Which baby massage oils should you use and why?

Baby massage oilsRegistered nurse and midwife Amanda Gwynne shares her expert advice on baby massage and helps new parents decide which oils to use for their baby’s delicate skin.

The benefits of baby massage are well known and baby massage classes have become increasingly popular due to this. There are many courses offered to parents by baby massage instructors. However, there is much confusion about the type of oil to use on your baby’s delicate skin.

What we put on to the skin is absorbed through the layers of the skin and into the blood stream, which circulates through the body via the blood circulation and lymphatic system. This article aims to explain the difference between the different oils that can be used, allowing parents and health professionals to make an informed choice about their choice of oil to use.

Oil is a good medium to use because it allows the hands to glide over the skin without causing friction and absorbs slowly. Parents naturally want to use oil that will nourish the skin and is safe for their baby.

MINERAL OIL

Mineral oil is widely sold under well known brand names of baby oil. However, this oil is obtained from crude petroleum by heating in a method called functional distillation. (McClure V. 1979.) Gasoline and kerosene are removed from crude petroleum by using sulphuric acid, applying absorbents and washing with solvents and alkalis.

Disadvantages

  • Greasy and sticky oil not a good medium for massage
  • Does not absorb into the skin, leaving a layer of oil on the skin which is slippery
  • There is no nutritional value to the skin
  • Usually scented which is unsuitable for babies delicate skin

ANIMAL FATS

Lanolin is an animal fat commonly used on the skin. It is derived from sheep’s wool and is used frequently in cosmetics. Like mineral oil it forms a barrier over the skin and does not absorb well.

COLD PRESSED VEGETABLE OILS

Generally it is preferable to use ‘cold pressed’ vegetable oils because extraction of the oil does not involve the use of solvents or heat treatment which destroys nearly all the therapeutic properties of the oil. The majority of the oils that can be bought in a supermarket are not cold pressed.Cold pressed vegetable oils are indispensible for massage because they take a little while to absorb, thus providing a smooth surface for gliding the hands over the skin. Cold pressed vegetable oils are nourishing to the skin, and many contain vitamins and essential fatty acids.

Advantages

  • A good medium for massage, without leaving a sticky residue
  • Can nourish and moisturise the skin
  • No added scent so that babies are not distracted from their parent’s natural smell

Disadvantages

  • Poor quality oil may be contaminated
  • May become rancid sooner than expected
  • May be more expensive than other oils

SUNFLOWER OIL

This oil has a lovely, light non greasy feel to it, leaving skin feeling smooth and supple. It can be used for massage on its own or as a base to add heavier oils such as avocado. It contains linoleic acid, vitamins A, D and E and has a beneficial effect for many skin problems and bruising. Its structure is close to sebum, so it is suitable for all skin types.

SWEET ALMOND OIL

Sweet almond oil is mildly fragrant with a nutty aroma. It contains vitamins including vitamin E with a high proportion of fatty acids. This makes it an excellent emollient, alleviating dry skin and may help to soothe itching and inflammation caused by eczema and dermatitis. The fear of nut allergies these days prevents many parents using this oil.

GRAPESEED OIL

Heat extraction is used from the pips of the grapes, which affects the amount of nutrients, but it does contain linoleic acid, protein and a small amount of vitamin E. Adding a small amount of nutrient rich oils such as avocado can enhance its therapeutic properties. Cold pressed grapeseed oil can be bought but it is extremely expensive and difficult to source. It is odourless and suitable for all skin types.

OLIVE OIL

Contains essential fatty acids and is a good source of vitamin E. Its high fatty content protects the skin against the elements and helps to keep moisture in the skin. It is better to use virgin olive oil which is extracted without changing the oils therapeutic properties. The oil is thick with a strong odour. It is better to dilute it with a light oil such as sunflower or grapeseed oil, otherwise its smell can be overpowering.

AVOCADO OIL

Avocado oil is mild, nourishing, semi-fatty oil, rich in lecithin and vitamins, including A, B and D. It is ideal for relieving itchy, dry and sensitive skin and works well blended with light oils such as sunflower oil.

There are many oils to choose from but the oils I have described are well known and popular with parents and massage therapists alike. Whichever type of oil parents and health professionals choose to use for massage, does not detract from the emotional and physical benefits to both baby and parents from this wonderfully nurturing pastime.

References:Borseth K. 2008. The Aromantic Guide to unlocking the powerful health benefits of vegetable oils. Aromantic Ltd.Gwynne A. 1999. Common carrier oils used in aromatherapy. College article.McLellan T. 2005. Baby Massage Instructors Course Notes (p. 11-12). Scottish School of Child & Baby Massage.McClure V. 2005. Infant Massage, A handbook for loving parents (p. 64-66). Souvenir Press.

Read more of Amanda Gwynne’s articles on Greatvine – Expert advice on parenting and health & wellbeing

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