Muscle Oils

The prevention and treatment of wrinkles has always been a high priority in Beauty Culture. In the early twentieth century there was a range of wrinkle treatments available, each of which was a remedy for one or more of the suggested causes: poor diet, sluggish circulation, loss of skin elasticity, loss of subcutaneous fat and muscle weakness.

Muscle weakness

The supposed relationship between muscles and wrinkles was that when the facial muscles weakened – the result of illness, worry, neglect, advancing years or ‘overuse’ – this caused the skin to sag and fall into folds, the end result being wrinkles. According to this idea, building up the facial muscles would firm the skin, improve facial contours and reduce the production and visibility of facial lines.

It was believed at that time that massage ‘exercised’ muscles, and so strengthened them, but they could also be ‘fed’ by applying a ‘muscle oil’ – also known as a ‘suppling oil’, ‘toning oil’, ‘tissue oil’, ‘wrinkle oil’ or ‘oily skin food’ which would penetrate the skin, nourish the muscles and make them full and firm once more.

See also: Massage, Wrinkles and Double Chins

The rationale behind muscle oils is very similar to that for ‘skin foods’ which were also believed to feed the skin; in their case to build up the amount of subcutaneous fat, the lack of which was also seen as a cause of facial lines.

See also: Skin Foods

The belief in the flesh-building ability of vegetable oils was widespread and they were even recommended as a part of a treatment for thinness, e.g., to feed the face during dieting so that it would not look gaunt or to build up the breasts.

It is easier to “take off” flesh than it is to “put it on,” I have found by experience; but the best treatment is to sleep as much and as often as possible; to eat as much of the most nourishing food as the system will assimilate; to eschew nervous excitement, brain work, and muscular exercise; to get as much fresh air as possible, and as much laughter; to maintain an equable temperament, a contented mind, and a tendency to general indolence. A course of massage and some kinds of medicated baths will greatly help this treatment. Bathing the neck and bosom in cold water for ten minutes daily, and then rubbing in warm olive oil, almond oil, or any good skin-food, will develop this portion of the body in time; but “fattening up” is always a slow process.

(Browning, 1898, pp. 219-220)

See also: Bust Treatments

Eleanor Adair

Perhaps the greatest exponent of muscle oils in the early years of Beauty Culture was Eleanor Adair who constantly advertised the benefits of her Ganesh Eastern Muscle Oil, referring to it as the “The Great Beautifier”.

Ganesh Eastern Muscle Oil
This notably successful preparation has been called “The Great Beautifier.” Great because its qualities and benefits are fundamental, not superficial.
When fatigue, overstrain or neglect cause the muscles which form the contour of the face, to sag, droop and contract, the outer skin becomes loose, wrinkled and lined; hollows and puffiness ensue.
Only by rejuvenating, stimulating and nourishing these tired muscles and tissues until they are healthy, full and firm, will the outer skin stretch over them smoothly and evenly, permitting a natural youthful color to bloom through the cuticle.
This can be accomplished satisfactorily and in surprisingly quick time by use of the Ganesh Eastern Muscle Oil, which is so akin to the natural oils of the skin that the tissues rapidly absorb it and are strengthened by it.
Mrs. Adair’s clients throughout the United States and Europe, who have, by consistent use of “The Great Beautifier,” achieved an ideal complexion, where before there were blemishes, snap their fingers at cosmetics.
If fine lines or heavy wrinkles or hollows mar your face, or if your skin is tinged with sallowness and discolorations, write for a bottle of the Ganesh Eastern Muscle Oil. Begin to use it immediately under Mrs. Adair’s personal directions.

(Eleanor Adair advertisement, 1916)

See also: Eleanor Adair

Eleanor Adair was not alone in extolling the benefits of this type of cosmetic with most of the major salon-based companies using muscle oils in their treatments at some time or other.


Formulae for muscle oils appeared in most cosmetic chemistry texts right up to the outbreak of the Second World War, after which they disappeared.

To feed muscles, they were supposed to be made of a good, heavy ‘nourishing’ oil, such as olive or almond oil.

