Survey and health assessment of chemical substances in massage oils

3 Results of the survey

3.1 Delimination and selection of products

Massage oils are marketed for many different purposes and cover a broad line of products sold in retail stores, chains of shops and on the internet.

As the survey mainly focuses on products for general comfort and to babies, products marketed particularly for erotic purposes and for muscular pains- and soreness are not treated.

With respect to products marketed to babies, the survey focuses on oil and not necessarily only on massage oil. This means that bathing oil is also included in the survey.

3.1.1 Delimination of massage oils in the project

Massage oils in this survey is defined as oil-based products to be applied to the skin to contribute to the well-being of the consumer.

Massage oils may be products for general application to the complete body or products applied to specific areas of the body, e.g., areas with cellulites and stretch marks in the skin.

A number of oils with the designation ‘body oils’ were found in the shops. These oils are marketed as a type of body lotion to be applied to dry skin, e.g. just after bathing. As these products are marketed for the well-being of the consumer, they are assessed to be applied for massage too, and are therefore also included in the survey. Upon request, many shops presented ‘body oils’ as oils suitable for massage. In advertising material it has been seen, that some body oils are also marketed as massage oils.

Essential oils are also included in the survey as they can be used as massage oils when mixed with basic oil.

The Information Centre for Environment & Health has performed a safety assessment of seven massage oils marketed to children. These products are not included in the survey (2).

3.1.2 Type of products

The limit between massage and body oils seems to be very vague. Both massage and body oils can be applied directly to the skin and their ingredients seem to be identical. Essential oils, however, should not be applied directly to the skin, but must be mixed with a basic oil before application. Instructions are given accordingly. Massage oils

Massage oils for physical well-being are marketed as massage oils. They may be pure oils or contain a very complex oil phase based on either vegetable oils or – which is less frequently, mineral oil-based. Baby oils

Oils marketed to babies can be both bathing, body and massage oil. The products can be marketed for physical comfort and for application in a specific area, e.g. for massage of the stomach. The main part of the products with a mineral based oil composition is found within the baby oils. Body oils

Body oils are marketed as body lotions, and sometimes also as combined body and massage oils. Application is recommended all over the body after bath and in areas with dry skin. In accordance with information from the shop assistants, body oils are applied as body lotions, as they penetrate the skin quickly. Therefore body oils are also called ‘dry oils’. Questioned if body oils can be applied for massage, the shop assistants both confirmed and disconfirmed that body oils can be applied for this purpose, but it was mostly confirmed. There are no examples showing that essential oils are sold for mixture in body oils. This category of oils is only sold as ready mixed oils. Essential oils

Essential oils are extracted from the leaves and flowers of the plant and have often a strong fragrance. Essential oils for massage are not to be applied alone. In the shops they are placed next to one or more different basic oils. The purpose is to purchase one or more essential oils, which are added to the basic oil, until a desired fragrance and concentration is obtained.

During the survey also ‘nature identical essential oils’ or synthetically produced oils have been found. They are sold as or together with the pure essential oils. The production costs of synthetic oils are markedly lower than that of ‘pure’ oils, and it is possible to keep down the price for essential oils by using synthetic essential oils with fragrance of even exotic plants such as orchids.

3.1.3 Purchase Purchase

The purpose of purchasing the massage oils is the identify and make a survey of the selection of these products in the Danish market. As a great number of massage oils for physical well-being and oil-based products for babies are marketed, a number of purchasing selection criteria were set up.

Indication of the word ‘massage’ on the product label was the most important criterion. Body oils and products to be combined in different ways for self mixture of massage oils were purchased. This type of products consists typically of one or more basic oils to which one or more pure essential oils can be added. With the exception of the seven products that IMS had already assessed in 2003 all oils marketed to children/babies were purchased.

The ingredients of some products, particularly the body oils, can be found on the home pages of the producers. Consequently, these products were not purchased, but are included in the survey.

