Clients who walk into a massage practice bring a variety of expectations with them. Some clients are looking for a relaxing experience, while others want deeper work and still others might seek pain relief. Regardless of the goal, massage therapists need to have the right massage product—in this case, lubricant—at their fingertips.
A 16-year veteran in the industry, Ivy Hultquist, owner of Advanced Massage Techniques in Belle Plaine, Iowa, explains that the “purpose of all lubricants, whether lotion, oil, cream or gels, during a massage is to reduce friction and control the amount of drag and glide.”
Glide, Grip, Drag and Absorption
When the therapist wants a product with good absorption, Hultquist recommends reaching for a lotion.
“Lotions have more water than oils, therefore they absorb faster. This can be good and bad, depending on the goal of the massage. Sometimes you want the product to absorb quickly and sometimes you don’t,” she said.
“If something absorbs too quickly, you do not want to be constantly going back to your lotion bottle to get more product. If something does not absorb, you do not want to have your clients feeling greasy after their massage.” Hultquist said.
The massage therapist who does cross fiber friction, or transverse friction, which works in a perpendicular fashion to the muscle fiber, might also want to choose a lotion but, “very little of it, or no product at all,” Hultquist said.
Hultquist said that glide or slip refers to the sliding movement of the practitioner’s skin across the surface of the skin of the client. Glide or slip refers to the amount of pull, or stretch, on the skin and underlying tissues during the massage.
“Grip equals control,” Hultquist said, noting that some lotions, depending on the ingredients, allow for the most tissue stretch; oils facilitate the most slip or glide over tissues and the least amount of tissue stretch. According to Hultquist “Some creams have more drag than others. It really depends on the ingredients.”
When it comes to oils, therapists have a wide selection from which to choose, “There are so many different carrier oils used in massage. There are oils that do not absorb quickly, such as sweet almond oil, and lighter oils, such as grape seed, which do absorb quickly. Typically, it is oils that have the slowest absorption rate. Some massage therapists use plain carrier oils, like grape seed or almond. Many massage products have a blend of different oils.”
Hultquist pointed out that creams fall into a category somewhere between an oil and a lotion, but are more like the latter in appearance and texture. She added, “Gels have a high amount of glide and closely resemble an oil in appearance and texture. A wax is often added to an oil to give it a gel-like texture.”
Different Massage Products for Different Massage Modalities
Hultquist finds that certain massage products work best with certain techniques. For instance, deep tissue or neuromuscular massage requires smaller, more controlled movements. “These techniques also require the least glide as you need more grip. I would include myofascial in this category,” she said.
Therapists who offer sports massage might use various strokes depending on whether the massage is given before, during or after a competition. “Swedish strokes need glide and cross fiber, and compression strokes need more grip and control,” Hultquist said.
High glide and slip is ideal for vacuum cupping for body contouring and cellulite reduction, according to Hultquist.
“And for minimizing scars, you’ll need some friction; therefore little, if any, product is used. Lotions and oils can keep the area soft in between treatments,” Hultquist said, adding that shiatsu, Thai massage and structural integration require no products at all.
Regardless of technique, Hultquist pointed out that clients with significant amounts of body hair will most likely require more glide.
Feet and Face Get Special Attention
Hultquist doesn’t often look for specific ingredients but instead focuses on the overall goal of the massage session when selecting a product. “Individual therapists might have their own ingredient preferences,” she said. “Some may look for lack of parabens, nut oils or scents. Having organic, high quality, water dispersible, products that wash out of linens and clothes is something I look for when purchasing a product.”
Although most massage work is modality specific, two areas require extra thought and precaution: the face and the feet.
“The face is a small, delicate area, and, for some, may be prone to acne. It is rare to want drag on these delicate tissues, or a lot of glide and slip. Personally, I find no product is best here,” Hultquist said.
“For the feet, I like something that absorbs easily, like a lotion. I do not use anything too oily to avoid slips and falls when clients get up. I have clients towel off products on the feet before getting off the table,” she added.
Eliminate Knots, Reduce Pain
Rachel Beider, owner of Massage Williamsburg, with two locations in New York, New York, favors the line of BIOTONE massage products for her clients.
“I prefer to use a lotion, such as BIOTONE Deep Tissue lotion, for Deep Tissue massage, cross-fiber friction and trigger point therapy, with the goal of breaking up knots because it is less slippery and has better traction than other oils.
“I enjoy the blend specifically because it has a vegetable derived emulsifying wax, which is a nice surfactant that isn’t slippery,” Beider said. “It also has other moisturizing ingredients such as aloe vera, and sweet almond oil. It is unscented, free of parabens and cruelty-free as well.”
“We define adhesions as areas of muscle, which become adhered to the overlying or underlying structures, instead of gliding past each other nicely. This causes a muscle have less range of motion or feel stiff or adhered,” Beider said. She added that “our cross-fiber friction strokes work by gliding deeply and perpendicularly across the belly of the
muscle, to gently separate it at points of adhesions.”
When doing sports-oriented work or working with clients who have chronic pain and stiffness, Beider opts to include oil. “For a client who specifically wants a more relaxing session, I may begin by using lavender essential oil, which is known for its soothing and relaxing properties. The oil has a nice glide and is more slippery than a lotion,” she said.
Beider has tried massage gel but finds it can be a little bit sticky because it is often water-based. “A lot of gels also use preservatives or chemicals that don’t interest me. Gel is not my first choice for the type of clinical massage that we do,” she said.
Whichever lubricant a therapist chooses to use, the massage product should achieve the client’s goals, according to Hultquist. But the most important point to remember is “never leave the client feeling greasy,” Hultquist said. “You want their skin to be nice and soft, not dry. You need to find a balance.”
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. She has written many articles for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Is Your Massage Oil Hazardous? 7 Ingredients You Need to Avoid” and “Peppermint Oil Puts the Holiday in Massage.”