Tissues oils are applied to the sagging parts of the face and are absorbed by the skin during the hours of repose. They are made from a vegetable oil, with small quantities of a resin, terebene, methyl salicylate, and camphor oil suitable perfumed. An example follows:—

No. 1590

1000    Sweet almond oil.
5    Styrax.
10    Essential oil of camphor.
5    Methyl salicylate.
5    Terebene.
10    Rose centifloria, No 1091.

Rub down the styrax in a warm mortar and add the fixed oil. Then transfer to a bottle and add the other ingredients.
The products are sometimes called Muscle Oils.

(Poucher, 1932, pp. 513-514)

Despite the fact that many believed that only natural oils had ‘nutritive value’, mineral oils were also used, either as part of a formulation or in isolation. This was not all bad as the presence of mineral oil gave the muscle oil a continuous lubricating effect, offsetting the fact that as vegetable oils were quite easily absorbed, they sometimes left the skin feeling dry (deNavarre, 1941, p. 283) and also, being an occlusive, mineral oils helped hydrate the skin and make wrinkles temporarily less visible.

No. 1

 Per cent
Medium viscosity mineral oil99.50

No. 2

 Per cent
Castor oil10.00
Olive oil30.00
Mineral oil, medium viscosity59.60

No. 3

 Per cent
Olive oil20.00
Castor oil, odorless10.00
Mineral oil56.75

Procedure: Dissolve the lecithin and cholesterin in the alcohol and add the perfume. The add the solution to the mixed oils.

(Chilson, 1934, p. 320)

Although petroleum-based oils were cheaper and had a better shelf-life than vegetable oils, many formulators – particularly those from Europe who had long traditions of using biologicals – disagreed with including significant quantities of them. The same objections did not apply to the later inclusion of vitamin-rich oils such as cod-liver, avocado and turtle oil.

See also: Vitamin Creams and Turtle Oil


Muscle oils were most commonly used in conjunction with a skin food/tissue cream. When applied during a salon facial, the muscle oil would be patted around the eyes and wherever fine lines were found or expected, then covered by a skin food or tissue cream applied across the whole face and neck.

Muscle Oil is patted in around the eyes, mouth, nose an forehead, whenever lines appear, as the lines indicate the loss of tonicity in muscles or their inability to respond to stimulant. The Muscle Oil by its nourishing and stimulating qualities assists the muscles in regarding this tonicity.

(Lloyd, 1920)

Although they were most commonly applied before the skin cream there were variations. So, although Elizabeth Arden recommended in the 1930s that Ardena Muscle Oil be applied before patting on Velva Cream or Orange Skin Cream, this changed in the 1960s when she suggesting that her Moisture Oil – a rebadged muscle oil – be applied after these creams for maximum effect. In salon treatments, muscle oils could also be added to a skin cream as a booster.

When used at home, muscle oils were generally applied night to help ‘strengthen’ muscles around the eyes and mouth to reduce the formation or appearance of lines and wrinkles in these areas.

1. Pour a small quantity of muscle oil into the left palm.
2. Dip the right facial fingers into the oil and apply it around the eyes and along the mouth lines using a gentle patting movement.
3. Apply the tissue cream to the face and neck in the same manner as the cleansing cream.

(Livingstone & Maroni, 1945, p. 48)

Although most commonly applied to the face, muscle oils could be used on any part of the body that suffered from dry skin and were considered particularly useful for ameliorating the drying effects of very cold climates.

Marinello Muscle oil, a rich, light weight, free-flowing-oil, which softens the horny outer layer of the skin, and makes it better able to absorb the creams used in massage. It is especially recommended for a dry skin, and even when used alone, it serves as a good lubricant in movements designed to erase fine lines. It is an excellent oil to rub over the whole body after a bath, and is especially recommended for the arms and legs, to prevent chapping in cold weather.

(The science of beautistry, 1932, p. 313)

The hydrating ability of muscle oils meant that many salons used them in dry skin treatments.

For dryness without roughness.
After cleansing the skin, adjust eyepads in place. Then
1. Mix two tablespoonfuls each of emollient cream and muscle oil in a small dish and warm it (under infra-red or other heating device) until it forms a smooth fluid.
2. Soak the gauze square, or the strips, in the oil and place them on the face, and well down over the neck, leaving a small opening below the nostrils.
3. Adjust heater over the face at a comfortable distance and pat the face gently all over, following the general lines of massage, for three to five minutes.
4. Remove gauze, apply sufficient additional emollient cream for free lubrication, and continue with massage as in standard treatment.

