How to choose your massage oils


Have you ever wondered which oils you should be using for your self massage and what to change to as the season shifts?

If so, I've got you covered in this post, where I'll break down what I consider to be the best choices. While there is a wealth of beautiful and rich medicated oils out there, I'm focusing here on simple, easy to obtain choices that are made in the US. If you find a company you love and want to try some of the more exotic blends just make sure the oils and the herbs in them are truly organic or pesticide free.

How to choose an oil: the 3 most important factors

1. It's important that your oil be organic. Pesticides tend to collect in fat and thus can be quite high in oils. The skin is very absorptive, for better or worse. It's for the better when there are herbs in your oils that you want to feel your body as medicine, but can be for the worse if you're putting anything on your skin containing chemicals or anything you wouldn't want to eat.

I mainly use herbal massage oils from Banyan Botanicals in my practice because they are organic and high quality. I also love Sarada oils as they are rich and smell amazing. They claim their oils are chemical free and organic but I'm not sure whether they're certified as such. Any high quality organic oils you have access to are thumbs up.

2. Choose an oil based on your current constitution and state of imbalance (based on whether vāta, pitta or kapha are highest or a combination).

  • Vāta - Sesame is the best choice vata because it's warming and because sesame is considered the king of massage oils for its ability to penetrate deeply and nourish the tissues. Almond Oil is another possibility if you don't like sesame as it is also warming. Vata massage oil (oil infused with special herbs) is especially good if vata is high. Banyan, Sarada USA both make good vata oils.
    Specialty oils for vata and vata transitions:For increasing strength and stamina postpartum, post illness or post surgery try Ashwagandha/Bala oil. This is also the oil I recommend for massaging new babies. Toddlers and older children begin to show signs of which doshas need balancing so you can choose for them the same way you would for yourself.
  • Pitta - For plain oils, sunflower and coconut are the best choices, coconut is especially good in hot weather. Herbal/Medicated Pitta Massage Oil from Banyan or another reputable company is my top recommendation as pitta can really benefit from the cooling herbs added to the oils. Applying Bhringaraj Oil or Brahmi Oil to the scalp and soles of feet at bedtime supports healthy pitta and encourage sound sleep.
  • Kapha - Sesame, corn and mustard oils are all helpful for kapha because they are warming, but herbal oils are an even better choice for Kapha, as they add more Kapha pacifying properties to the oil. Banyan’s Kapha Massage Oil is a great choice.

Not sure which doshas are highest?

No problem, use these simple guidelines:

  • If you're a hot type and have a medium body frame and tend to inflammation, acne, rashes, hyperacidity, loose stools, anger, or you're kinda Type A then go with the recommendations for Pitta.
  • If you're a cold type and tend to have a thin body frame, cold hands and feet, insomnia, spaciness, anxiety, worry, constipation, or go any which way the wind blows then go with the recommendations for vāta.
  • If you're a cooler type and have a solid or heavy body frame, you're curvy or tend to gain weight easily and have a calm, stable nature and you can be slow, stubborn and don't change easily then go with the recommendations for kapha.

If you have a mix of a bunch of these things then go with Banyan Botanicals' Daily Massage Oil, which is balancing to all 3 doshas, or mix sesame and sunflower oils 1/2 and 1/2. You can find it here.

3. Also take into account the current season and climate. You may need to switch oils if you go on vacation somewhere hot during the winter. Or, if you have two doshas you're working with like pitta and vata for example, try using a cooling oil in hot weather and a warming oil in cool weather, or mix the 2 oils half and half and call it good!

After you've considered these 3 points and narrowed down your choices, you can choose whether you want to save money and go with a plain oil like sesame, sunflower or coconut, or invest in an herbal oil. If it's in your budget, I recommend the herbal oil because you absorb medicine through your skin, so this is a way to bring balance in addition to working with diet, lifestyle and oral herbal medicines and supplements. You can, however, stretch that oil a bit by adding plain sesame or sunflower to it.

Special applications

For your head - Oils infused with Bhringaraj and Brahmi are cooling and grounding. Massage the oil in before bed and put on a cotton stocking cap, or massage and leave in for 2-30 minutes and then shampoo out. You may need to wash a couple of times to remove all of the oil. Tip: apply the shampoo dry first, wash then rinse and repeat.

For your hair - Banyan Botanicals makes a luxurious hair oil that's soothing to mind and emotions and also makes your hair look gorgeous. Check it out here.

For painful back and joints - Mahanarayan oil massaged into these areas and left overnight or 20-30 minutes before taking a hot bath or shower can make a big difference. To receive full benefit repeat daily, even twice daily. You can find mahanarayan here.

In pregnancy, a very gentle form of abhyanga (applying the oil and leaving it to soak in rather than deeply massaging) can be practiced in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. Choose a simple oil based on your current needs as outlined above.


Schedule a consult with Sunny to learn more about your constitution and how to bring balance.