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Oils, Lotions, and Creams OH MY!

If you are a connoisseur of massage (as in you like getting massages and trying different techniques) then you probably know by now that not every massage therapist uses the same lotion or oil and that there are in fact reasons why there are such preferences for either.

Besides the obvious differences between lotion and oil, oil is more slick and isn’t really absorbed by the skin whereas lotion usually does get absorbed and isn’t as slick. To make things even more complicated, creams are also used; mostly with deep tissue work with the idea being that the cream takes more body heat and friction in order for it to be worked into the skin and can become as slick as oil.

Here are some key differences between the three different kinds lubrication and what their typical purpose is:

Lotion: Is pretty universal with its usage. Lotion can be infused with essential oils and not all are created the same. Some lotions have different glides (level of slickness) which is why massage therapists can prefer one brand over another. A few of the more known companies that manufacture lotion use fillers (ie paraben, alcohol), however, due to the nature of massage we are seeing a trend in more “hypoallergenic” lotions claiming that they work well with all skin types and especially those with sensitive skin or skin conditions that can be agitated like skin psoriasis. The ideal lotion is one that can be absorbed but still provide a nice even glide and not leaving the skin feel oily.

Cream: Predominantly used for deep tissue because the cream requires body heat and some friction in order to become more slick. Cream can also be infused with essential oils, however, it is a little difficult since creams are so thick. Creams are also all created differently and if not properly used can leave the skin feeling oily as well.


Oil: Can be used for deep tissue but more so with lighter work. Oil can be infused with essential oils and is the only lubrication that can be used with hot stone treatments. Using oil can be tricky especially since most oils cannot be absorbed into the skin and almost always stain clothing and sheets. While coconut oil is great in moderation for the skin, for massage I’ve noticed that coconut oil is just too slick and actually coats the skin which doesn’t allow the skin to breath.

You can combine and mix up different lubricants! I’m a fan of a lubricant called gel, unlike hair gel, massage gel acts like an oil but is absorbed by the skin like lotion. One of my favorite things to do as massage therapist is creating my own blends of lotions, oils, and essential oils. And if these lubricants are not stored properly or necessary precautions used to avoid cross-contamination can cause the lubricant to go rancid.