Massage therapists can do their work using a wide variety of possible creams, oils, gels and lotions. It is only natural to wonder about the differences between these types of lubricant and their relative advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we will try to shed some light on this question.
Massage lubricants each have different properties. Some of these properties are more or less important depending on the type of massage to be performed. We will first briefly describe the most important properties of a massage lubricant and their importance to different massage types.
Properties Of Massage Lubricants
Three key properties of these lubricants are absorption, glide and friction. We discuss each of these briefly below.
This refers to the ease with which the lubricant can be absorbed into the skin. It is especially important when performing massage techniques such as a deep tissue massage. Patients with conditions such as delayed onset muscle soreness will likely prefer a lubricant with strong absorptive qualities.
This refers to the ability of the lubricant to facilitate longitudinal “gliding” massage strokes in the direction of blood flow.These strokes are intended to distribute fluid away from injured muscles so as to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Glide is fundamental to many types of massage, including deep tissue massages, Swedish massages and “deep longitudinal stripping”.
Friction refers to the ability of the lubricant to allow the therapist to get a proper grip on the patient’s skin.The times when this would be important include the application of transverse friction to injured tendons or ligaments. It helps to break down thickened scar tissue that may be causing pain to the patient.
This is the most commonly used type of lubricant. It has excellent glide properties and it is a relatively simple matter to change the oil blend by adding essential oils when you need to do so.
Essential oils are natural oils usually derived from plants and are believed to support human health and well being. High quality massage oils can contain a wide range of essential oils. Some examples are apricot kernel oil, sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil and oil from sunflower seeds.
Oils also tend to require fewer reapplications than lotions and creams during the massage. So you will get more mileage from a bottle than with other types of lubricant.
From the viewpoint of clients, oils tend to feel warm and comfortable on the skin and therefore do not distract from the massage experience.
However, there are downsides to using oils as a lubricant. For one thing, they are more likely to stain sheets and clothing. In addition, they tend to leave a greasy residue on the patient’s skin and this can be a source of annoyance to some patients. This is because oils tend to offer inferior absorption capability than other types of lubricant such as massage creams or lotions, which we discuss below.
Another potential problem with oil is the risk that they can spill on the floor during the massage and create the potential for slipping and falling (either the therapist or the patient).
In addition to the above points, oils tend to spoil sooner than other types of lubricant. This offsets the advantage we have noted above in terms of the fewer reapplications required.
Creams have a thicker texture than oils. They work well when the therapist is trying to give a massage with minimal slippage and needs high friction. They also give excellent results when the therapist needs to spend a lot of time in a small area.
Creams also have excellent absorption properties, so there is less annoyance to the client from greasy residues (as is the case with massage oil). Another advantage of a cream is its lower propensity to stain sheets or clothing – another potential source of annoyance to the client.
Just as with lotions, creams can contain a variety of skin nutrients and moisturizers such as shea butter and vitamin E. As a result, they can be a more attractive option to patients with dry or sensitive skin.
The high absorption of creams poses downsides due to the greater number of reapplications required.
In addition, the thicker consistency of a cream makes it more difficult to dispense by pumping from a bottle. It is also much more difficult to add essential oils to a massage cream.
These lubricants tend to be among the most versatile available and are compatible with a wide range of massage techniques.
In addition, they tend to be very cost effective as they stay on the body for longer periods and require fewer reapplications.
Further, they offer optimal glide capability and work well with long flowing massage techniques.
In addition, gels also work well when dealing with clients with hair skin or with dry skin types.
Like oils, gels can stain sheets or clothing.
In addition, their high glide capability makes them less satisfactory choices for sports or deep tissue massages.
These lubricants are among the most cost effective choices available in terms of the price paid off the shelf. This is negated to an extent by its high absorption, which requires more reapplications.
Another benefit of a massage lotion is the fact that many come with nutrients and moisturizes included. Many lotions include nutrients such as aloe vera and clients with minor skin damage can benefit from these additives.
The high absorption of lotions means that there is little or no greasy residue on the client’s skin at the end of the massage. There is also little risk of staining sheets or clothing.
However, lotions don’t work well with clients with hairy skin.
Another problem when working with clients with flaking sunburns is the tendency of lotions to pull dead skin together in chunks. Clients may finish their massage with chunks of dead skin rolled together in various places. Needless to say, this can be a source of considerable annoyance.
Many lotions are supplied in a jar. From the viewpoint of the therapist, this presents a practical problem as a jar cannot easily be attached to a belt holster. This forces the therapist to continually reposition the jar as he or she moves around the patient during the massage.
Suggested Massage Lotion / Cream / Oil / Gel Products