Are Massage Oils The Same As Essential Oils? What’s The Difference?

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Massage oils are not the same as essentials oils.

They have similarities in that they’re oils, aromatic and have amazing benefits.

But what makes them different from each other?

That’s what we’re going to examine right now.

What Are Massage Oils?

massage oils

Massage oils are natural oils extracted from the seed or fruit of plants.

It’s just plain vegetable oil.

Some examples are jojoba, coconut, sunflower, and almond oils.

The oils are processed through cold- ressing or steam distillation.

Examples of cold-pressed oils are olive oil, flax oil, grapeseed oil; the process is preferred for extracting food-grade or edible oils.

Steam distillation is commonly used to process essential oils.

Massage oils help to lubricate the skin during a massage making it easier for the massage strokes to glide along the skin, lessening friction which may be irritating to some.

Another benefit of using massage oils is its aromatherapy effect. The touch therapy coupled with the scents creates an amazing sensory experience of healing and relaxation.

Massage oils can sometimes be referred to as carrier oil or base oil, which is basically a base to which essential oils are diluted.

There is no “best” massage oil.

The oil used for massage depends on the type and purpose of the massage, plus the skin type of the massage client.

The most commonly used oil for massages is sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, and coconut oil.

What Are Essential Oils?

essential oils

Essential oils, on the other hand, are natural oils extracted from the rinds, leaves, nuts, roots, petals, leaves, or bark of a plant.

Like massage oils, the extraction is done through steam distillation or cold-pressing.

These aromatic oils have many uses, but its most popular use is to inhale it for its calming and therapeutic effects.

Essential oils also have pain-relieving, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, decongestant, and immune-boosting properties.

By adding a few drops of essential oils to a carrier oil, you can customize the massage oil blend for your specific needs.

Some popular essential oils used in massage include lavender, chamomile, ginger, peppermint, and eucalyptus.

How Are These Two Different?

Massage oils are safe to use on the skin, some can even be ingested like coconut oil or olive oil, but not all massage oils are edible.

Massage oils are often used as a base or carrier oil, and its functions are to moisturize skin or as a lubricant for massage.

More carrier oil is used for massage oil than essential oil.

Essential oils are potent with high concentrations of chemical compounds. It should not be used directly on the skin nor ingested.

There are some essential oils that may be added to food and drink, but care should be taken to check for allergic reactions.

It’s recommended to do a patch test on the skin of the inner arm before applying anything to your body.

The concentrated esters in essential oils may cause irritation, even chemical burns if applied directly on the skin.

A few drops in carrier oil is all that is needed to get the aromatherapy and healing effects of essential oils.

Be sure to check out our dilution guide for the safe and proper amounts of carrier oil to essential oils to make your own massage oil blend.

The Different Qualities of Massage Oils

Scent. Most oils have their own unique scent. The majority are faint, but there are some with strong odors. The oils with stronger scents could turn sour when exposed to body heat or friction (from rubbing during massage).

Consistency. Oils have various consistencies. Some oils are thicker and may leave a greasy film on the skin after being applied, while thinner or low viscosity oils spread more easily on the skin.

Skin Absorption. Certain oils aren’t easily absorbed by the skin, while other oils are too dry for massages. A good massage oil keeps the skin hydrated, making the massage strokes smooth without having to reapply too much.

Oil Quality. You can get a sense of the quality of the oil by its feel. Refined oils are smoother and preferred.

Cost. The availability and the process required to extract the oil are the big determinants of the price of the base oil.

For example, sweet almond oil is easier to source and process, which is why it’s cheaper than other oils.

In contrast, apricot kernel oil (an oil similar to almond oil and a good alternative) is slightly more expensive because the kernels produce less oil, which means more kernels are needed to produce sufficient quantities of the particular oil.

Oils are natural emollients but there are some oils that lock in moisture better on the skin without leaving you feeling greasy.

Shea butter is thick and solidifies even at room temperature. Though very moisturizing, it’s not a good massage oil to use because of the heavy greasy feel it leaves on the skin.

Sweet almond oil is a popular massage oil choice because it’s reasonably priced, doesn’t irritate the skin, and has a good balance of oiliness and skin absorbency.

What Are Massage Oils Made Of?

As mentioned previously, carrier oils used for massage are plant-based–comes from the nut, the fruit, and sometimes the sap of a plant–and are often processed through cold-pressing.

Organic, Hypoallergenic, Fractionated, And Other Labels Explained

There are various labels assigned to oils, and it can be confusing if you don’t know what they mean.

Let’s look into these now so that you can make better decisions when purchasing your next oils.

Organic Oil

An oil is packaged and marketed as “organic” when the plant from which the oil is extracted is grown chemical-free.

One thing to be careful of is that not all companies who label their products “organic” actually sell organic products.

Make sure you do your due diligence and go for a brand from a reputable company.

Organic oils are generally more expensive than non-organic oils.


hypoallergenic label

The term refers to the likelihood of the ingredients in the product will cause fewer allergic reactions.

You could still have an allergic reaction but the chance of it happening are slim.


This refers to the process used to extract the long-chain fatty acids from the oil.

It simply means the stuff that makes oil solid is removed making it less viscous and oily.

