Read Leif Montgomery's Guide to Choosing a Massage Oil, Creme, Lotion or Gel
One of the most common questions I get asked is: “How do I choose a massage lubricant”?
Massage Lubricants are used to reduce friction, allowing optimal interaction between the practitioner and receiver.
The main characteristics of Massage Lubricants are glide and viscosity:
Glide: Glide refers to the amount of friction or control.
On one side the spectrum you have acupressure, or trigger point work,
where no glide is desirable. Here, there will be no or very little
On the other end, you have very superficial or circulatory massage,
where there will be a lot of slip, and only the top layers of tissue
In between those two extremes, we have the varying degrees of
friction allowing deeper work into the tissue. While massage lubricants
are designed to stay on the skin surface, each will have varying
degrees of uptake (The Absorption Rate) into the skin. This will affect
the amount of glide.
refers to the thickness of the lubricant. Oil has the lowest
viscosity, very liquid, and cream the highest. Within the categories of
massage lubricants, there are also varying degrees of viscosity. For
instance, there are thinner oils (fractionated coconut), or heavier
blends of oils (Almond), as well as thicker or less dense creams.
What is the correct Glide/Viscosity Factor (GVF) for you?
Determining your optimal Glide/Viscosity Factor (GVF) will depend on several factors:
- Personal Preference
- Modality or Technique Performed
- Desired Outcome
1. Personal Preference
There is no right or wrong here. With experience, each practitioner will find their sweet spot or correct GVF .
You will probably hear the statement that oil is used for Swedish
massage and cream for deep tissue. That is an over generalization or
simplification. The fact is, many experienced practitioners use oil and
a variety of lubricants for advanced or deeper massage and conversely,
creams can be used for Swedish massage. You will come to find which
lubricant type you prefer and learn to use it correctly to achieve the
2. Modality or Technique Performed
The modality or technique performed will determine the amount of
grip/friction and glide needed. Swedish massage, and modalities
focusing on circulation, require a fair amount of glide. Trigger point,
Myo Fascial, and Deep Tissue require less glide and more grip.
Is your massage treatment general and gliding, specific and deep,
fast or slow?…… all of these questions will determine your GVF.
3. Desired Outcome
Another factor to consider for your GVF is desired outcome. Generally
speaking, the massage lubricant is secondary to the reason people get a
massage from you – your hands or manual skills. The lubricant just
facilitates this and is not the focus. However, there may be other
considerations to ponder: the “oiliness” factor left on a client after
the session, care of linens, moisturizing or skin care effects, and
therapeutic properties of the lubricant.
Categories of Massage Lubricants
On the viscosity scale, oil is the least viscous, most liquid. Because
of this, it has a high glide coefficient and is suitable for treatments
or modalities requiring less friction. However, as stated above, there
is some wiggle room here. Use very little oil, and friction
increases. Because oil is liquid, it can be messy and easily spilled….
something to consider. Pump Bottles and Holsters can help keep your treatment space clean.
Further considerations: Because oils contain no water, they require
little or no preservative. Vitamin E is sometimes added to act as a
preservative, but its effectiveness in this capacity is up for debate.
However, use caution. Oils can turn rancid very quickly. My nose can
sense this very quickly. I have known practitioners to use oil well
beyond its freshness date. The easiest way to determine freshness is to
do the smell test. If it smells like vanish or polish, it’s bad. Most
oils have little or no scent. Some, like olive and jojoba, have
distinctive scents and you can readily distinguish between its inherent
scent, and rancidity. Scented oils will make freshness harder to
Types: Most manufacturers produce blends of oils for massage. Read the ingredient list on the bottle to determine what’s in your oil, or see our ingredient guides on the below links.
Let’s look at some specific oil properties:
(and other nut oils) – Almond oil is a common ingredient in many oils.
However, nut oils as of late, have become ingredient non grata. I
think some if this is unfounded and nut oil allergies are overstated. It
could very well be rancidity causing the issues.
- I love the oil. It is super moisturizing and beneficial for the
skin and has medium viscosity within the oil family. Please note,
grapeseed oil can be very staining to clothes and linens!