(Wall, 1961, p. 473)


As with skin foods, the passing of the American Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&CA) in 1938 resulted in the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) coming down heavily of cosmetics that made nutritive claims, much to the delight of the American Medical Association (AMA).

[Muscle oil] is the one preparation which physicians like to single out for critical and caustic comment on the ethics of the cosmetic industry, because a vast number of claims have been made for muscle oil with none capable of substantiation. Undoubtedly, muscle oil when properly massage into the skin has a softening effect on the outer or horny layer of the epidermis, but beyond this it is useless.

(Chilson, 1934, p. 319)

Some criticism was a little more strident than this.

One of the worst “fakes” on the beauty market, for which women by the thousands used to fall, was the wrinkle remover, or muscle oil. Believe me there is no such thing. You can’t remove wrinkles with tripe of that nature. If the cuticle is dead, it should be gotten rid of by exercise and massage; if anything will help, it might be a little penetrating cream rubbed into the tissues. But don’t go for those avocado oils, muscle oils and other fancy packages of remover, sold at high prices—they’re worthless.

(Hunt, 1941, p. 62)

The 1938 American Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act only applied in the United States, so elsewhere in the world cosmetic companies were still able to use the term. However, unlike the expression ‘skin food’, which continued to be liberally used outside of the United States until the late 1960s, there seems to have been a decline in use of the term ‘muscle oil’ after the Second World War. This does not mean that cosmetic companies did away with using oils; Elizabeth Arden, for example, had a number of them in her range at one time or another including Ardena Special Oil, Special Salon Oil and Firmo-Lift Salon Treatment Oil along with the previously mentioned Muscle Oil and Moisture Oil.

Facial oils

Although products labelled as muscle oils have long since disappeared, there is an echo of them in the facial oils currently proving very popular. In a couple of ways these facial oils are similar to the ideal muscle oils of old. They are made primarily of vegetable oils like almond and olive, along with some newer plant oils, like argan. Also, although they do not promise to eliminate wrinkles by building up muscles, these facial oils are also applied for anti-ageing or moisturising reasons, with their antioxidant or special properties being stressed rather than any nutritive qualities.

Many people who try these facial oils are unhappy with the result. This could be due to the way they apply the oils and perhaps they could learn a thing or two from the past. Like muscle oils, facial oils should be:
1. used sparingly, and patted on rather than wiped – otherwise too much will be used;
2. used on freshly cleansed, moist skin – to increase the dispersion and absorption of the oil; and
3. patted in before other skin creams or lotions like a moisturiser are used.

Should the oily feeling still prove too long lasting, then mixing a few drops of the facial oil into a small portion of a face cream or lotion before applying it might do the trick.

Updated: 9th February 2015


Browning, E. H. (1898). Beauty Culture. London: Hutchinson & Co.

Chilson, F. (1934). Modern cosmetics. New York: Drug & Cosmetic Industry.

deNavarre, M. G. (1941). The chemistry and manufacture of cosmetics. Boston: D. Van Nostrand Company.

Gattefossé, R. M., & Jonquières, H. (1949). Technique of beauty products. (A.R.I.C., Trans.). London: Leonard Hill.

Hunt, T. (1941). Design for glamour. New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Livingstone, H., & Maroni, A. (1945). Everyday beauty culture. Bloomington, Ill: McKnight & McKnight.

Lloyd, E. (1920). Special lessons. Chicago: Marinello Company.

W. M. Meyer Co. (1936). The cosmetiste: A textbook on cosmetology with special reference to the employment of electricity in the care of the hair, scalp, face, and hands, also permanent waving and hair curling (9th ed.). Chicago, Ill: Author.

Poucher, W. A. (1932). Perfumes, cosmetics and soaps (4th ed., Vol. 2). London: Chapman and Hall Ltd.

The science of beautistry. Official textbook approved for use in all the national schools of cosmeticians affiliated with Marinello. (1932). New York: The National School of Cosmeticians, Inc.

Wall, F. E. (1961). The principles and practice of beauty culture (4th ed.). New York: Keystone Publications.

Wells, F. V., & Lubowe, I. I. (1964). Cosmetics and the skin. New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation.