Massage Question – Can Massaged Oil Be Left Overnight? What Is Skin Absorption Time?

This article is in reply to a question by one of our readers. The query is

“Sir, how many hours does it take for the oil to be completely accepted by the skin? I’m sure it is more than 45 mins as many claim. Is it advisable for a healthy person to do full body oil massage before going to sleep or is it not advisable? By this I mean overnight oil massage and just plain water bath in the morning.”

Let us analyze.

First up, I very much appreciate the analytical thinking behind these two questions.

A. How to much time does the oil take to get completely accepted by skin? 

The time for skin to get the oil, completely accepted depends on many factors.

Factors affecting time of oil penetration

1. Nature of the massage oil –
Ancient Ayurvedic scholars have used a term “Teekshna” – meaning piercing, deep penetrating etc. The herbs and ingredients used in the oil, if they contain more herbs with this Teekshna property, more will be the oil penetration into the skin in less time.

2. Oil Temperature – 
Any oil will get more absorbed when it is in lukewarm temperature. If it is very cold, the absorption time will be much longer. Hence it is a good idea to heat the oil slightly before using it for massage. Over-heating or re-boiling the oil is contra indicated, as it may cause destruction of phyto-chemicals in the herbal oil.

3. Weather – 
As per Ayurvedic principles, massage is done to balance Vata Dosha at various levels such as skin, muscles, joints, bones, ligaments etc. Apart from those oils used for skin diseases, and to heal wound, whenever the oil massage is done to relieve pain, or to strengthen joints, relax muscles, or to rejuvenate the body, it is usually targeted against Vata Dosha.

Hence, in between June to September and during winter – In these periods, where there is Vata increase in body and also in atmosphere, the oil gets easily absorbed into the body.

4. Skin texture and body type – 
In people with Vata body type, with features like dry skin, dry organs, rough hair, thin body with prominent veins, brown eyes, etc, the oil absorption will be fast.

In contrast, in people with Kapha body type, with oily skin, well nourished body, etc, the oil absorption will be slightly slower. This is because, oil has similar properties to that of Kapha. A Kapha body type means, well oiled body. Since there is already good oil component inside the body, and the body is naturally configured to be well-oiled, when external oil is applied, then naturally the absorption is a bit slower.

5. Age – Usually oil absorption is faster in elderly people, as Vata predominance is seen at later stages of life.

6. Digestive fire (Pitta)
The oil absorption from skin is directly influenced by a type of Pitta called ‘Bhrajaka Pitta’. (Read my Tridosha book). Oil absorption by skin is also a type of  digestion, which occurs at the level of skin. Usually oil massage is not indicated when there is indigestion. Hence, a person with good digestion will have quick oil absorption.

6. Disease and body actions – 
Stressed mind – High Vata imbalance – good absorption of oil, when applied over head as in treatments like Shirodhara, Shirovasti etc.

Not-so-stressed mind – Lesser rate of absorption, when compared to stressed mind.

Person, following a good exercise schedule, with well built muscles – Active Vata advantage –  good rate of absorption and usage of oil.

Person without good exercise – lesser active Vata – lesser absorption.

Body with pain and arthritis – Faster absorption.

Body without pain and arthritis – lesser rate of absorption.

As much the body needs, so much the supply. 

7. You massage it or not. 
As a general rule, if massage is done after oil application, rate of absorption will be higher. Because

  • Slight heat generated due to massage aids in absorption.
  • Massage leads to more uniform distribution of oil over the body, leading to better absorption rate.

So based on these factors, the skin absorption time for the massaged oil may vary from 15 minutes to 1 hour. (If you ask me).

Can oil be left overnight?

B. Can the oil be left overnight? 

It is not a good idea to apply the oil to the body and leave it overnight without washing it off.

Evening part of the day is naturally dominated by Vata. Hence it is a good idea to get oil massage at evening time.

