The lubricant you use for a client’s massage could be the difference between the client receiving the massage of their dreams or deciding to never return.

With a variety of massage creams and massage oils to choose from, and each containing certain properties that benefit the skin, massage oils and creams can benefit the client and improve their overall massage experience.

The trick is to choose the lubricant that will benefit the client the most. For this article we will look at massage oils and creams. (Additional types of lubricants include balms, butters and lotions.)

Massage oils are great for keeping the client warm, as the oil itself is a natural warming agent.

Massage creams contain some form of a liquid, and once the massage cream is applied on the skin, the liquid evaporates off it, which creates a cooling sensation.

Before you begin the massage, be sure to ask the client of any allergies he or she may have. Pay attention to the client’s comfort level of temperature within the room, the massage modality that is being performed, and the client’s hydration level. If the client’s skin is dry you will need to use more product. Also make note of the receptivity of the massage oil or massage cream on the client to adequately create comfort for both the massage therapist and client.

Types of Massage Oils

Massage oils vary. The most common include: coconut oil, almond oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, argon oil, sesame oil, jojoba oil, apricot kernel oil, macadamia oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil and olive oil.

These oils are some of the more popular massage oils used for massage. Some massage oils blend a variety of oils together and some are used solely by themselves.

Each oil contains different properties that benefit the skin:

  • Coconut oil is rich in vitamin E and fatty acids and helps cool down the body with its rich, oily properties.
  • Almond oil is rich in vitamin E, fatty acids, potassium, and zinc.
  • Avocado oil is rich in vitamin E and fatty acids.
  • Grapeseed oil is a great skin moisturizer rich that absorbs easily into the skin.
  • Argon oil is rich in vitamins A and E and helps to firm skin.
  • Sesame oil is rich in linoleic acid and is a thicker oil that aids in warming and purifying the skin.
  • Jojoba oil is rich in vitamins A and E and helps to control bacterial growth on the skin.
  • Apricot kernel oil is rich in fatty acids and vitamin A, which helps to soften the skin. This oil is perfect for sensitive skin.
  • Macadamia oil is rich in omega 6 and 9 and helps to regenerate the skin. It blends in easily with essential oils.
  • Safflower oil is rich in linoleic acid and helps with treating acne.
  • Sunflower oil is rich in omega 6 and helps with dermatitis.
  • Olive oil is rich in vitamin E and is a moisturizer for the skin.
  • Most of these oils help to fight free radicals that contribute to premature aging and calm irritated, inflamed skin.

Types of Massage Creams

Massage creams have a larger molecular structure than massage oils and are unable to penetrate the epidermis as can smaller molecular products. They superficially lie on the skin, acting as an emollient and humectant on top of the skin.

Being able to retain moisture within the skin, massage creams assist with strokes during massages as a soothing medium, creating suppleness within the skin.

Containing both an oil and a liquid, massage creams promote hydration and moisture for the skin and are ideal for clients who are lacking adequate water consumption and suffer from acute dryness.

What makes massage creams differ from one another are the botanicals, herbs or essential oils that are found among the ingredient list, acting solely as an aroma or with some additional benefits to the skin; and the richness of the cream.

For example, shea butter, a widely used ingredient in massage creams, is derived from the African nut of the shea tree and contains natural vitamins and fatty acids. This rich butter is nourishing to the skin and when applied on the skin creates a longer lasting glide for massage therapists.

Use of Massage Oils

Massage oils can be used in most massage modalities. They are best for incorporating such implements on the skin as bamboo rods, hot or cold stones, crystal spheres or rollers. Oils allow these tools to glide easily over the skin without pulling it.

Oil is also smaller in its molecular structure than is cream and delivers a thin layering on the skin, which allows the temperature of the tool to be felt more easily on the skin.

For example, during a hot stone massage, the river stone will glide over the oil medium, and the client will feel the exact temperature of the hot stone.

Massage oils are also great to use on extremely dry skin. Clients will soak in the oil their skin needs to compensate for loss of moisture. Once when the skin cannot soak up anymore oil, the remaining oil will allow a nice glide for even, unbroken strokes.

Use of Massage Cream

On the other hand, a massage cream, because of its heavier constituents within the ingredients, will absorb quickly into the skin and will not leave any extra glide for the massage, creating short, broken massage strokes during the massage. For longer lasting massage strokes and for incorporating implements into a massage, massage oil will be the better medium to use.

Massage creams are great to use for deeper fascial work. With massage cream absorbing quickly into the skin, and its molecular structure being greater than oil, it is the perfect medium for deep tissue, Rolfing® Bodywork and sports massage modalities. (I will add the caveat that some practitioners of deep-tissue techniques do not use any lubricant at all.)

Massage cream slows down the manipulation of a stroke, which is necessary for performing any form of deep work on fascia. By slowing down the stroke of the modality, massage therapists protect themselves from injury and limit the possibility of any harm done to the muscle fiber during lengthening strokes on the client.

Massage Lubricant & Your Client

Over-application and under-application can occur with either a massage oil or a massage cream. Each client is different and a massage therapist is fine-tuning the application of massage oil or massage cream with each extremity at any given time.

Clients vary due to their skin type, the amount of water they intake before the massage, whether they just stepped out the shower or have been soaking in their natural oils for some time.

Massage therapists initially performs a visual intake on the body size of the client upon undraping the extremity they are about to massage. From that visual intake, they mentally calculate the amount of medium they will need to massage and give themselves a dose of massage oil or massage cream for that extremity.

After the first stroke of application, the massage therapist will re-evaluate their dose of the medium and will add more, if needed, for more strokes.

Sometimes the application of the massage oil or massage cream will be too much, and the massage therapist will need to wipe away excess product from their hands and sometimes from the extremity of the client to create the right combination of pressure and gliding stroke on the fascia.

Whether the massage oil or massage cream is under-applied or over-applied, small alterations of adding a medium to the skin or taking a medium away from the skin is all that is needed for the massage modality that is being performed.



Amra Lear is a dual licensed massage therapist and esthetician. She started her career in 1999 at Canyon Ranch Spa Club at the Venetian and has since transitioned to a high-end resort on the Las Vegas Strip. She has more than 30 certifications in massage modalities and esthetics, knowledge of more than 100 modalities, and has been approved by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork since 1997.