From the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Get Your Glide On: Lubricants,” , in the June 2010 issue. Article summary: From oils and gels to butters, creams and lotions, the market for massage lubricants is a massive one, and the variety of options can leave even the most seasoned massage therapist wondering what to choose. The first step toward ensuring you’re using the best lubricant for your daily work is to get informed.

by Scott C. Anderson

Massage lubricants can be broken down into two main categories: natural and synthetic.

More so today than ever, the industry is moving away from synthetic lubricants in massage formulations. Examples of synthetic lubricants include silicones, glycols and chemically modified mineral oils. With the wealth of information available to both therapists and massage customers, researching ingredients has led to the decreased usage of synthetic lubricants in massage systems.

Natural lubricants, such as vegetable oils and other botanically derived oils, are quickly becoming the standard base for lubricant formulations across the industry. These oils can be further broken down into “commodity” and “specialty” segments.

Commodity oils (i.e. soy, sunflower, safflower, canola) are primarily used in the food industry. These oils are generally solvent extracted to maximize oil yield and produced in massive volumes to satisfy the demands of this industry. Although suitable as base lubricants, commodity oils are selected for use in massage formulations as a means of cost savings. Many low-end formulations will use commodity oils as the bulk base lubricant for this reason.

Specialty oils (i.e. grapeseed, sweet almond oil, avocado oil and apricot kernel oil) have long been the staple ingredients in European massage formulations. With their added value and increased performance properties (i.e. feel, glide and increased emollient benefits to the skin), specialty oils are quickly replacing commodity oils in higher-end formulations in the U.S. and Canada.

Sweet almond oil has long been a key lubricant in many of the higher-end European brands and is rapidly gaining popularity as the lubricant of choice here at home. There remains great misunderstanding about sweet almond oil, specifically that it is derived from nuts. In truth, the almond is not a nut but a drupe in the same family as apricots, peaches and plums. Further, once the crude oil has been refined, proteins are removed from the oil. It is the proteins, as in the case of peanut or nut oils like walnut, that can cause allergic reactions.

As a key domestic agricultural crop of the U.S., specifically Northern California, sweet almond oil as a lubricant provides ease of formulation with excellent carrier properties while being domestically produced and cost-competitive against commodity oils.

Scott C. Anderson is president of Oils by Nature Incorporated.