Before you apply a massage cream to a client, you want to feel confident he or she will have no adverse reaction to the ingredients in the cream. The same holds true for you, as the massage therapist, as your hands and forearms will likely be coated in the massage cream throughout each session.

One of the best ways to find out whether your clients have any allergies or are sensitive to certain ingredients is by asking them to fill out a client survey before their first massage appointment with you. Questions about allergies and sensitivities should be part of the survey. You may also wish to verbally discuss the topic with new clients, to get a better feel for which elements may cause an adverse reaction.

As for your own allergies and irritations, you likely know by now what type of massage cream feels best for your skin. You should also be aware of any ingredients that tend to set off your own adverse reactions.

Many massage therapists and bodyworkers feel the best way to “play it safe,” in terms of choosing a massage cream that will be comfortable for the widest array of clients, is to pick a massage cream labeled “hypoallergenic.”
However, it’s important to realize the word hypoallergenic is not a medical term but instead was put into common use in the 1950s during various advertising campaigns, for such products as cosmetics and jewelry.

The word is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a diminished potential for causing an allergic reaction.” That certainly sounds promising when it comes to picking out a massage cream that will work for the masses with few adverse reactions.

The main issue is there are no federally regulated standards for the use of the word hypoallergenic on a label, so there’s no way to know if the product you’re picking truly does have “a diminished potential for causing an allergic reaction,” or if the word was simply slapped on the label in order to sell more.

“There are no federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term hypoallergenic,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site. “The term hypoallergenic means whatever a particular company wants it to mean.”

Therefore, it’s up to you as the consumer, and as a responsible massage therapist, to dig a little deeper into what makes a particular massage cream hypoallergenic. Choosing a massage cream manufactured by a long-standing, reputable company is one good way to help ensure you’re purchasing a quality product with no misleading labels.

Another way to investigate whether a cream is hypoallergenic is by taking a close look at the ingredient list. Synthetic chemicals, fragrances and colorings tend to be among the ingredients that most often cause adverse reactions in people with sensitive skin or certain allergies.

Look for ingredients that come from natural sources, such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs and other plants. You may wish to take it a step further and ensure these ingredients are grown organically, in order to avoid the possible presence of chemicals entirely.

—Brandi Schlossberg