For students and practicing massage therapists alike, choosing a massage product can be intimidating. Which one is the best? As is often the case in massage, there’s no one right answer. There are, however, many good answers depending on your own preferences, priorities, and needs. Here are some factors to keep in mind when choosing your own lubricants.
There are gels, pure oils, blended oils, creams, lotions and even powders. To make it even more complicated, each manufacturer puts their own spin on each, so even a plain jojoba oil from one company can feel dramatically different on the skin than a plain jojoba oil from another company. Yikes.
This comes into play before applying any personal preferences into the equation. If you’re in school or employed in someone else’s business, there might be guidelines about what kinds of massage products you can use. These rules can range from extremely specific (unscented grapeseed oil only) to more flexible (anything you want, as long as it’s water-dispersible). If you’re really unhappy with the limitations on (or develop an allergic reaction to) massage products in your school or place of business, it’s worth asking about whether they’d be willing to be flexible, but otherwise you’re going to need to find something that works within those guidelines.
Do you know what’s in your massage product? Do you care? Lotions and creams will all contain preservatives of some sort, due to their water content. Some may be irritating, while others are fairly benign. Oils are more likely to be single-ingredient, but aren’t necessarily. Be sure to read your labels! For some people, choosing organic ingredients, sustainably farmed ingredients, or ingredients that are vegan and have not been tested on animals is an important personal or business choice.
Ingredients are a huge factor for me, since I have my hands and arms in the product for 4 to 5 hours each work day, and ultimately, the ingredients are sinking into my bloodstream. I won’t use products with Octyl Palmitate, Phenoxyethanol, PEG-7. Don’t know what those are? Make the time to watch this video with product expert and owner of Pure Pro Massage Products Dianna Dapkins.* (Around the 38 minute mark I learned stuff about chemicals and fragrances that floored me.)
There are also other, less personal reasons to choose or avoid certain ingredients. Essential oils may place additional stress on clients who are taking combination drug therapy for HIV. Arnica is an ingredient that may help speed healing and reduce pain from an injury. And of course, clients may have allergies to anything from odd-sounding components like octyl palmitate to garden-variety ingredients like peppermint or coconut oil, so keeping multiple massage products on hand for different clients is a smart idea.
Be aware that the ‘Organic’ label does not mean that all of the ingredients are entirely organic. It just means that at least one of the ingredients is. Do your research, and don’t buy from any company that won’t give you the full list of ingredients for each and every product.
What kind of massages do you give? Do you use lots of long, relaxing strokes requiring a lubricant with excellent glide? Do you like working with hot stones? An oil might be best for you. Do you need really good grip for tiny, precise trigger point work? Give focused massages on a small area of bare skin with clients who are fully or partially clothed? A cream might be better suited to your needs. Some styles of massage, like Thai massage, use no lubricant at all. Choose the products that make the most sense for the massages you give most.
Another reason to watch this video: you’ll learn a ton about what types of product are best for certain types of massage, and how using the wrong product can mess with your body mechanics and shorten your career.
Going beyond the components of a massage product that might be helpful or harmful for a given individual, your choice of oil, cream, or lotion as a whole can also affect your clients. Lotions may leave an elderly client feeling cold, while an oil might be too slick on a runner who is still sweating after having run a marathon. Clients may also simply prefer one texture over another, for reasons totally unrelated to the benefits or drawbacks that only occur to a massage therapist. If the feel of oil grosses your client out, don’t use it on her! The last thing you need is for something so small and easily fixed to color your client’s impression of their massage experience.
No doubt you’ve already gathered that I’m a purist and a bit opinionated about product. I use Pure Pro’s Ultra oil and their Arnica Relief Lotion (ah-maz-ing for athletes). I keep Hobacare Jojoba oil on hand and use it on clients who prefer a single-ingredient product. I use Pure Pro’s Peppermint Pedango foot cream at the end of every massage, too.
What do you like? Try a variety of products out. Creams, lotions, and oils. Scented and unscented. Single oils and blends. Try a variety of sources too; not all jojoba is the same! Many businesses will sell sample sizes for a dollar or two, so shop around. Massage school is the perfect time to experiment with all kinds of massage products and see what sticks. (Or slips!)
*Full disclosure, I used to do some consulting work with Pure Pro, but I was a customer first, and I make no money off this (or any) endorsement of their products.Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap / FreeDigitalPhotos.net