But if it is left overnight, the first part of night is dominated by Kapha. The oil, like I said, is naturally having Kapha favouring qualities. So, both the factors together will lead to increase of kapha in skin, leading to itching and other skin complications.

Hence it is best to wash off the massaged oil after say, one hour in the evening with water bath.

C. Now the question is, which water is good for bath, after the oil massage?

The question is left for the readers. The answer is hidden in the above explanations only. Just try. 🙂

Related Article: Does massage work?

32 comments on “Massage Question – Can Massaged Oil Be Left Overnight? What Is Skin Absorption Time?

  • vin

    13/05/2012 - 7:01 am

    Thanks for this detailed explanation. What is your advice on how to use soapnut powders like shikakai, chigare, reetha or other ayurvedic powders.

    Reply to comment
    • Dr J V Hebbar MD(Ayu)

      13/05/2012 - 11:22 am

      They are very good for hair and to scalp skin.I use the same powder for my hair in place of shampoo.
      Wet your hairs, take powder in hand, add little water, make a paste apply it on hair, leave it for 2 minutes, wash off.

      Reply to comment
  • Purush

    13/05/2012 - 3:42 pm

    “Slight heat generated due to massage aids in absorption.”
    Hence hot water. Right?

    Reply to comment
  • Ashraf

    14/05/2012 - 5:06 pm

    //Any oil will get more absorbed when it is in lukewarm temperature. // warm water is good for washing body after oil massage. isn’t it??

    Reply to comment

      24/10/2013 - 6:03 pm

      sir, a pitta body type should bath with normal water. but u r telling that after oil massage we should bath with hot water. that mean a person who is not habitual with hot water bath. then he should not do abhyanga massage?

      Reply to comment
      • Dr J V Hebbar MD(Ayu)

        24/10/2013 - 6:44 pm

        Hello Saurabh, a very good question.
        Whenever oil massage is done, hot water bath is necessary. Oil massage balances Vata. If cold water bath is taken, it will again increase Vata, because, cold is a quality of Vata. So, oil massage and hot water bath are inseparable.
        For a Pitta body type person, not very hot, but a lukewarm water bath is good enough, after massage. Even the choice of oil for massage can be targeted to balance Pitta, with oils like Manjishtadi Taila.

        Reply to comment
  • Rajkumari Arya

    14/05/2012 - 10:45 pm

    Everything you write is indeed very useful.Can you please tell me what should be done for frequent headaches?

    Reply to comment
  • vin

    18/05/2012 - 1:21 am

    I think you are right about the skin absorption times. Initially when i was using soap, the oil used to take many hours to absorb, hence i used to apply oil and sleep and wash the next day.
    But nowadays after about 4 months of stopping soap on the whole body the absorption time has come down to 2 hours. infact after 2 hours there is almost no trace of any oil. hopefully after a few more months oil absorption time will further come down to 1 hour or less.

    Reply to comment
  • sarita

    03/06/2012 - 10:37 pm

    Thinking about it, we apply oil to our head and leave it overnight. Infact we regularly apply oil and it stays on. Isn’t that bad?

    Reply to comment
    • Dr J V Hebbar MD(Ayu)

      07/06/2012 - 7:41 pm

      Many people apply oil and leave it overnight. That is a known practice. That can not be said as a bad practice, since there is difference in purpose between whole body massage and hair oil application.
      Hair oil application is done usually to improve quality of scalp skin and hairs.Hair oil is also applied to relieve headache, stress and to induce natural sleep. Hence, targeting is towards Pitta Dosha (pridominantly) and Vata Dosha. Night, being dominated by Moon and cold properties, helps to naturally calm Pitta. It also helps in better absorption of nutritions of the oil from the scalp skin.

      But if you are applying oil all over the body, most of the times, it is to relieve body pains, (Vata dosha). Hence I said, it is best to wash off the oil.
      However, if you are applying oil over the body in very small quantity, or if you are applying Ayurvedic liniments or pain relief creams, then it can be left overnight, since most of the oily part eventually evaporates.

      Reply to comment
      • Viraj Shah (@virajhshah)

        17/10/2012 - 12:31 pm

        Oils such as coconut, ghee and tallow are VERY close to the body’s own sebum. (Latin word for tallow is sebum) When oil exists on skin, in triglyceride form, it is broken down into fatty acids by bacteria on skin. This increases acidity of skin and gives skin a protective barrier against infections. When there is a cut, an animal instinctively licks it. Although saliva has anti microbial properties due to alkalinity, its also that saliva can break down these triglycerides and increase acidity of skin, thus giving protection. When the skin is used to frequent baths, soap being alkaline, it loses its natural acidity and also the bacteria that are responsible for breaking down of skin oil(sebum). Therefore it will not quickly ‘digest’ the oils placed on it. When skin is in its natural state, and used to digesting its own secretions, then it will absorb oils placed on it far more quickly. Bottom line, do not bathe too frequently with soap!
        This theory taken from “Bruce Fife’s book on coconut oil.”

        Reply to comment
      • Gaurav

        27/10/2013 - 4:57 am

        Thanks for this valuable explanation regarding the difference between the purpose of head massage and body massage. Never would have guessed that head massage at night helps primarily balance Pitta…was just thinking it’s a way to get some nutrients into the brain and relax the nervous system (Vata)!

        It wouldn’t be a good idea to use oils with coconut base on head at night since that could aggravate Kapha/congestion, right?

        Any suggestions for which oils (and oil bases) to use for head at night (may be various suggestions depending on constitution and/or helpfulness)?

        While it is alright to do Abhyanga every day, does the same apply to putting oil on the head at night? If not, how many times a week (perhaps a range) would be optimal? And how to decide the optimal based on subjective factors if any (for both body and head massage)?

        And finally, for one who has aggravated Vata, and also sensitive Pitta tending to cause heat boils and such, are there any ideal oil mixes that could be used for full body massage? It’s sort of a dilemma for my limited understanding, because Vata requires warming oils and Pitta requires cooling oils. Or is there a different massage technique or tricks that could be used for such cases…?

        Reply to comment
        • Dr J V Hebbar MD(Ayu)

          01/12/2013 - 1:30 pm

          Those who can tolerate some extra bit of coldness at night, (guys like me) can apply coconut oil at night.
          Symptoms to watch while applying oil at night – worsening of sinusitis, increasing cough at night, headache, migraine, heaviness of nose, head, forehead, increase in earache, vomiting sensation, throat irritation etc. If someone gets these symptoms, then it is better for him to avoid applying coconut oil based hair oils at night. They can try with oils with sesame oil base. Even if that is causing such symtpoms, better they avoid any type of hair oil at night.

          Those who have severe burning sensation and excess body heat can apply coconut oil at night.
          Oil to head / oil to body – can be applied everyday. Every night or not? – If you do not have any of the above said symptoms, you can apply it every night.

          For Vata increase, with tendency for Pitta, Maha Narayana Taila – in room temperature or just lukewarm is ideal for daily massage. (It should not feel very cold to touch).

          Reply to comment
  • nadira

    11/11/2012 - 1:00 am

    Can one use oil as body lotion(olive/coconut)? First bathe with soap and follow up with oil?
    Or should oil be put and then removed with soap(or bath powder) after an hour? If so, then what can we use as body moisturiser?

    Reply to comment
    • Dr J V Hebbar MD(Ayu)

      11/11/2012 - 6:27 pm

      In a very low quantity, just as a thin layer, olive / coconut oil can be used as a natural moisturizer. This is not recommended for people with already oily skin.
      Using it for massage, and then washing off with soap or bath powder is recommended for almost every healthy individual.
      If not one hour, even 20 – 30 minutes gap between self oil massage and bath is good enough.
      Related article –

      Reply to comment
      • Dr J V Hebbar MD(Ayu)

        12/11/2012 - 9:40 am

        You can use Kumkumadi Taila, in a very thin layer to the face.
        Just a drop of it, spread it across your palms and gently rub all-over the face. This should be good enough.

