As seasoned massage therapists well know, there are physical risks associated with the profession—you’re on your feet all day, and the work itself is very physical. One risk many MTs may overlook is the possibility of developing dermatitis. A 2004 study actually found that the risk of dermatitis is higher among massage therapists than the general population (Archives of Dermatology).
Hand dermatitis, also known as eczema, causes the skin to become red, dry and, eventually, painful. It is not contagious but can be disruptive to the lives of people who have the condition. Additionally, hand dermatitis makes up 80 percent of the work-related cases of dermatitis in the United States, according to the study.
Researchers mailed questionnaires to practicing massage therapists in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and acquired 350 respondents, which represented 57 percent of the number originally contacted. The survey included questions related directly to a diagnosis of hand dermatitis and questions about other aspects of the massage therapists’ work. Fifteen percent of respondents self-reported a diagnosis of hand dermatitis, while symptom-related questions suggested 23 percent of those surveyed may have the condition.
The study was designed to measure the incidence of hand dermatitis, and it also led researchers to believe the rate is higher among massage therapists because of the use of aromatherapy in creams, oils or other lubricants. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, products therapists use as lubricants may cause dry skin. It is possible that frequent contact with the essential oils contained in aromatherapy products causes the damage.
Although the researches linked aromatherapy to the higher incidence of hand dermatitis, they also reported, “Many massage therapists may be exposed to multiple factors known to increase the risk of developing hand dermatitis, such as wet work, frequent hand washing, fragrance, dyes, detergents, latex, and other irritants and allergens found in massage oils, creams, and lotions.”
Massage therapists are trained to consider the skin of each client and whether the person receiving the massage may have allergies or other conditions that would limit the creams or oils used. However, it may be time to think about the health of the therapist’s hands, as well.