors in your brain and immune system to help with pain management, anxiety, epilepsy and insomnia. Note: this is not the same thing as THC—the cannabis plant ingredient that produces psychoactive effects that can alter your state of mind. CBD won’t give you a “high,” but it can feel ultra-relaxing in a massage (although there’s no real evidence that CBD oil applied topically is any more beneficial than other types of oils).
Curious? Give this popular CBD massage oil a try. It's a blend of sunflower, jojoba, grapeseed and sesame oils with added CBD that's designed to relieve muscle pain and soreness.
What to Look Out for When Picking a Massage Oil
The type of massage: High friction rub-downs, like sports massage or deep tissue massage, will benefit from lighter oils that glide on easily like grapeseed oil. But for a low-friction massage, like Swedish massage, you can use a heavier oil like olive. (Wait, not sure what type of massage you should get? Get the lowdown on the difference between Swedish and deep tissue massage here.)
Fragrance: Some people might love the idea of walking around with a distinct almond or olive oil aroma, whereas others might prefer an odorless experience.
Timing: Are you squeezing in a massage on your lunch break? (Hey, good for you.) Then you might want to opt for a lighter oil that won’t stain clothes or leave skin feeling greasy. Going to a spa and have access to a shower? Then a heavier oil might be just the thing.
Six Popular Blends
1. Sensual Massage Oil with Relaxing Lavender ($10): A combination of jojoba and almond oils with lavender, this top-rated blend glides on easily without leaving any sticky residue. Users also love the smell, which they say is soothing without being overpowering.
2. Tropical Passions Flavored Massage Oil ($10): With a money-back guarantee, you have nothing to lose by trying this nourishing mix of jojoba oil, coconut oil, sweet almond oil and vitamin E. But we think you’ll love this cruelty-free, sweet-smelling rejuvenating blend too much to return it.
3. Relief Arnica Massage Oil ($30): Whether you overdid it in spin class or have a crank in your neck from yet another sleepless night, a deep tissue massage using the right oil can work wonders. Enter arnica—a homeopathic ingredient that’s traditionally used to reduce swelling and relieve muscle pain. Now all you need to do is convince your S.O. to give you a back rub.
4. Bon Vital' Original Massage Lotion ($32): Planning on giving a lot of massages? This one-gallon bottle combines grapeseed, jojoba, avocado, soybean, safflower and olive oils for a silky blend that won’t stain sheets or clothing.
5. M3 Naturals Ylang Ylang & Ginger Massage Oil ($18): Quick to absorb, non-greasy and with a pleasant scent, just a few drops of this spicy oil will hydrate skin for an ultra-pampering experience.
6. Honeydew Edible Vanilla Massage Therapy Oil ($40): If aroma and flavor are what you're after, this is the one for you. Made with a blend of coconut oil mixed with sweet almond and jojoba, this non-sticky oil locks in moisture and absorbs easily (but not too quickly). And did we mention it's edible? If you're into that kind of thing.
One More Thing…
If you suffer from allergies, it’s always a good idea to call ahead and double-check what oil the masseuse will be using. And remember to always do a patch test with new oils before getting a massage. Here’s how: Apply a small amount of oil to a patch of skin (about one-inch in diameter) on the inside of the arm. If no irritation occurs over a 24-hour period, then the oil can be safely used on other parts of the body.