My favorites – Coconut and Jojoba.
This is my preferred blend for the following reasons: they are very
stable, meaning have a long shelf life (well over 1 year without any
preservatives). They are also very clean was wash easily out of linens,
a big bonus.
Coconut Oil is solid at room temperature. Fractionated Coconut Oil
is the liquid form of coconut oil. This is, in fact, a much more
desirable form of coconut oil, because it is much more stable than
regular coconut oil and retains a higher percentage of its anti oxidant
properties. Technically, this is achieved by removing almost all the
long chain triglycerides present in the oil (which is the least stable
portion prone to oxidation), via the safe process of hydrolysis and
is actually a wax ester, not strictly an oil. However, it has the
appearance and viscosity of an oil, so we refer to it commonly as such.
Pure Natural Jojoba (pronounced ho-ho’ba), is a botanical
extract derived from jojoba seeds producing the pure liquid esters.
Because of its oxidative stability and complex structure of long chains
of fatty acids, Jojoba is the ideal lubricant for massage and skin
Coconut and Jojoba, like my favorite beer and coffee, are also more expensive than standard oils.
My pick, which includes both Coconut and Jojoba, is Pure Lite Oil by Solace.
Gels are a very popular lubricant choice for many practitioners. Gels
are produced by starting with an oil and adding a wax base, producing a
thicker oil with a higher viscosity. Proponents of gel claim it has
glide of an oil, with the workability of a lotion. Treating dry skin or
working through hairy skin may benefit from the use of gels.
Popular gels include Biotone Advanced Therapy Massage Gel the original and one of the best is hypoallergenic and Bon Vital Original and Naturale Massage Gel with added botanicals.
Biotone Healthy Benefits – their latest, it’s new. Send me your feedback on it!
Lotions take us up the viscosity scale and also introduce the use
of water into the equation. This has the following ramifications:
Water and Oil do not mix – necessitating the need of emulsifiers,
stabilizers and similar substances.
Preservatives – when you add water, unless you plan on using it quick
or freezing it, you must add a preservative, or else you will produce a
science experiment like in high school. Remember those? Lotion, while
more viscous than oils and gels, are all easily pumpable, whether from
the Gallon jug or 4 or 8 oz bottles. There are many lotions on the
market. All will have similar viscosity, but the texture and feel will
be slightly different across the board. A lotion’s overall
characteristics will be determined by how the manufacture creates the
water/oil emulsion, via the stabilizing agents and ingredients used. I
urge you to have fun and test and experiment with lotions.
Biotone Nutri Naturals Lotion
Soothing Touch Jojoba Lotion
Sacred Earth Warming Lotion
Bon Vital Therapeutic Touch Lotion
Creams represent the thickest or highest viscosity of all the
lubricants. When considering a cream, keep in mind that the thickest
choices are not pumpable. Non pumpable creams can be applied from a jar
or a tube. Many tubes are refillable for convenience. The correct
procedure here is to draw from a bulk jug (gallon or half gallon) via a
clean spatula or spoon, into a jar or tube. If a jar is used, it must
be cleaned and refreshed for each client. Please note, for creams that
are pumpable, these pumps are heavier duty than those pumps for lotion.
Do not attempt to use lotion or oils pumps for cream!
Nice cream to try: Sacred Earth makes a 21oz size Vegan Massage Cream with a powerful pump.
Soothing Touch Massage Creams: Please note: The Gallon sizes are pumbable. The 62oz and 13oz sizes are not. Perplexing, I agree.
Again, like lotions, there are countless types of cream for you to
try and experiment with. Each will have its own unique overall feel.
No discussion of massage creams would be complete without a discussion of Biotone Dual Purpose Cream,
uh, Creme, that is, from Biotone. This is without a doubt, the
standard, the original, the cream (creme) that all others are judged
by. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Biotone is top
dog of the creams. The shear number of copycats is mind boggling, and
the tortured names to try and ride Dual Purposes coat tails is
bewildering: Multi Purpose, All Purpose, and so on. I suggest On Purpose, or Tri Purpose! Anyone else have some good names?
