Is it a good idea to use oil to massage my baby? Using an oil can make the whole experience of massage easier for you and more relaxing for your baby. Everyone seems to have an opinion on which oil is best for baby massage.
Some mums favour baby mineral oils, while others chose a particular vegetable oil. Some oils are thought to be more easily absorbed into skin. You may find massage easier with an oil that soaks in, or you may prefer one that stays more slippery on your baby's skin. It's up to you.
However, there are some oils or creams that it's best not to use, because they may irritate your baby's skin. These are:
- Mustard oil, because the way it's processed may mean it is contaminated with other seeds.
- Peanut oil, because, unless it's refined, the proteins it contains may trigger an allergic reaction on your baby's skin. It's hard to find pure, refined peanut oil.
- Aqueous cream, because it contains detergents that may irritate your baby's skin.
Vegetable oils that are high in linoleic acid may be kinder to your baby's skin. Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid that helps to protect the barrier element of your baby's skin. Vegetable oils that usually contain high levels of linoleic acid include:
- safflower oil
- grapeseed oil
What if my baby has sensitive skin?
If your baby has eczema or broken skin, it's best not to use vegetable oils that are higher in another type of fatty acid, called oleic acid. These oils may be less kind to your baby's skin than vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid or baby mineral 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. But permeability means the movement of moisture works both ways. So if your baby's skin is already dry and tender, the oleic acid could increase moisture loss from it.
Vegetable oils that usually contain high proportions of oleic acid include:
- olive oil
- high-oleic sunflower seed oil
If you check the label on vegetable oils, they don't tend to list the oleic or linoleic acid content. They do list the proportions of polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats, though.
Vegetable oils that are higher in linoleic acid will be higher in polyunsaturated fats. Oils that are higher in oleic acid will be higher in monounsaturated fats.
Perfume-free baby mineral oils are another option if your baby has eczema or broken skin. Mineral oil is derived from petroleum. Petroleum-based skin softeners or moisturisers are effective and safe for treating skin problems such as eczema.
Mineral oils have also been shown to help protect premature babies' skin. The oils are thought to improve the barrier function of a premature baby's skin because they help to seal in and trap moisture. Mineral oils work particularly well for baby massage if you give your baby a bath and then massage her with the oil while her skin is still damp.