Category Archives: Lotions and Oils

How to Make Massage Cream

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I mentioned I wanted to make my own massage cream that used only natural ingredients and gave a good drag for deep tissue work.  I wanted something that would absorb well, have a light scent, a good shelf life, be unlikely to trigger allergies, and should wash out well.  Here’s my chemistry experiment.

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These are my five ingredients: grapeseed oil, coconut oil, jojoba, cocoa butter, and beeswax.  I’ve worked with all of them before except the grapeseed oil.  I needed a gentle way to warm them for blending.

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Using a water bath is popular.  You place a glass bowl in a pot or saucepan with water.  If using this method be careful of getting water in your cream.  Also, make sure that you have a glove or something to protect your hand when you remove the bowl.

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Another popular method of delicately heating something is using a double boiler.  I don’t own a double boiler so I improvised one from a metal bowl on top of a pot with water.  Don’t fill the water so high that it touches the bowl.  You still want the glove or oven mitt.

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I’m pretty sure I should have timed out when to put in which ingredient, but I decided to keep it simple and put all the ingredients together from the beginning.  I used a 1/3 cup of each ingredient.  I was worried it might come out too thick, so I went with a small batch for now.  I know that the solid cocoa butter wafers and beeswax have space between them, so they don’t technically fill up the 1/3 cup.

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I didn’t boil the water.  I just had the heat on medium.  It was enough to steam the water.  Here the coconut oil and most of the cocoa butter have melted into the grapeseed oil and jojoba leaving mostly beeswax.  It took about 20 minutes to melt it completely on medium.

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After it finished melting I poured it into a 20 oz tin with a fork to stir it every fifteen minutes or so.

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Here is what I thought was the finished product.  It actually became slightly more solid than this and slightly lighter in color.

I’m happy with this as my first run.  I gave it a small test run.  It spreads the way I want and then begins absorbing allowing me to still slide but with grip for deep tissue work.  In the past I’ve used an all natural cream made from olive oil, beeswax, and coconut oil.  That cream was, I don’t want to say gritty, but maybe felt a little more grainy when I first spread it.  This definitely has a more cream like texture and a little goes a long way.  It matches mostly what I wanted.  The cocoa butter scent is definitely there with hints of coconut oil, but I don’t think it is overpowering enough to be a deal breaker.

To prevent cross contamination of my tin I went to the local restaurant supply and bought metal ramekins a.k.a sauce cups.  Now I can scoop out what I need for each session keeping my tin clean from cross contamination.

This is just a beginning recipe.  Alter as needed and enjoy.

Characteristics of Emollients

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What you’re looking for in your preferred emollient will depend on your style of massage, clients, income, environmental, and health concerns.  I can’t tell you what characteristics are important to you, but here is a list to consider:

  1. Viscosity:  The thickness of what you’re applying will determine drag, spread-ability, and staining.  If it’s easy to spread it won’t give you drag.  For example oil spreads on great, and gives little friction for a nice Swedish.  Cocoa butter was tough to spread, but gave me plenty of drag for slow, deep strokes.  You know how I love those slow strokes.  There are exceptions like coconut oil which is solid at room temperature, but becomes liquid when applied to the body.  The more viscous the less it will spill.  The less it spills the less you have to worry about washing out.  Some of you don’t care because you’re lucky enough to not worry about laundry.
  2. Absorption:  The more absorption the more you have to reapply.  Too little absorption and you risk the client feeling greasy.  Grapeseed oil is often praised because it is light and absorbs well leaving the client feeling silky after the massage.  If it absorbs into the skin there is less chance of staining sheets and clothing, and there is the health benefit for the skin.
  3. Washing Out:  Therapists that love oil will sometimes stop using oil because of oil stains in sheets.  If this is becoming a problem for you remember to wash often and use hot water.  Don’t misunderstand- even lotions and creams can stain.  It just happens more with oil.  You may consider that coconut oil and jojoba will both wash out well and apply as oils.  The real problem with stains is that they look unprofessional and make sheets smell rancid after time.
  4. Smell:  Don’t get anything that smells strongly, even if you like it.  Ever.  This is for the same reason that you’re told not to wear cologne/perfume in school.  If you use something scented make sure you have a back up.
  5. Artificial Ingredients:  There has been such a push to go green that more emollients are using only natural ingredients.  Remember some ingredients aren’t necessary like artificial fragrances.  However, if you get rid of preservatives then you have less time to use your lotion.  One option that has been around a long time is Santa Barbara Massage Cream.  They only use three natural ingredients- olive oil, beeswax, and coconut oil.  You could also make your own. Or just use oil.
  6. Shelf Life:  Even if you do use a pure oil you have to remember that some oils are unstable and have a short shelf life, like avocado oil.
  7. Allergies:  Some oils are listed as hypoallergenic.  Many therapists read hypoallergenic and think it means that it causes no allergies.  This isn’t true.  It means it’s less likely to cause allergies, but a few will still be allergic.  For example shea butter has some natural latex in it.  My wife is allergic to latex and discovered that stealing my body butter resulted in her having a rash.  That involved some laughing and pointing on my part.  Lot’s of therapists like using wheat germ oil, but those with celiac disease question using it.  It’s preferable to use oils that it’s rare to have an allergy to or have a back up that wouldn’t trigger the same allergy.
  8. Health Benefits:  While you’re working muscles and making them feel better it would be great if you could be using something that will make their skin healthier.  Some oils are high in vitamin e and are great for the skin like wheat germ.  Some oils don’t stand up though.  For example I’ve been scared to order tamanu oil, despite how great its supposed to be for the skin, because of its scent.
  9. Price:  For some therapists using only the best ingredient will do, while others are attracted to using a similar alternative for a fraction of the cost.  Many therapists don’t use jojoba because of cost, but some go halfway by blending.

