Ever wondered what is in an excellent massage oil?

Oil has been used throughout the ages for healing, lighting, cooking, lubricating and treating of fabrics and leathers. Specifically the mighty olive has provided us with an oil that not only historically was applied by most cultures and religions for anointing, but equally for the use in massage of Greek athletes along with mixed herbs and aroma’s, which we as therapists use today. Why do I mention this? Without the right oil or even a medium to work with, massage therapy would be a completely different and far more painful experience.

There are many oils and mediums you can use for massage including sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil, jojoba oil and sunflower oil, gels, creams and powders, to name a few. However I will be focusing on the amazing properties of olive oil and its use during treatment, as I have found in my personal experience this to be the king of all oils, I will discuss this in greater depth later.


The olive was native to Asia Minor and spread from Iran, Syria and Israel to the rest of the Mediterranean basin over 6,000 years ago. It is among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world, being grown before the written language was invented.

This formidable oval super-fruit was grown on Crete by 3,000 BC and may have been the source of the wealth of the Minoan kingdom. It is reported that Phoenicians spread the olive to the Mediterranean shores of Africa and Southern Europe. It is interesting to note that olives have been found in Egyptian tombs from 2,000 years BC. The olive culture spread to the early Greeks and naturally to the Roman Empire. As the Romans extended their domain they brought the olive with them. This shows us that almost all of the ancient power houses of the world used olives and olive oil and as such they were valued as an important and expensive commodity.
The use of oil is found in most religions and cultures. 1,400 years ago the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, advised his followers to apply olive oil to their bodies, and himself used oil on his head. During baptism in the Christian church, holy oil, which is often olive oil, may be used for anointing.

In the Bible it describes how Jesus feet were anointed with fragrant oil, the value of which was a point of argument between Jesus’ disciples. We also find how both Saul and David were anointed with oil by the Prophet Samuel, before taking up authority as kings over Israel, this tradition continued. The olive trees on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem are reputed to be over 2000 years old

Olive oil was used to anoint the early kings of the Greeks. The Greeks used olive oil mixed with crushed herbs in order to massage athletes, performers and warriors. They furthermore used pure olive oil to anoint winning athletes. On a more morbid note olive oil has and is used to anoint the dead in numerous cultures.

In Greek mythology, Athens is named for the Goddess Athena who brought the olive to the Greeks as a gift. Zeus had promised to give Attica to the god or goddess who made the most useful invention. Athena’s gift of the olive, useful for light, heat, food, medicine and perfume was picked as a more peaceful invention than Poseidon’s horse, touted as a rapid and powerful instrument of war. Athena planted the original olive tree on a rocky hill that we know today as the Acropolis. The olive tree that grows there today is said to have come from the roots of the original tree.


Application During Treatment

Traditionally plant oils are esteemed amongst therapists for the versatility they offer and the slip and glide they produce, over extended periods of time, which allow less pinch and pull over the client’s skin surface. This allows smooth and controlled movements, allowing the therapist to provide a thorough and enjoyable treatment for the client.

A superior massage oil is not too easily absorbed into the epi-dermis, but is complimentary to the skin and resembles the skins own naturally-produced oils.

With the exception of Pregnancy Massage, where a pure cold-pressed virgin olive oil should be used, an oil should have an element of Aromatherapy that not only takes the client on a ‘journey of scents’ but offers practical benefits for the client such as pain relief and remedial properties found for instance in Arnica and Wintergreen. Anti-oxidants such as Vitamins A, C and E as well as lipids, and amino acids are just some of the natural properties found in the base and essential oils. With due respect to all aroma-therapists, of which I am one, there are countless benefits in natural essential oils that effect every system in the body, that are too numerous and significant to mention in this article, without doing each one justice.

These essential oils may be added to the base oil and a proficient Aroma-therapist will mix these specifically for the client, bespoke. Every aromatherapy massage oil should generally have a base oil, a bottom note, middle note and top note. When correctly mixed a symphony of scents is created. A rule of thumb to be considered is to keep the mixture simple. An aromatherapy oil that is too complicated can confuse and over-stimulate the client and even the therapist.


Olive Oil as the Perfect Base Oil

Without excluding nor diminishing the properties of other oils, I have personally found cold pressed or extracted virgin olive oil to be the best base oil to work with.

Not only is it a forgiving oil when mixing aromatherapy, as the natural scent of olive oil infuses with essential aromatherapy oils exquisitely, but the flow and glide it provides is exceptional.

As a massage therapist that only uses completely natural and pure ingredients I prefer quality cold-extracted virgin olive oil. I have yet to meet a client with an allergy to this oil and furthermore I have found that the healing properties of this oil are nothing short of heavenly. Many of my clients with skin problems have had outstanding results from this oil that in some cases have completely removed spots, blemishes and evened out and toned their skin after a few sessions.

On my many travels I recently had the privilege of visiting the De Rustica Olive Estate. Surrounded by World Heritage Sites and unique floral diversity this Olive Estate is situated deep in the picturesque Swartberg Mountains of the Southern Cape, South Africa. Their triple gold award winning oils envisage the perfect oil for blending. I was treated to a tasting of the oils and then allowed to explore their massage oils and discussed the uses of this cold-extracted oil for treatment purposes. Needless to say I was in massage therapist heaven and tried to massage everything in sight. De Rustica produces Delicate, Medium and Intense cold extracted oils and each one can be used for different intensities of massage oils. I won’t even venture into the exciting uses of this oil for food.

The Cape and Karroo area of South Africa produces some of the best and elite olive oils in the world. The climate is integral to the growth, production and processing of this golden elixir.

Finding the right oil to use for each client is an adventure but I can say that a safe and kind bet for your client and for your hands, as a therapist is a cold pressed virgin olive oil with a serendipitous mixture of aromatherapy.


Christian Pinkerton is a Massage Specialist and Advanced Reflexologist who has an earnest and eager passion to, along with other industry professional’s, change the face of touch therapy in South Africa to an international standard of excellence. Every client is unique and deserves a unique experience that is tailor-made for them with professional, caring treatments and personal goal driven results.

Having travelled the world as a professional dancer and therapist Christian has qualified locally and internationally in over 16 different forms of therapy and salon management. Having been part of therapy teams on professional events such as the Nedbank Tour de Tuli Cycle Challenge, spanning over three countries, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. To numerous dance productions, sporting events and working in elite Spa’s such as the Saxon Hotel and Spa, he is always seeking to improve and make certain the health and well-being of the client come first and foremost.

“Massage is not a luxury it is a necessity!”