Based on the above criteria, supposedly a representative part of massage, baby and body oils for physical well-being in the Danish market in the Spring 2005 has been purchased or surveyed. However, for instance professional masseurs and beauty salons are expected to apply special products that are not available to the ordinary consumer or are high-price products. These products are not included in this survey. The survey gives the impression that there is a quick change in products on the market. This gives reason to believe that there are limited distributed products sold in special shops, such as beauty salons and health shops, which are not included in this survey. Shop visits

A number of different shops were visited. They were: 4 druggists, 4 Department stores, 3 health shops and 1 pharmacy. Internet

In the spring of 2005 search was made on Danish internet pages to find products and product information through this medium. Search criteria such as “massage oil”, “massage”, “oils”, “well-being”, and “baby oil” were used. Visits to a selection of well-established perfume houses were paid both in the department stores and on the internet to illustrate, if they had massage oils in their product assortment. Massage or body oils were only found in the product assortment of 3 well assorted perfume houses. Therefore, it is assessed that there are relatively few suppliers of massage oils on the Danish market and that they are often small.

3.1.4 The products

The survey of the massage oils comprises information collected for 49 products.

Totally 28 products were purchased. Of these 15 massage oils, 6 baby oils, 3 body oils and 4 essential oils in the 12 visited shops. Besides the first mentioned, 21 not purchased products (12 massage oils, 2 baby oils, and 7 body oils) were included in the survey, because their complete composition was found on the internet or in the advertising material.

Part of the products was identified in the shops, on the internet or in advertisements. Among the reasons why these products are not included in the survey are that they were found on the internet and not sold in the retail trade or only in very few shops in Denmark. Some of the products in a product line were not purchased due to high prices and consequently they had a very limited market share. Another reason was that their ingredients had been found and analysed in other purchased products.

The products on the market in the spring of 2005 is a great number of products ranging from simple products with few ingredients, e.g. pure apricot oil to more sophisticated products containing several ingredients with a highly complex oil phase. Some products were colourless and had a faint fragrance and other products had a bright, coloured content of oil and an intense fragrance.

One massage cream was found. This cream has a very complex lipid phase and a melting point above skin temperature. This means that the product is solid at room temperature, but becomes fluid when massaged into the skin. Interviewed masseurs claim that this type of product is often applied for professional massage, because the product is easier to control and will not run down and spoil the clothes of the customer. The masseurs also told that normally they do not apply products with fragrance. The fragrance is too strong to work in for longer periods and clients have different taste with regard to fragrance. Visit at a chiropractor showed that he never uses massage oils or lotion. For this type of treatment roll-on products containing muscle warming ingredients as for instance camphor are applied. Prices

The prices of the products have been registered. The price per liter of the product has been calculated on the basis of the sales price and the indicated volume of content.

The prices vary on a scale from DKK 26.75 for the cheapest product until DKK 310 for the most expensive. Converted to price per litre, this price spread will be DKK 149.75 for the cheapest product and DKK 3100 for the most expensive. Price spread and average prices are shown in table 3-1. The average price per litre product is based on 37 products, of which only 28 were purchased. The price of the remaining 9 not purchased products was found on the internet.

Table 3-1: Lowest and highest prices of the purchased massage oils. Lowest and highest price per litre is based on cost price and volume indication of the product. 37 products are calculated – only 28 were purchased. The price of the remaining 9 not purchased products was found on the internet

Price Individual product
Lowest price/product 26.75 102.64
Highest price/product 310.00
Lowest price/l 149.75 1054.60
Highest price/l 3100.00

The individual massage oils are sold in volumes of between 50 and 200 ml - by far the majority of the products in 100 ml packings. The price calculations in table 3-1 are calculated both per product and per litre.

The price level of the 3 perfume houses having massage- or body lotions in their product assortment was between DKK 200 and 375 per bottle (100 ml).

Essential oils are sold in smaller packagings and products containing 5 and 10 ml were found. The price of essential oils depends on among others how common the plant is as well as the quality of the extraction and if pure or synthetically oil. The price of the products purchased for this project was DKK 32.00 for 10 ml and DKK 45.00 for 5 ml. Essential oils and nature identical fragrance oils are sold in the same type of packaging and are placed together in the shops.

3.1.5 Target groups and marketing Target groups

Of the 49 products in the survey, 8 are for babies and 41 for adults. Three of the 8 products marketed for babies are minerally based and therefore the group containing most minerally based products (37.5% of the products). Essential oils (4 products of the 49) are assessed separately, and all of them are assessed as marketed for adults.

