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

by Lisa Rose September 24, 2016

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.
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.
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.


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. 
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.
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).
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.
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!

Lisa Rose
Lisa Rose


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Massage Table Size Guide

Massage tables comes in many different shapes and size. It can be confusing for you, the customer, to choose the right one but we are here to help!

A lot of customers call us up after they have bought the wrong size massage table elsewhere and we would like to help you avoid this mistake. It normally goes something like this; they like the look of a picture of a massage table on a website, they like the low price and then they check the carrying weight is ok. If the carrying weight fits their needs they click add to cart and the new massage table turns up at their doorstep in a few days. They unfortunately assume all massage tables are pretty much the same width and size.

The standard size of a massage table is 28 inches wide (71cms) and 73 inches (185cms) long. One of the reasons many "lightweight" budget massage tables are so cheap is because

  1.  They are smaller in size (normally around 61cms wide) and as such have less materials
  2. They are sold by specialist retailers who also sell anything else they can import and turn a profit on. As such they just buy the cheapest massage tables they can find in China. They go for smaller sizes as they are cheaper.

Make sure the massage table is the right size for you and your clients as the narrow massage tables at 61cms can be very uncomfortable for anyone who isn't petite and many clients cannot relax with their shoulders and arms unsupported.


The Width of the Massage Table:

Almost all therapists choose the standard 28 inch wide massage table. All our massage tables are the same length so it is only the width and shape our customers need to decide on.

Your massage table should be wide enough to cater for the wide variety of shapes and sizes of your clients. It needs to be wide enough to comfortably accommodate your treatment style, while being narrow enough to ensure you don’t have to strain your own back during treatments.

Each therapist's postural training and ability is different, so only you will know what massage table width you can handle. We have spoken to therapists who are five feet tall and get the wider 30 inch massage tables, and we speak to six foot therapists who have back problems and go for a 25 inch wide massage table. Everyone is different.

Generally speaking, if you are of smaller stature, you may do better with one of the narrower 25-inch massage tables. If you're quite tall, or are particularly keen to offer your clients a very spacious experience, a 30-inch massage table might be more suitable.

If you are in doubt, see if you can go into your local training college and see whether the massage tables there suit you. However, there is another way to get a feel for what will work of you don’t have access to a couch when you are deciding:

Cut out a piece of cardboard to the dimensions of both sizes you are deciding between. Put it on top of the kitchen table and lean over it. Visualise a client lying there, and see which width will suit you and your client best.

measuring the width of a massage table

Make sure you can get close enough to the table that you can pivot at the waist and have your shoulders squared to the clients hips, with your hands parallel to the clients' spine. Working in this position will ensure an injury-free career, so it's an important factor in your decision.

The most popular massage table widths are 28 and 30 inches. We sell 25-inch massage tables but you should really only choose this width if you are shorter in height and having a wider massage table might put your own back at risk over the course of your career.

You can also choose the 25-inch if you want to have the lightest massage table possible. By reducing the width of the massage table, the weight is also reduced. Now, this can mean a trade-off of some client comfort, but this trade is often worthwhile if you are a fully mobile therapist and use public transport frequently, where saving a kilogram or two will make a difference to you over time.


The Height Of the Massage Table

Nowadays, almost all portable massage tables come with height adjustable legs. Whichever massage table you choose should come with a large height range to accommodate you, and to cater for a broad range of therapies.

A common height range of massage tables is between 60 to 80cm, and this height range should cater for everyone. To check which height you need your massage table to be at follow this rule of thumb:

1. Stand up straight with your hands by your sides. Clench your fists.
2. Measure the distance between the floor and your knuckles
3. This distance should equal the height of your massage table.
4. Add a few inches in height to allow for the body of the patient on the massage table.

The height of a massage table is usually only adjusted when different therapists are using the same massage table, or if you have a client that is outside the average size you normally treat. So for example, if someone with a lot of body depth comes for a treatment after an average size person, you may need to adjust the height a notch or two.

You should be able to adjust the height of a massage table in just 2-3 minutes. Even though you mightn't adjust the height very often, the faster the better when you do have to!

There are 2 types of height adjustment mechanisms found on modern massage tables.

1) Twisting knobs (found only on wooden massage tables):

If you are working with a wooden massage table, it is better to have two knobs on each of the four legs for greater strength and reliability. When buying online, make sure to check how many knobs are on the legs. Cheap massage tables often only have one knob, and when you raise the legs to the highest heights they are less stable and have been known to snap.

2) Telescopic push-buttons (found only on aluminium massage tables):

The mechanism to adjust the height of an aluminium massage table is much the same as the push-button method on aluminium crutches. It only takes a few seconds to adjust each leg, and the mechanism is very reliable. Check out the video to see how it’s done.


Massage Table Shape:

The following are the different shapes of massage tables on the market.

1. Rectangle shaped with square corners 

This is the traditional shape of a massage table and the one you are probably familiar with seeing. Our Combi-lite 3 in 1 and Affinity Portaflex are shaped like this.

2. Rectangle shaped with rounded corners

Same as no 1 above in every way except the corners are rounded. Does not affect function in any way, just a different design/look.


3. Hour glass shaped with gradual gradient 

A fabulous massage table innovation in recent years, which solves a lot of the problems around choosing the correct width is the hourglass shaped massage table.

This style of massage table is wider at the ends, and tapers somewhat at the middle. This provide a spacious and comfortable experience for your client (as the shoulder and feet area are 30 inches wide) without compromising your own posture and health, as the middle of the couch where you lean over is a much narrower 26 inches wide.Having recently upgraded to one of these hourglass massage tables myself, I can vouch that my working days are much more comfortable, and many of my clients have commented on the extra comfort from the wider shoulder area.


4. Hour glass shaped with sharp gradient
Same as point above but instead of the it gradually going from wide to narrow, the massage table changes quickly from normal width to narrow width so people of very short stature can get in close.
5. Oval Shaped

 The name says it all! There are no corners on the massage table. Therapists normally choose this for one of two reasons. They simply like the look of this massage table and it is aesthetically more pleasing in their treatment room and/or they find it easier to move around the massage table during the treatment without having to side step the corners. This is particularly handy when space is limited in your treatment room.

oval massage table


Have any questions or comments about anything above? Please let us know in the comments below!