woman dispensing lotion or other massage product into her hand

A good cook knows by instinct, education and experience exactly what ingredients to combine to create the perfect dish.

The same philosophy could apply to massage when it comes to using a combination of products. A therapist who knows their clients as well as the massage products available will be able to make decisions that result in an optimal experience.

Choose Massage Products That Complement Each Other and Your Client

Jamie Bacharach, head of practice at Acupucture Jerusalem, explained that, in theory, a combination of different products can enhance a massage; however, the results depend on the specific combination of massage products and the client in question. 

“The key to the proper combination of products is to ensure that the ingredients involved can capably combine and not inhibit the emollience, absorbance or other positive qualities of each product,” she said. “For example, a water- and oil-based product combination may limit the positive qualities of the other, making for an unwise pairing.”

Gina Scianimanico, owner, Yoga and Massage EDU, pointed out that every client has variations in tissue, so may require a different approach. She uses a combination of media depending on the particular needs of her clients.

“I may use an oil on someone’s legs because they are hairy, but lotion on their back because their skin is more moist,” she said.

Combine Cold and Hot — Carefully

Bacharach added that a combination of hot and cold creams might generally work well together. “Applying cold and then heat to sore or stiff muscles can help provide relief. Cold reduces inflammation before heat promotes blood flow and relaxes muscles,” she said.

“After applying a cooling cream and allowing it some time to work its effects, applying a heating cream can help to unlock the stiffness of the muscles, making for a powerful one-two combination.”

When it comes to topical pain relievers, Scianimanico refrains from using these products on a client’s face, hands, or in between finger and toes. She is also cautious about combining cold or hot products with cold or hot techniques. “I would never use a combination of cold topical pain reliever with ice application or hot topical pain reliever with heat,” she said. “It is okay to mix some topical pain relievers, but I would only spot treat with a heated product.”

Know Your Massage Products and Your Client

Nathan Nordstrom, Director of Massage Therapy Education and Training at Hand and Stone Massage and Facial Spa, noted that it is possible to provide a pleasant, head-to-toe experience using a variety of massage products. He reported that knowing about the products you use and the claims and research to support those claims is critical.

A good massage can provide standard benefits, according to Nordstrom. But adding high-quality products helps prolong the results long after the treatment is completed. “Using a great high-quality lotion gives the therapist an opportunity to provide benefits for a longer period of time,” he said.

However, before selecting any massage product, Nordstrom suggested first doing an in-depth intake to better understand your client. With this information, a therapist has a clear picture of a client’s likes and dislikes as well as any allergies to products. He or she can then make an informed decision as to which products to pair, thus minimizing or preventing any negative experiences.

Even though you perform a detailed intake and use high-quality products, Nordstrom pointed out, unexpected situations might still arise. In case a combination of massage products induces a negative reaction, he keeps an emergency tool at the ready.

“I will use coconut or some other fatty oil to remove the product and negate the response,” he said.

Pair Your Technique with Products

While different massage products might be used on different areas of the body, Nordstrom noted that in some cases the technique might change, not necessarily the product. For instance, the therapist might choose a cream for the thigh and quadriceps area and use the forearms to achieve maximum release. If applying the same cream on a smaller area, the thumbs might work better, he added.

Also, when doing exfoliation, such as a full body scrub, using peppermint oil or a product containing menthol will penetrate deeper and produce a feeling of intense heat or cold. Nordstrom said, “This technique increases the accessibility of the product.” (The heat or cold might also be uncomfortable for some clients, so do a spot test of the product first.)

Nordstrom also cautioned therapists to be aware of contraindications when coupling certain massage products. For instance, pairing mentholated products with CBD-infused products might be somewhat risky, according to Nordstrom. The two products in combination “open the bloodstream in greater form.” Since CBD penetrates more deeply, the massage experience might be negative for some clients.

Pick Massage Products for a Purpose

Clients come to massage for a variety of reasons. Massage therapists who understand their clients’ goals can effectively address them with an arsenal of massage products appropriate for different issues and areas of the body.

As Nordstrom noted, “Don’t use a product that won’t offer any measurable benefit.”

About the Author

Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty areas include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage. Her articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “I’ve Already Had a Career. Am I Too Old for Massage School?” and “Has Your Massage Oil Gone Bad? Here’s How to Tell.”