Massage oils don't have to be expensive, but you do need to buy the right kind of oils, which means first and foremost, lay off the baby oil. The best massage oils are plant-based, have a nice, light texture for easy glide, and don't leave the skin feeling greasy.
The Best Oils
If you're buying for a home massage, then organic or wildcrafted oil is the best choice. Some professional spas don't use organic or wildcrafted oils because it's prohibitively expensive when bought in mass quantities.
Sweet almond oil is one of massage therapist's all-time favorites. Derived from ripened, pressed almond kernels, it absorbs slowly into the skin. This allows for a long-lasting glide. The medium weight viscosity provides lubrication and grip at the same time. It has a mild odor and is also one of the least expensive massage oils. Sweet almond oil shouldn't be used on people with nut allergies.
Apricot Kernel Oil is similar to almond oil, but a little lighter weight. It also costs a little more. Derived from the kernel of the apricot, it is rich in vitamin E, and an excellent alternative to people with nut allergies.
Jojoba Oil is technically a liquid wax ester extracted from the seed of the jojoba shrub, which grows wild in arid regions like Arizona. The wax closely resembles our body's sebum, which makes it easily absorbed by the body. While it has excellent glide, you may need to reapply more frequently. Jojoba does not turn rancid, so it's a good choice if you don't use it regularly. Because it absorbs so easily, it's a favorite carrier oil for aromatherapy.
Grapeseed Oil is a favorite among massage therapists for its non-greasy, smooth glide and the fact that it doesn't stain sheets. It has a little to no odor, but be sure you buy organic or wildcrafted oils as most grapeseed oil is extracted from grape seeds using a solvent rather than being cold-pressed from the seeds.
Sunflower oil is a light, non-greasy oil extracted from sunflower seeds, rich in the essential fatty acids and vitamins A, D, and E—all of them powerful anti-oxidants. However, sunflower oil can go rancid quickly, so it should be purchased in small quantities and stored in the refrigerator. People with allergies to the nuts should avoid sunflower oil.
Avocado oil is rich in vitamins and good for the skin, but it is so heavy that it takes a long time to penetrate the skin. You might consider it for an after-bath massage oil that you can take some time to really rub in.
Sesame oil is prized in Ayurvedic treatments but has a distinct odor that might be off-putting to some. Banyan Botanicals is a good source for organic sesame oil, as well as herbal oils that are meant to treat specific constitutions.
Unrefined Coconut oil comes in a solid form that some massage therapists swear by as the ultimate skin softener. It will have a coconut smell.
Massage Oil Tips
Above all, avoid using petroleum-based oils as massage oils, such as baby oil. Mineral oil has a long shelf life, but many people in the massage profession attest that it just sits on the surface of the skin instead of being absorbed, and is not as healthy as plant-based massage oils.
Plant-based massage oils can go rancid more quickly, so buy relatively small quantities and keep them in the refrigerator.
You can transfer massage oils to plastic bottles for easier use during the massage. There is no need to use a lot of oil for a massage—just a half-teaspoon into the palm of your hand will do the trick. Finally, never squirt massage oils directly from the bottle onto the person you're massaging.