Choosing Oils for Baby Massage

In this article you will learn:

  • Which oils are best for baby massage
  • Which oils to avoid
  • Where to buy oils
  • How to store oils safely

The best oils to use for massage

For massage to be enjoyable and comfortable for your baby it is best to use a massage medium, such as oil. The oil allows the massage movements and strokes to be carried out without causing friction to your baby’s skin; without oil the massage can be irritating, especially for a sensitive newborn. It is recommended, where possible, that an organic or cold-pressed vegetable oil is used because they are as natural as possible and contain little or no preservatives or additives. This is especially important as babies may ingest some of the oil during the massage. Natural vegetable oils:

  • allow the skin to breathe
  • nourish and moisturise the skin
  • are easily absorbed into the skin
  • are unscented
  • are natural and safe.
Insight

Plant-based oils are ideal mediums for baby massage; however, care needs to be taken as oils have the potential to cause an allergic reaction in a child, just like any food could.

Vegetable Oils

  • Organic oil that is truly organic will have been grown in strict organic conditions, starting with the seed, nuts or fruits and the condition of soil. There must be no use of pesticides and an oil extraction process that is free of chemicals. These oils may be difficult to find and can be expensive.
  • Cold-pressed oil is produced by using high pressure to squeeze out the oil from soft, oily seeds such as sunflower and olive. For harder seeds, more pressure is used to crush the seed, which generates some heat (and may alter the oil). After crushing, the shells are removed by filters and the oil is natural. (Some oils may be further refined after cold-pressing.)
  • Refined oils are made from the vegetable pulp that remains after cold-pressing. This vegetable pulp still contains some oil and is refined either by high temperatures, high pressures or may be treated with steam or solvents. This process alters the oil somewhat to remove allergens and impurities, which can help to make it hypo-allergenic and safer to use with babies that are prone to allergic reactions or who have weaker immune systems.

What To Choose?

Parents will have a number of reasons for Choosing a particular oil, but careful consideration should be given to:

  • availability
  • the skin type of your baby
  • risk of allergic reactions
  • how the oil will be stored

Sunflower oil (Helianthus annuus)

Sunflower oil 18 excellent for baby massage; it has a light texture and does not leave the skin feeling greasy. The oil is made from the seed of the plant and closely resembles sebum (the oil that is already present in the human skin) and therefore the sunflower oil is easily absorbed by the uppermost layers of the skin. As the oil is rather light, it can be used to dilute a heavier oil, such as olive oil. This oil produces few allergic reactions, but those people that are allergic to sunflower seeds should avoid cold-pressed and refined sunflower oils. Organic and cold-pressed are best for use with baby massage but refined oils (food grade) are also possible alternatives.

Insight

This oil is a very popular oil for baby massage as it is so close to the oil in our own skin.

Olive oil (Olea europaea)

This oil, produced from the flesh of the olive, is rather heavy and viscous and may stain clothing, it can however be diluted with sunflower or grape seed oil. Some varieties can have a strong odour too. It is said to have anti-inflammatory properties and can help with sensitive, chapped skin, burns, stings and even nettle rashes! Olive oil is an all-round general emollient. Again, it is recommended that organic, cold-pressed oil is used.

Insight

When using this oil be careful not to get it on your clothes or your baby’s as it can leave stains.

Grape seed oil (Vitis vinifera)

This oil is made from the hard stone of the grape and is highly refined due to the manufacture process and has little odour, 18 good for slippage and isn’t too greasy when applied to the skin.

Depending upon the type of refinement process, this oil is said to be hypo-allergenic and therefore good for babies who are prone to allergic reactions and have weak immune systems.

Insight

This is an excellent oil that stores well even when not in a cool, dark place.

Coconut oil (Cocos nucifera)

Coconut oil is made from the flesh of the coconut and in its raw state is a solid, thick fat and very good for skin. For babies who have poor immune systems and nut allergy problems it is not advisable to use this oil (it may also contribute to a child becoming allergic).

However, fractionated coconut oil is a refined oil that has been produced from the original solid fat coconut oil being heat treated. The fractionization of the oil removes all potential allergens, mould spores and impurities leaving pure, perfume-free oil that remains as a liquid. This oil will not go off as quickly as other oils and is excellent for slippage in baby massage.

Insight

This is a good oil for babies with a suppressed immune system.

Nut oils

Nut oils, such as almond and peanut, are generally not recommended for baby massage. The Anaphylaxis Campalgn suggests that peanut is a high allergy risk in the UK.

Cooking oils

Cooking oils such as sunflower and grape seed purchased from a supermarket are highly-refined oils (food grade). They have been purified to enable them to have consistent colour and a longer shelf life.

Insight

CAUTION: Avoid nut-based and wheat-based oils such as sweet almond, peanut and wheatgerm oil as these may contribute to or cause an allergic reaction.