The survey divides the products into 2 target groups, babies and adults. The designation “adults” covers all other target groups than babies, e.g. adults, young people, women and men.

It should be observed that massage and body oils for adults in some cases are mostly intended for women, as the oils are marketed for application to a specific body area, e.g. areas with cellulites, or in specific periods, for instance during pregnancy. Marketing of massage oils in Denmark

It is generally maintained that application of massage oils marketed for general well-being gives the consumer both physical and psychical well being. The asserted effects of the oils are further assessed in section 6.1.2 about claims.

In the literature, the term ‘performance cosmetics’ is found and used among others about products containing many plant oils (3). The term covers products that can be sold at a high market price, often due to trends in the society to the effect that ‘natural’ products are good and safe to apply. This concept can possibly also be used to explain why there are many body oils on the market, even if their ingredients apparently do not differ from typical massage oils. The word “body oil” seems to sell better and for the consumer the use of it is more universal than the word “massage oil”.

3.2 Ingredients

In accordance with the list of ingredients of the products, mainly vegetable oils are contained in massage, baby and body oils on the Danish market. Occurrence of other types of ingredients is very limited. Only few products are solely based on mineral oils and other addititives, such as for instance colourants and preservatives.

Oils and other extracts from plants have been applied throughout the history as or in cosmetic products. In spite of the fact that many are synthesized in the laboratories today, essential oils and extracts from plants are today applied primarily because of their fragrance properties (3).

Fragrant essential oils contain many of the same fragrances allergens evaluated by EU and must be stated on the label, if they are contained in leave on cosmetic products, in a concentration of more than 0.001%.

The EU Scientific Committee of Cosmetics and non-food products (SCCNFP) claimed in 2003 that essential oils applied in cosmetic products must comply with the demands on perfumes with respect to content of fragrance allergens (4). The claim compensates for investigations that indicate the difference in amount of allergens between synthetic fragrances and fragrance substances extracted from natural products. Application of essential oils causes serious problems for an effective quality control. Depending on parameters, such as the quality of the plant, which part of the plant is applied, extraction technique, time of harvest and climate, the content of sensitizing substances in the extracted oils may vary considerably (3), (4).

If the application of essential oils in massage, baby and body oils implies a content of one or more declaration demanding fragrance substances in concentration above 0.001%, they must be declared on the product, if they are cosmetic products. If it is not a cosmetic product, classification and labelling in accordance with the chemicals legislation are demanded. If the product appears to contain a sensitizing substance in a concentration > 0.1%, this must be indicated using the sentence “Contain (name of the sensitizing substance). May effect allergic reaction”, unless other limits for the substance in question have been specified (5).

The content of each individual vegetable and essential oils is registered in the survey. The following section gives a total description of these oils.

3.2.1 Vegetable oils

During the survey of massage, baby, and body oils, the applied oils are divided into vegetable non-volatile and volatile (essential oils) The vegetable non-volatile oils are applied as basic oil in the products.

Table 3-2 The most often applied basic oils (non-volatile oils) in massage, baby and body oils

Name Number of products INCI CAS no
Almond oil 16 Prunus amygdalus dulcis oil 8007-69-0
Jojoba oil 13 Buxus chinensis / Simmondsia chinensis oil -/61789-91-1
Peanut oil 10 Arachis hypogaea oil 8002-03-7
Olive oil 7 Olea europaea oil 8001-25-0
Wheat germ oil 5 Triticum vulgare germ oil 68917-73-7
Soya bean oil 5 Glycine soja oil 8001-22-7
Sesame oil 4 Sesamun indicum oil 8008-74-0
Macadamia nut oil 3 Macadamia ternifolia seed oil  
Safflower oil 3 Carthamus tinctorius seed oil 8001-23-8
Abricot seed oil 3 Prunus armeniaca kernel oil 72869-69-3
Rice oil 2 Oryza sativa germ oil 90106-37-9
Sunflower oil 2 Helianthus annuus seed oil 8001-21-6
Cocoabutter /extraxt from bark and seed 2 Theobroma cacao extract 84649-99-0 / 8002-31-1
Plantain onagraceae oil 2 Oenothera biennis oil -
Avocado oil 1 Persea Gratissima oil 8024-32-6
Maize oil 1 Zea mays extract 84696-06-0
Burdock oil 1 Arctium tomentosum -

Olive oil, peanut oil and cocoa butter, which in accordance with the survey has been applied as basic oil in several massage, baby and body oils, is in literature described to cause other unwanted effects than allergy, e.g. acne and inflammation in the hair follicle of the skin (comedones) (3).

