Should I use oil to massage my baby?

While you can massage over clothes, using an oil can make massage easier for you and more relaxing for your baby while reaping the benefits of the oil used.

The decision of what oil to use with your baby for massage time is an important one. I recommend a pure cold pressed, organic, vegetable, nut, seed or fruit oil. These are easily absorbed by the skin and provide additional benefits to your child during and after the massage.

As the skin absorbs these oils so easily there will be no oily residue remaining. This means you will not have to wash the oil off afterwards.

Although the above is what the Infant Massage Information Service and I recommend, ultimately it is your decision for what you believe works best for your baby’s skin. Everyone seems to have an opinion on which oil is best for baby massage. Some parents favour baby mineral oils (which are petroleum based), while others choose a vegetable oil.

Research has shown that there are some oils that are best not to use, whether or not your baby has eczema. These are:

  • Mustard oil as it has a toxic effect on the skin barrier, causing irritation and potential damage to delicate baby skin.
  • Unrefined peanut oil because the proteins it contains may sensitise your baby to an allergic reaction to peanuts or cause a reaction on your baby’s skin.
  • Refined peanut oil is also best avoided. Although it’s unlikely to cause a problem, refined oil may be cross-contaminated with unrefined oil.
  • Aqueous cream because it contains a harsh detergent called sodium lauryl sulfate that may irritate your baby’s skin and damage her skin barrier.

What if my baby has sensitive skin?

I recommend for sensitive skin the use of 100% pure cold pressed Edible Apricot Oil, Sesame Seed Oil or Sweet Almond Oil. Alternatively, vegetable oils that are high in linoleic acid may be gentle enough for your baby’s skin. Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid that helps to protect the barrier of your baby’s skin. Vegetable oils that usually contain high levels of linoleic acid include Sunflower oil and Grapeseed oil.

If your baby has dry or broken skin or eczema avoid vegetable oils that are high in another type of fatty acid called oleic acid. Vegetable oils high in oleic acid may be harsher on your baby’s skin than vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid and most certainly harsher than 100% pure cold pressed oils.

Oleic acid can make some layers of your baby’s skin more permeable. This permeability could help oil and water be absorbed into your baby’s skin; however, it could also mean that oil and water are lost, rather than trapped in. So, if your baby’s skin is already dry and tender, then oleic acid could increase moisture loss from it, making the skin even drier.

Lately, many parents have enquired around the use of Olive oil given it is a natural product. Please note that Olive oil’s texture is too thick to be absorbed by the skin and will not moisturise your baby’s skin. In addition to this, olive oil is high in oleic acid. One study on adults found that compared with sunflower seed oil, using olive oil on the skin damaged the skin barrier. It caused mild redness even when there was no history of sensitive skin.

Vegetable oils that usually contain high proportions of oleic acid include Olive oil (detailed above) and High-oleic Sunflower seed oil.

Something to be aware of is generally labels on vegetable oils don’t tend to list the oleic or linoleic acid content. They do list the proportions of polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats. As a general guide:

  • Vegetable oils that are higher in linoleic acid are higher in polyunsaturated fats
  • Vegetable oils that are higher in oleic acid are higher in monounsaturated fats

With the above in mind, if using vegetable oils use an oil that’s high in polyunsaturated fats, if you’re concerned. Some vegetable oils have both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, though, so it’s not always clear.

Mineral oils

There are some very popular baby mineral oil brands on the market. Mineral oil is derived from petroleum. Although I don’t recommend, petroleum-based skin softeners (emollients) they are effective and safe for treating skin problems such as dermatitis and eczema however, if your baby has eczema, you will receive better results with the use of natural cold pressed oils or a doctor prescribed medical moisturiser for massage.

Mineral oils or petroleum-based ointments have also been shown to help protect premature babies skin. The oils are thought to improve the barrier function in vulnerable areas of a premature baby’s skin because they help to seal in moisture.

Other considerations

Keep it free of fragrance & essential oils

Yes, essential oils and perfume smells nice but they are not recommended for baby massage. There are 2 reasons for this, their increased potency and strong fragrance.

Need another reason? Bonding time is one of the biggest benefits of baby massage and odour plays a large role in baby’s and parents learning each other’s ‘signature fragrance’, so strong-smelling oil will inhibit the bonding process.

If you must use a massage oil which contains essential oils or fragrance please only use on babies over 12 months old, no earlier.

Don’t use an oil you wouldn’t want baby to eat

It is recommended that during massage, for health reasons, an edible oil be used. Oil may enter your baby’s mouth through the massage process or post-massage when your baby places their hands in their mouth so it is vital to use an edible oil.

Mineral oils and essential oils are generally not edible or safe for consumption (read the warning labels), so there is a strong case for avoiding them.

Rule of thumb, if it can go on your salad it’s okay to use!

Test for skin sensitivity

Every skin is different, so it’s recommended that you patch test for any sensitivities before you begin using a new massage oil. Performing a patch test is the best way to test your baby’s sensitivity to new oil since it’s easier to deal with one inflamed piece of skin than the entire body.

To perform a patch test, place a small portion of oil on the inner arm in the morning, and then continually monitor it throughout the day. Any redness that develops indicates an allergic reaction or sensitivity to that particular oil.

Please contact me if you have any queries around massage oils. If you would like to purchase 100% cold pressed oils, you can purchase directly at one of my baby massage classes or via the Shop.