MASSAGE Magazine

Tropical Topical: The Many Benefits of Coconut Oil for Massage

For versatility, it’s hard to beat coconut oil.

While cooks use it in a variety of recipes, many health and fitness professionals promote it as having beneficial properties that range from reducing cholesterol, promoting weight loss and alleviating inflammation to improving brain function, killing bacteria and relieving sore muscles.

Although some skeptics in the scientific community have questioned certain claims, some research shows that coconut oil in massage products does indeed offer some good perks. Many massage therapists and spa professionals who have firsthand experience with coconut oil can attest to its benefits.  

Coconut Oil for Massage

“Fractionated coconut oil is effective for massage therapy due to the fact that it is readily absorbed and tolerated by most body types,” said Allen Conrad, DC, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales, Pennsylvania. He has also found it to effectively and efficiently address muscular issues like pain and spasms.

Why fractionated coconut oil? “Traditional coconut oil can be very slippery to use, but by eliminating long chain triglycerides from the oil, the fractionated coconut oil allows the therapist to get deeper and better traction with shorter strokes and help alleviate stubborn muscle spasms and soothe inflamed muscles,” Conrad said.

Properties of Coconut Oil

The results of a 2018 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciencessupports Conrad’s claims. The study authors found that coconut oil possesses anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Additionally, the oil provides an effective skin barrier and promotes wound healing.

Conrad added that coconut oil absorbs easily into skin and moisturizes without making it feel greasy. “The combination of chiropractic care and massage therapy has seen many benefits in our office for patients with muscle injuries,” he noted. 

Kerian Bray, owner of Skin ‘n Tonic Spa in New Hope, Pennsylvania, finds several good reasons to love coconut oil for massage. A spa educator for more than 20 years, Bray has extensive experience with different topicals but prefers to use coconut oil in her massage practice.

She points out that there are three types of coconut oil: unrefined, which retains all its phenols and phytonutrients; refined, which is dried coconut that has been processed with chemical solvents; and liquid, a form that contains no lauric acid and has a low melting point.

“The best for the skin should be obtained from the flesh/meat of the coconut,” she said. “Look for organic, virgin, cold-pressed [or] raw.”

Additionally, Bray emphasized that not all coconut oil is the same. “A high-quality oil will absorb into the skin while giving the therapist a lot of ‘slip’ to work and leave the client non-greasy at the end of a massage,” she said.

“It will build up your skin’s lipid barrier and help prevent dehydration. Since you create friction [and] heat during a massage, many oils can change during the process. Coconut oil will not dry out and get sticky.”

Best of all, coconut oil contains lauric acid, which is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory. “It also contains vitamin E, which is an excellent antioxidant,” Bray said.

Coconut Oil and Skin

Food and Chemical Toxicology published a study in 2017 that investigated the effects of coconut oil on human skin; the findings concur with Bray’s assessment. Specifically, coconut oil was found to “contribute to protective barrier functions.” Furthermore, the results suggested it has an anti-inflammatory effect.

Throughout her career, Bray has used coconut oil to effectively address dry skin, inflammation and cellulite. She recommends a combination formula of shea butter, which is a humectant, and coconut oil for clients with chronic dehydration.

“Because of its ability to build the lipid barrier, it is great for stretch marks that are in need of healing,” Bray added. “Coconut oil can also be applied during pregnancy to help prevent the formation of stretch marks.

“Apply to hips and tummy, and as the pregnancy progresses, apply to the bust area.”

Additionally, coconut oil is useful for individuals at the other end of the life spectrum as it assists the collagen fibers by strengthening them. “So it is definitely a great age-defying ingredient,” Bray asserted.

Advantages and Contraindications

On a practical level, Bray has found coconut oil to be non-staining to massage table linens and has little to no aroma, which is a bonus for clients who may have a sensitive sense of smell. It is also possible that some clients may be allergic, so she advises doing a patch test before using it.

Finally, coconut oil for massage is cost-effective to use. She noted, “A little will go a long way.”

About the Author:

Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human-interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty area include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage.

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