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Should I Use Massage Oils, Creams, Lotions or Waxes?

September 24, 2016 3 min read

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Massage therapist pouring oil onto hand whilst young woman is lying on a massage table
When it comes to professional massage, there is an abundance of oils, creams, lotions and waxes available on the market, all claiming to give you wonderful workability, skin interaction and sensory engagement.
There are so many options to choose from, that it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, just using the medium you used most often during your qualification. While that can work fine, you may be missing out on a much better massage experience that branching out might afford you.
In this post, we are going to break down all the different options, so that you can easily see their advantages and disadvantages, as well as what type of treatments each medium is most useful for.

Lotions & Creams

Lotions and creams are among the most common mediums for massage therapists to work with, across all the different types of massage. Lotions are generally your best option when working with particularly hairy clients, as the light consistency won’t mat the hair and you will be able to conduct your treatment unimpeded.
What’s the difference?
Lotion and cream are often similar products, but tend to have a different consistency. Creams are generally quite a bit thicker, while lotions are more liquid. Lotions tend to give you more bang for your buck, as they are more spreadable. Creams do better for topical treatments on tough areas of skin.
Advantages:
Massage creams and lotions are well-suited to deep tissue and other high-friction massages. They tend to provide medium glide, and while they can be nourishing to the skin, are typically absorbed fairly slowly. They are usually non-sticky, making each massage easier to clean up, and they are also usually non-slip, providing you with better stability throughout each treatment. Creams and lotions will usually include preservatives of some kind, so rancidity is very uncommon.
Disadvantages:
Some creams and lotions, particularly water-based ones, can leave the skin feeling dried out. Creams generally come in jars or tubs which don’t fit into holsters, which can be a hassle during treatments. You also have to be much more careful for hygiene purposes. Creams and lotions are often cold when first applied to the skin and can be difficult to heat. Many are also scented, which will bother some clients.

Oils

There are many oils that can be used in massage therapy. Some of the most common include sweet almond, jojoba, avocado, fractionated coconut, sesame, olive, sunflower and rice bran oils. Often therapists will blend one or more of these with essential oils to create a specific fragrance or consistency for a treatment. 
Advantages:
Oil is deeply nourishing to the skin and is easily absorbed. It provides high glide and can be stored in pump bottles and carried around in a holster. Oil also goes a long way - it can be an economical option when working over large surfaces. Oils warm up very quickly, so they can provide a very pleasant experience for the client.
Disadvantages:
Some people dislike the slightly sticky feeling oil leaves on the skin when the treatment is finished. Oil can also also stain linen, and if it gets on the floor around the table it can be slippery underfoot. If you accidentally pour out too much oil, it either has to go on the client straight or be wiped away, as you cannot easily put it somewhere else for later use in the treatment. Some oils can become rancid relatively quickly.

Waxes & Balms

Massage waxes and balms are firmer again than creams. They provide a strong grip and have a low glide, and are usually blended with one or two oils and essential oils.
What’s the difference?
Waxes and balms are a very similar product, but waxes are to be used all over the body for massage treatments, while balms are created for use on specific parts of the body. Balms are usually a little thicker than waxes, and usually feature a higher concentration of essential oils in order to fulfil their purpose (such as decongestion or muscle relaxation).
Advantages:
Waxes and balms provide a high level of control to the therapist during treatment. The increased grip and lower glide means that treatments can be calm and controlled instead of slippery and erratic as can happen with lighter mediums. Beeswax, a key ingredient, is antibacterial, so they resist rancidity for a long time.
Disadvantages:
Waxes and balms are very thick, so they are unsuitable for use on hairy clients. Maintaining hygiene is also more difficult, as they usually come in tubs that require use of a spatula. Nearly all massage waxes are blended with almond oil, which can present an issue for clients with nut allergies.
What do you use? Head on over to our Facebook page and tell us what your preferred medium is!

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