Table 3-3 shows different essential oils and individual extracts declared on the products contained in this survey. Some of the listed substances can be purchased both as pure essential oils and can be found as ingredients in massage, baby and body oils. In attachment 1 is listed the natural appearance and application of the 26 fragrance substances which the EU considers allergenic and of which (76 %) have been found during the survey.

Table 3-3 Applied essential oils and extracts in massage,  baby and body oils (purchased products and products found on the internet)

Name Number of
Lavender oil 8 Lavandula angustifolia oil 8000-28-0
Birch leaves extract 7 Betula alba leaf extract 84012-15-7
Lemon oil 7 Citrus medica limonum oil 8008-56-8
Marigound 4 Calendula officinalis oil 70892-20-5
Arnica oil 4 Arnica montana extract 68990-11-4
Rose olie (damascener rose) 4 Rosa damascena oil -
Rosemary extrakt 4 Rosmarinus officinalis extract 84604-14-8
Camille flower oil 3 Chamomilla recutita oil 8002-66-2
St. John's Wort 3 Hypericum Perforatum oil 68917-49-7
Mandarin oil 3 Citrus nobilis oil 8008-31-9
Orange oil 2 Citrus aurantium dulcis oil 8008-57-9
Geranium oil 2 Pelargonium odoratis-simum (geranium) oil -
Peppermint oil 2 Mentha piperita 8006-90-4
Benzoetree extract 2 Styrax benzoin extract 84929-79-3
Aloe Vera 2 Aloe Barbadensis -
Nettle 2 Urtica urens / Urtica dioica 90131-83-2 / -
Anis oil 1 Pimpinella anisum 84775-42-8
Lime blossom oil 1 Tilia cordata oil 68916-81-4
Patchouli oil 1 Pogostemon cablin oil -
Juniper berry oil 1 Juniperus communis oil 73049-62-4
Eucalyptus oil 1 Eucalyptus citriodora oil 223748-96-7
Ginger oil 1 Zingiber officinale oil 8007-08-7
Basile oil 1 Ocimum basilicum 8015-73-4
Palm rose oil 1 Cymbopogon martini oil 84649-81-0
Sage oil 1 Salvia sclarea -
Sandalwood oil 1 Amyris balsamifera oil 8015-65-4
Tea Tree oil 1 Melaleuca Alternifolia oil 85085-48-9
Vanilla oil 1 Vanilla planifolia -
Ylang ylang oil 1 Cananga odorata oil 8006-81-3
Peru balsam 1 Myroxylon Pereirae 8007-00-9
Sphagnum extract 1 - -
Smooth burdock extract 1 Arctium lappa extract 84012-13-5
Fennel olie 1 Foeniculum vulgare oil 8006-84-6
Coffee bean oil 1 Coffea arabica oil -
Cardamom oil 1 Elettaria cardamomum oil 8000-66-6
Coming oil 1 Carum carvi oil 8000-42-8
Paddock pipe extract 1 Equisetum arvense extract -
Hawthorn oil 1 Hippophae rhamnoides oil 225234-03-7
Black extract 1 Prunus spinosa extract 90105-94-5
Citronella oil, orange grass 1 Cymbopogon nardus oil 8000-29-1
Rose oil (hip seed oil) 1 Rosa moschata seed oil -
Rose oil (moss rose) 1 Rosa centifolia oil 84604-12-6
Rose oil (vinegar rose) 1 Rosa gallica oil 84604-13-7
Rose oil (dog rose) 1 Rosa canina oil 84696-47-9

On the labelling of 17 products is stated pure essential oils or ‘perfume (essential oils)’. In this case it is not known which essential oils it concerns.

Table 3-3 shows that 5 different rose oils were found, the damascene rose oil as the most popular. The fragrance of all lemon oils is fresh and is applied in many products. Extracts of different species of both lemon and roses were found.