Oils to avoid

Mineral Oils

There are a number of mineral oils and commercially available ‘baby massage oils or gels’ on the market but it is recommended that these are not used for baby massage. Mineral oil/gel is a highly processed by-product of petroleum (paraffin wax). It contains chemicals and preservatives and is not broken down by the body’s digestive system. It has already been mentioned that oil may be ingested by the baby during massage as oil may be on their hands. Unlike vegetable oil, mineral oil is not absorbed into the outer layers of the skin (the epidermis), therefore creating a barrier of film on the surface of the baby’s skin. This can block pores and impede the natural functions of the skin, such as excretion and heat regulation. It does not really offer any benefit to the skin, however it is cheap to mass produce and does not go off.

Insight

We strongly recommend that you avoid using mineral oil at all costs. Regular use causes the skin to dry out.

Artificially Scented Oil

Some commercial baby massage oils and gels often contain artificial perfumes. It is important to avoid these particular oils because they may contain chemicals that may be harmful when ingested. As the artificial scents are often quite a strong smell, your baby may find them overpowering and over-stimulating for the senses. Furthermore, the scent prevents the baby from smelling their parent’s natural scent.

Essential Oils

Due to the popularity of aromatherapy, many products containing various essential oils are appearing on the market. Essential oils work in very subtle ways, with very small amounts giving therapeutic effects; some of the oils are the antidote to homeopathic remedies. Indeed, some of the stronger essential oils are so potent when blended that they are capable of eradicating a strain of the life-threatening bug MRSA! Even the oils that are considered to be a softer option, such as lavender and tea tree, are not safe to use on prepubescent children as it has been proven that the hormonal activities in the oil may trigger abnormal breast development in young children.

The chemical content of essential oils is absorbed into the body via the olfactory system (nose and lungs) and 60 per cent of substances massaged in to the skin are absorbed into the blood stream. The molecular structure of essential oil is much smaller than vegetable oil and is therefore able to penetrate through the skin.

Many products on the market, intended for babies, contain a number of essential oils. It is not uncommon to find a whole array of baby products for the bath, the hair, massage gel, nappy rash, oils to burn for inhalation etc., all containing different essential oils claiming to help relax or soothe a baby. If a parent uses all these products on their young baby they could be unwittingly overwhelming their baby’s sensitive systems.

Reasons to avoid using essential oils with children under 12 years of age

  • The immune system of a baby is very immature and over-use of essential oils may overwhelm an immature liver and the nervous system.
  • To date there is NO research to validate that the use of essential oils with infants is indeed safe.
  • Just because a parent likes the fragrance of a particular oil does not mean that their baby will. Obviously a baby cannot communicate this to their parents.
  • The essential oil that is added could mask the odour of a rancid vegetable oil.
  • The fragrance added to the oil masks the natural smell of the parent. It is very important for the baby to smell their parent’s natural smell which helps with bonding.
  • Hormonal activities present them as an unwise choice.
Insight

For children over the age of two, those parents wishing to introduce essential oils as a treatment are advised to consult a qualified and registered aromatherapist who specialises in treating children and their individual needs.

Where to buy oil

  • Where possible, bay massage oil from a reputable supplier.
  • If buying a vegetable oil from a supermarket, look for organic cold-pressed varieties.

Storage of oils

  • It is best to buy organic and cold-pressed vegetable oils in small quantities, as the shelf life is limited (a 50 ml bottle should last several massage sessions).
  • Store oils in a cool, dark place such as a larder.
  • Leave the oil to warm to room temperature before massage.
  • Discard oil that has gone rancid (oil that has gone off has a rather unpleasant odour).
  • Do not use old oil that has been left for a while as the air in the bottle will oxidise the oil and it may become rancid.
  • Discard any oil that has been decanted into a dish for a massage session. Do not return unused oil back into the original bottle as this could potentially contaminate the oil with bacteria.
Insight

Rather than using a large bottle of oil for massage, consider decanting some of the oil into a smaller, manageable bottle, or place some oil in a clean, shallow bowl, but remember to discard any leftovers after the massage.

Things To Remember

  • Organic vegetable oil is the best oil for baby massage.
  • Avoid nut and wheat oils as these may cause an allergic reaction.
  • Avoid mineral oil as these contain chemical additives that are unnecessary for your baby.
  • Essential oils are very strong natural oils and therefore may be unsafe when used regularly over a long period of time.
  • Buy vegetable oils from a reputable supplier.
  • Discard oils that have gone rancid.
  • Store oils in a cool, dark place and discard after expiry date.
  • Sunflower oil is the closest oil to the oil in our skin and is easily absorbed.
  • Olive oil has anti-inflammatory properties, but is viscous so is best diluted with another vegetable oil.
  • Fractionated coconut oil is not a nut oil and therefore is suitable for massage for babies that have poor immune systems.