Massage therapy lubricants are called massage media. Their function is to reduce the friction between the therapist’s hands and the client’s skin. If the therapist does not use enough, the client will feel as though his/her skin is burning. If too much is used, the therapist cannot get a good grip on the soft tissue and, therefore, cannot perform his/her job correctly.
The amount of massage therapy lubricant used depends on several things: how softening it is in nature, how dry the client’s skin is, how much body hair the client has, and the type of massage being performed.
There are several types of massage therapy lubricants. Oil, cream and lotion are popular choices and are used most often. Powder, cocoa butter, and liniment may be used, too.
Swedish massage takes quite a bit as the therapist’s hands glide across most of the client’s body. Deep tissue massage does not require as much because the therapist must grasp skin and underlying tissue and move it.
You should beware of skin sensitivities and allergies. It is a good idea to ask the client about skin allergies. I use a good hypoallergenic cream for most of my massages. It is a bit more expensive, but my clients are worth it!
Cream does not stain the sheets like oil does and it absorbs into the skin so the client does not feel greasy. Avoid using anything with rubbing alcohol or mineral oil. These are not good for the skin and can clog pores. Mineral oil is a cancer-causing agent. Definitely not good for the client!
To prevent contamination to your large container of media, take out enough for one client with a clean spatula. I put my cream into small plastic salad dressing containers, like you get with take-out salad. I buy them inexpensively at Sam’s and place the lid on until the client is ready for the massage. Then, just toss the leftover, if any. Never mix it back and contaminate the large container. During the massage, place the container on the table or in your scrub pocket for easy access.
If you are using oil, pour enough into a small clean bottle for your pocket or put in a bottle that will fit into a holster around your waist and pump it out.
Never apply massage therapy lubricants directly to the client’s skin. Always apply it to your clean hands and rub them together to warm the lubricant so it will be pleasing to the client’s skin.
Massage oil is the most common and most widely-used lubricant in Swedish massage. The type made from nuts and seeds are best since they have the most nutritional value for the skin.
Some massage therapists that I know use vegetable or olive oil. Personally, I find this method to be too greasy and I do not like for my clients to smell like food! They say they use it as it is cheap.
This media stains linens and once they are stained, you cannot use them anymore. If you do, the clients will think the sheets are not sanitary. If you choose to use this massage media, let the client know ahead of time so they can wear old clothes and not take the chance of staining their nice clothes. Remember, the client should come first.
Do not use mineral oil as it is a cancer-causing agent. There are some nice-smelling commercial ones on the market that can be used if this is your preference.
Lotion is good for deep tissue work. It does not allow much glide and won’t leave the skin greasy. It quickly absorbs into the skin so you use more but it costs less than cream.
For me cream is the best massage therapy lubricant. It has such a smooth feel and is more softening to the skin than lotion. It is not greasy like oil. It is less messy and there are less stains. It lasts longer on the client’s skin than lotion and almost as long as massage oil. It does cost a little more, but I don’t mind pleasing my clients. I use a wonderful hypoallergenic brand that glides on the skin and works so well with Swedish massage.
Massage powder is another acceptable massage therapy lubricant. Any type, like baby, cornstarch, or talc will work. Friction reduction with this method of massage media is not as good as cream or oil. It works best for manual lymphatic drainage.
If you choose this as a massage therapy lubricant, be careful with where you sprinkle it. The particles can enter the nose of the client and the therapist and cause coughing and lots of sneezing.
Cocoa Butter Sticks or smooth cocoa butter in a tin are great for deep tissue massage. They allow more control over the tissues and the skin absorbs it well. The client’s body temperature melts it so a little goes a long way. It is rare for someone to be allergic to cocoa butter.
Liniment can be used as a massage therapy lubricant, primarily if the client is in pain. It contains alcohol and oil which creates a sense of heat on the skin.
Do not use it on the client’s hands or near the mucous membranes. Liniment works by irritating the skin and then it dilates blood vessels so there is more blood supplied to the skin surface. They produce an analgesic feeling for the client, relieving muscle aches and pains during the massage therapy session.
Massage powder is good when you don’t want to slip and slide around but you need a small amount of massage therapy lubricant to avoid friction, such as when you want to release a trigger point.