        Reply to comment
  • Mano

    19/01/2014 - 11:20 am

    Will taking head massage with an ayurvedic oil like Neelibringadi thailam (or kera tailam) or normal coconut oil and washing hair after an hour with a herbal powder is safe for hair.?? I see hair fall controlled in this approach. And i ll be getting itchy scalp if i didnt wash hair for 2 continuous days. Can you comment on how often we can wash hair? Is there any problem in washing everyday?

    Reply to comment
  • Subramanya

    07/12/2015 - 12:50 pm

    One of the recent article in Kannada weekly magazine ‘Taranga’ I got to know that putting Oil overnight will stop ‘brahma randra’ to receive cosmic energy !! (Chakras ) I wonder Many of the info fragmented !! health people get confuses with fragment info about this !! few of the trending brands like nisargalaya they have put apply on night for good effect !! we don’t want to loose free energy (vishwa shakthi) that is available from universe !!!

    any right guidance , debet on this will be good!!!

    Reply to comment
    • Dr J V Hebbar MD(Ayu)

      07/12/2015 - 4:57 pm

      Oil is never a barrier for the free energy. It is the carrier for free energy. Hence, there is no truth in saying that oil application at night would clog the free energy out.

      Reply to comment
  • Dr J V Hebbar MD(Ayu)

    21/07/2016 - 5:05 pm

    Abhyanga in evening is also fine. Between 5 – 7 is ideal time. After hair wash, make sure to dry the hair thoroughly. If you are prone to sinusitis and cold, evening bath may sometimes worsen it. Use only hot water for bath / hair wash.

    Reply to comment
    • Anusha

      26/07/2016 - 8:04 pm

      Thank you so much for your reply.

      Reply to comment
    • Anusha

      26/07/2016 - 11:12 pm

      I have always used hot water for hair wash even if I haven’t oiled my hair previously. But some western theories say not to use hot water to wash hair or for that matter for normal bath as they strip us of natural oils from our scalp and skin.So can we or can we not use hot water?

      Reply to comment
      • Shriraksha

        15/04/2017 - 6:15 pm

        Sir if we do abhyanga is morning is it good?

        Reply to comment
  • vivek

    04/05/2017 - 8:29 am

    Which is the best time to take gingelly oil bath,morning or evening.if we take oil bath in the morning,after that we may travel for work in the sun,then how it is possible to take oil bath in the morning.some body says that,we should not travel or work in the sun after taking oil bath,but some body says that taking oil bath in the morning is good than taking oil bath in the father said that his grandfather use to take oil bath in the evening,and he able to bite sugar cane at the age of 80 and also he lived for 100 years

    Reply to comment
    • Dr J V Hebbar MD(Ayu)

      29/05/2017 - 10:06 am

      Early morning or evening – both are good times to take gingelly oil bath.
      There is no harsh rule that you should not travel. You can travel after Abhyanga.

      Reply to comment
  • Suganya

    19/08/2017 - 11:26 am

    I have oily scalp. If i dont apply oil also it looks oily when i comb. What should i do to get rid of this? Suggest something. Because of this am getting more pimples also.

    Reply to comment
  • Hita

    20/12/2017 - 12:04 am

    Which medicated oil is best for hot rough palm/soles and skin ?

    Reply to comment
  • Dr J V Hebbar MD(Ayu)

    14/02/2018 - 6:39 pm

    Warming up is fine.

    Reply to comment
  • Dhruti

    18/08/2018 - 7:05 pm

    Can my mum 71yrs do gentle warm sesame oil massage at night,before sleeping. And bath next day?

    Reply to comment

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