Body oils are marketed more frequently than massage oils with a specific fragrance, e.g. ‘lavender oil’. Table 3-4 illustrates how many body oils the survey has identified and with which fragrance they have been marketed.

Table 3-4 Most frequently applied fragrances in body oils on the Danish market

Frangrance Number of products INCI
Lavender 6 Lavandula angustifolia
Rose 5 Rose sp.
Lemon 4 Citrus sp.
Rosemary 3 Rosmarinus officinalis
Marigold 3 Calendula officinalis

Together with arnica, safflower, mandarin and chamomile oil (table 3-3), the oils in table 3-4 are the most common in massage, baby and body oils on the Danish market in the spring of 2005.

The survey of massage, baby and body oils has identified totally 65 different oils extracted from plants. The survey is assessed to give a realistic impression of how many different sorts of oil this type of product contains. 31 of the 65 different oils only appear once on the labels of the products comprised by the survey.

3.2.2 Other ingredients

Vegetable substances such as extracts, oils and essential oils are practically all ingredients in the surveyed massage oils.

Preservatives are only applied in a very small number of the surveyed products (8%). The most frequently applied preservative is phenoxyethanol (CAS nr. 122-99-6), which has been applied in 3 different products.

The mineral oil paraffinum liquidum (CAS no. 8012-95-1) has been applied in 3 products.

Addition of an antioxidant to avoid rancidity of the product is more common. Tocopherol (CAS no. 10191-41-0) and tocopheryl acetate (CAS no. 7695-91-2) have been added to14 products. Tocopheryl acetate is found naturally in wheat germ oil, which is applied as basic oil in several products. The literature describes the substance as a mild contact allergen, but well-known in cosmetics (6).

3 products have been added ethanol (CAS nr. 64-17-5), and a violet colourant has been applied (CI 60725) in one product. Potential impurities and hazardous substances

Vegetable oils may contain unintended impurities. Impurities in oils and extracts may be pesticide residues, residue concentrations of the applied solvent, metals, microbiological pollution, plant chemicals and metabolites incident to the extraction (7).

Examples of unwanted substances in vegetable oil based massage oils are shown below. Some substances are naturally occurring components or metabolites, and others are pollution from the extraction. Independent of the fact that the different massage, baby and body oils are comprised by the regulations in the EU cosmetics order, it is interesting to examine, if they, or a selection of these substances are found in the products, as they are all applied to the skin and may cause a health risk to the consumers when applied as desired.

Many massage, body and essential oils contain fragrance substances. One or more of the 26 fragrance substances that are assessed by the EU as allergenic are likely to occur in many of the massage oils, as many of the fragrance substances are used very often (8). It is interesting to examine the volume of concentration of these fragrance substances.

The substance safrol is found in rosmary oil extract. The substance is prohibited in concentrations above 100 ppm in cosmetic products, as it has show carcinogenic properties and liver tumours when administered orally. The Council of Europe recommends that cosmetic products for babies do not contain safrol (9).

The substance estragol are found in various spices, for instance anis oil and basilie. The substance is slightly hepatocarcinogenic when administered subcutaneously to young mice. The Council of Europe asks for additional examinations of the substance and its concentrations in cosmetic ingredients (9).

The substance methyleugenole can be found in rose oils. I accordance with the cosmetic order, enclosure 2, it is not permitted in concentrations > 0.0002% in cosmetic leave-on products – or 0.002%, if the massage is placed on an equal footing with perfumed creams (1).

The substance escin can be found in e.g. horse chestnut oil. The Council of Europe recommends that the content of escin in fragrances does not exceed more then 1% (9).

The substance eucalyptus oil is found in eucalyptus oil and causes hypersensitivity reactions (9).

The substance methylsaliclat is the main component of wintergreen, which is the essential oil from the plant Gaultheria procumbes. Methylsalicylat is also a naturally occurring metabolite in extract of birch leaves. The Council of Europe recommends that extract of birch leave is only applied in cosmetic products, if they do not contain methylsalicylat (9).

Peru balsam is a highly allergenic substance that is not allowed cosmetic products (1).


Version 1.0 October 2006, © Danish Environmental Protection Agency