Coconut oil is an example of massage oil that is fractionated, it can be extra-virgin too.

This leads to our next label…

Extra Virgin

When the oil is called “extra virgin,” it means it has gone through the least amount of processing and is unrefined.

Unrefined oils aren’t exposed to heat or chemicals, keeping it as close to its original source form as possible.

Cold Pressed

The oil is extracted from the nuts and fruits by grinding them into smaller pieces and crushing or pressing to force the oil out.

This could be done by hand or with industrial machines.

No heat is applied in the extraction process preserving the oil’s flavor and nutritional quality.

Are Massage Oils Safe Or Cause Allergies?

Everyone is different.

In general massage oils are safe, you could have a reaction to one oil while others won’t.

People who are allergic to nuts, certain plants, and latex need to check the ingredients listed in the packaging to make sure it’s safe.

Oils made from nuts like almonds or peanuts may cause negative reactions to those with nut allergies; an alternative to use is apricot kernel oil which has a similar consistency to sweet almond oil.

Some people are allergic to sunflowers and should obviously avoid sunflower oil, a possible alternative in this situation is to use jojoba oil or olive oil.

While people with allergic reactions to latex should stay away from Shea butter, fractionated coconut oil, and avocado oil. These oils contain natural latex or have latex-similar properties.

If you are unsure, do a skin patch test to check if you have an allergic reaction.

Is Massage Oil Safe To Use On The Face?

Carrier oils can have a comedogenic rating from 0 to 5.

A 0-2 comedogenic rating means the oil will not cause breakouts.

Here are carrier oils with comedogenic ratings between 1-2, which can, therefore, be used as massage oils on the face:

  • Jojoba
  • Sunflower seed
  • Sweet almond oil
  • Shea butter
  • Rosehip oil – good for the face but may be too expensive to use for the whole body as a massage oil.

Coconut oil is still a safe bet as a carrier oil, use the fractionated type so there will be less fatty acids, which can cause breakouts.

A great quality of coconut oil is its antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties.

You could still have a reaction and develop acne even with the “safest,” lowest comedogenic rated oil.

Keep that in mind.

Always check with a patch test and buy from trusted sellers and brands.

Is Massage Oil Safe To Use On Babies?

five babies sitting down

Babies’ skin is not fully developed and is vulnerable to irritation.

Pediatricians recommend not using oils or lotions until after a baby’s first month.

Massage oils that are safe to use on babies are organic sunflower oil and olive oil.    

Can Massage Oil Stain?

Oils can stain so you’ll want to be careful when transferring oils into a bottle.

A way to prevent spills is to transfer the oil into a bottle via a pump.

How Do You Get Massage Oil Out Of Sheets And Towels?

If you accidentally stain your sheets or towels with oil, blot the excess oil by sprinkling the stain with baby powder and let it sit for 20 minutes.

Remove baby powder and use a stain remover to pre-treat the area, and let it sit for at least 15 minutes.

Wash the sheets in very hot water; for heavy stains, you can add ammonia to the wash.

If stains remain, repeat the wash cycle.

What’s A Good Massage Oil To Buy?

We recommend the following massage oils:

1. Sweet Almond Oil. Its light scent spreads easily and is widely available.

2. Fractionated Coconut Oil. It’s not heavy and has antibacterial properties that will prevent acne from forming.

3. Jojoba Oil. It’s high in vitamin A and E and is non-comedogenic, ideal for people with body acne and oily skin.

Where Can I Buy Carrier Oils?

Carrier oils are available at health stores and chain retail stores.

It can also be bought online in marketplaces like Amazon.

What Are Essential Oils That Can Be Added To Massage Oils?

Like we mentioned earlier, essential oils should be used sparingly because of its high concentration of chemical compounds.

Essential oils are sold in small, dark bottles to keep the oil’s integrity.

Here are our recommendations for different massage needs.

For Body Pain

A few drops into carrier oil should be enough to bring muscle and pain relief.

We recommend ginger oil, peppermint oil, and eucalyptus oil.

For Babies

Use Chamomile to calm fussy babies who have colic or are teething.

One to 2 drops in sunflower oil and used as a massage oil will soothe the baby.

The diluted essential oil can also be added to bathwater to help the baby calm down and sleep.

Lavender oil can also be added because of its relaxing effect.

Check our carrier oil and essential oil dilution guide for babies and children in this article.

For Pain and Swelling

Marjoram oil, Arnica oil, and Lemongrass oil are effective for bringing down pain, swelling, and bruising.

For Tension And Relaxation

For muscle tension, you can use either Clary Sage or Juniper oil.

To Calm Down And Sleep Better

For deeper relaxation, use lavender, chamomile or ylang-ylang oils.

Ylang ylang has a sedating effect on the nervous system, stimulates blood circulation and the release of endorphins.

Remember to dilute essential oil in carrier oil and not to use essential oils pure to avoid allergic reactions.


National Childbirth trust staff. (n.d.).Baby massage:tips and benefits. Retrieved from

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Oil Health benefits staff. (n.d.). Massage Oil.Retrieved from

Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff at MindBodyPal is a team of experts led by Tyson Chiu. We love tacos, lattes and Funky Fridays.