Something has troubled me for a long time. What does “dual purpose”
stand for? I think the answer is in this next clip. Watch LaVelle from
Nice job LaVelle! You get the Lief
Montgomery thumbs up for clear product presentation and Biotone mission
statement. However, I did catch an error. Dual Purpose does not come
in 1/2 Gallon size. It is actually a confounding 68oz – 1/2 Gallon + 4
oz. Like the mysterious “Dual Purpose” definition, LaVelle, please
clear up thought behind the size choice. Is it a Feng Shui thing, or
maybe a metric thing? You do prefer the French creme to the more common cream. Merci.
You will find a lot of labels, like Natural and Organic,
thrown around on products these days. Customers make a lot of
assumptions about what these mean. I have also found that it’s hard to
get a straight answer from anyone on this subject.
The term Natural is so broad, general, vague,
mis-used and abused, to make it practically irrelevant. I recommend
disregarding the “Natural” label and carefully reading the labels and ingredient list to make sure it fits your needs and expectations.
Here are some of the additives I found in a popular “Natural” massage cream: (Cetearyl Alcohol, Polysorbate 60, Phenoxyethanol, Diazolidinyl Urea (and) Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Carbomer)
How’s that for “natural”!
The Organic label is very similar. Perhaps there will
be several organic ingredients in the list, with the rest a mix of
Latin and multi syllable chemical structures you might even hesitate
before putting in your car’s radiator. Just kidding! I am exaggerating,
a little. Just read the label please!
The hypoallergenic label usually refers to products free of any
fragrance, scents, or nut oils. This does not guarantee that it will
not cause allergies or irritation to someone. Always test first with
sensitive types. Oddly enough, we find the toughest reaction and
allergy issues are resolved by using a completely unnatural solution….
Petroleum based lubricants You would be surprised at how many common
(and high end!) consumer moisturizers and lotions are either petroleum
based or have some petroleum derivatives in the ingredient list.
The Vegan label is perhaps the most interesting of them all. Vegan? Sacred Earth is the only brand I know of spouting this label. Does this mean that Bon Vital and Biotone
are not? I am familiar with Vegan in terms of food – the lack of
animal products. I am pretty sure that none of the major brands we are
discussing here include animal products.
On this same theme,
many massage lubricant manufacturers advertise that they do not test
their products on animals. I find this hard to believe. I get lots of
samples of massage oils, lotions and cream in my travels. I take them
home and always test it on my dog first. And she LOVES IT!!!! So listen
up manufacturers, you have it backwards. Label it, Certified Massage tested on animals and they LOVED IT! You can thank Leif for that.
So now we come to the topic of ingredients. For some reason, people
freak out about their massage lubricant over certain ingredients. For
instance, parabens has been all but excluded as an additive. I
understand the concern and agree that I want products as clean,
fresh and high quality as possible. But please do not freak out on Lief
until you checked the ingredient list from all the products, soaps,
shampoos, moisturizers, make up, deodorants, in your own bathroom. If
they are all “pure”, then go ahead and freak out. The fact is, across
the board, the massage lubricants that I mention here from the major
manufacturers are as high quality, or higher quality, that those
products in general use by most people. So rest assured please. If you
happen to be particularly discerning, demand strict purity, will not
use any preservative, then you will have to do a little extra work, pay
higher prices, and make some compromises. We will compile a complete
ingredient list for you to reference of the major massage lubricants as
well as a glossary of some of the more esoteric ingredients you’ll come
across. (Look for this in about 1 week)
Additives – Specialty
As I mentioned earlier, the focus of the massage treatment is the
massage/manual skills of the practitioner. The choice of the lubricant,
with the correct GVF, merely facilitates this.
Additives refer to the addition of herbs, extracts, and essences to
achieve a biologic effect, as well as add a little scent. Examples
include arnica, ivy, or ilex herbs, extracts of seaweed, algae, and
essences of lavender, chamomile, ginger, etc. There are many different
additives used in lubricants. Here is a partial list with functions.
The specialty lubricants I am referring to are the ones creating heat or cold sensations
when applied. These will be used alone as a topical treatment, or in
conjunction with massage/manual treatment. The active ingredient that
creates the heat/cool effect is Menthol or Camphor or a combination of
the two. The higher the concentration of Menthol, the stronger the
effects. If you are doing spot treatments, higher concentration is OK.
If you are including massage to the area, or even full body massage,
lower concentration is advised. Please keep in mind, as I am sure you
are aware, there is a smell associated with these products.
Biofreeze – most common and popular. Strong, used for spot work or re sold for clients to take home and apply.
Biotone Polar Lotion
Soothing Touch Herbal Heat or Herbal Ice
Bon Vital Sport Gel
I have heard it mentioned that practitioners sometimes dilute these
formulas by adding to unscented lotions or creams and using as a whole
body lubricant. Not my cup of tea, but some might find it useful.
Cost Per Treatment
A useful and illuminating exercise is to determine your lubricant cost
per treatment. I mention this because I lean toward using high quality
products and ingredients.
Many practitioners feel they are constrained by price. So lets do
the math. The rule of thumb is 1oz of cream used per treatment. For
oils of lotions, it may be a little higher than 1oz. So for a base
price of $50 per Gallon of Cream, you would perform 128 treatments.
This works out to around 40 cents per treatment. So lets say on the
high end we use a $90 cream. This equals 70 cents. A $25 cream (I do
not know any, nor do I want to!…..knowing some major ingredient/water
substitution would need to be made) equals 20 cents. Using that formula
and tweaking for your preferences and use should give you some
perspective on the money factor. Is 40-60 cents unreasonable per
treatment? As an independent practitioner, using a cheaper lubricant
and saving 15 cents per treatment saves about $5 a week based on 30
treatments. If you are a clinic or spa owner, with multiple rooms, that
changes the equation and you will have to decide what is appropriate.
Keep this in mind, you can always advertise that you use such and such
expensive formula in your treatments, sending the message that you care
and are focused on the details. Conversely, you would not want it be to
known, you use cheap brand X! I once heard that mineral oil (baby oil)
was being used in those massage store fronts popping up all over New
York and the East Coast. Why not motor oil (recycled)!
If you do use a high end product, you may want to consider offering
retail sizes for re sale, or give samples free if you prefer, for take
home. The take home product would be an altered version of the massage
lubricant, because honestly speaking, massage lubricants are not the
best choice for home skin care and moisturizing (they are designed for
massage). We can discuss this idea more in a later segment.
I need to add this section because I find people often stumble over
ounce/Gallon conversions. So we do not embarrass ourselves, let’s study
128oz = Gallon
64oz = ½ Gallon
32oz = Quart
16oz = Pint
8oz = Cup
Now, if you say crème and I say cream, tomato/tomato, then we’ll go metric:
1 liter = 33.8140226 US fluid ounces
1 Gallon = 3.78 liters
Laundry Care and Precaution
The combination of linens, oil, and heat can create a combustible
combination during drying and storage. Use care, lower temperature
settings in the dryer and read your dryers manufacturer guidelines for
care of linens that have been exposed to oil.
Best practices for care and cleaning of your linens. Clean your
linens as soon as possible after use. The longer they sit with oil, the
more difficult it will be to clean. Try not to overuse your massage
lubricant, otherwise all the excess will end up on the sheets. As we
stated above, certain oils are much cleaner and easier to launder out of
sheets than others, lotions and even more so creams tend to collect
less in linens. If you find difficulty in getting your sheets clean,
consider a specialty detergent
designed to work just on getting out oil. Eventually, you will have to
replace your sheets. Just the cost of doing business. If they are
stained and have a rancid smell, do not delay in replacing. Customers
pick up on queues and make judgments based on this. You want to present
your best image.
Leif Montgomery, vegan, natural and hypoallergenic, VNH
P.S. I’ve heard rumors from P.E.T.A. that vegans have more fun….