So I’ve finally decided to make my own.  I want natural ingredients and control over drag.  I’ve heard it’s tough coming up with a blend, so many therapists stick with one or two ingredients.  I’ve mentioned somethings I’ve used in the past.  Also looking at my list and all of the oils, butters, and waxes available I’ve decided on five ingredients.  Grapeseed oil, coconut oil, jojoba, cocoa butter, and beeswax.

I’ve never used grapeseed, but I’ve heard it leaves you feeling silky and absorbs well.  Coconut oil washes out well and many therapist praise it.  The other three I’ve used and hope I can get a good drag out of mixing in the cocoa butter, beeswax, and the jojoba as it absorbs.  The beeswax helps emulsify so the cream won’t separate, and the others absorb well, don’t smell strongly, have a good shelf life, don’t trigger many allergies, and should wash out well.  I’ll let you know how it turns out once I get the ingredients and go mad chemist in my kitchen.

Lotions, Creams, Oils, or Gels

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Most likely you didn’t choose your first lotion.  Many schools provide lotion for students and when it’s free, hey I’m not going to argue against free.  Even after graduating some therapists end up in spas or clinics that provide lotion.  Some spas even require you use the lotion or oil provided and then try to sell it to the client afterwards.  On the other hand, some students start to experiment with different lotions.  Once on their own many therapists start looking for a lotion that suits them better.  This post will look at the different substances therapists use and what traits are important.

There are five categories of substances that therapists use:

  1. Lotions:  This is usually the first substance students use.  It’s harder for students to spill than oil.  This makes it attractive to schools that don’t want to worry about their carpets every weekend.  Currently where I teach students are even told they are not allowed to use oils except in their hydrotherapy class.  Lotions often have a preservative helping them last longer.  Lotions usually absorb best helping clients feel less greasy after a massage, but you may need to reapply more often as you lose too much glide.
  2. Oils:  Oil is at the other end of the spectrum providing the most glide, but may spill and stain sheets.  They also absorb slowly, so therapists have trouble pulling on tissues, and clients may complain of feeling greasy.  Feeling greasy may also be because students pour it on like a kid pouring maple syrup on his pancakes.  Use less and blot with the sheets after.  Often therapists choose oil because they want a pure substance without artificial preservatives like parabens.  Some oils have shorter shelf lives so care must be taken.  Oils from companies like Biotone or Soothing Touch are often blended and still have artificial ingredients.
  3. Creams:  These are popular options.  They make the most therapists happy so many spas and clinics will provide a cream.  They are thicker than lotions and also absorb well, but slower than lotion.  This means you have to reapply less often.  Like lotions you don’t worry about staining (probably stain even less) and can get a good stretch from the tissues.  They don’t pump as well as lotions though, so care must be taken to not contaminate large jars of creams.  Refillable tubes work well.
  4. Gels:  Gels have a liquid consistency, but absorb faster than oil.  When first applied a gel may feel slick like oil, but then absorbs and acts more like a lotion.  It will stain less than oil.  The change in slide requires a therapist more time to get used to, but gives a chance to work superficially to warm tissues and then deeper as it absorbs.
  5. Other:  The above are much more popular.  Some therapists use butters like cocoa or shea.  I have used 100% pure cocoa butter in the past.  It’s pretty solid so you can’t spread it like a lotion.  It smells great and clients love that they don’t feel greasy after the massage.  It can’t be used for a full body.  It gave me great drag for myofascial strokes to a local area.  Some therapists will also use talcum powder.  I’ve heard this gives little slide.

The above are general guidelines.  Even within one category you can find variations.  I’ve heard that Biotone’s Deep Tissue Lotion is horrible for Swedish, but good for local work.

When I started as a student the school gave us Soothing Touch’s Herbal Lavender Lotion.  I’ll never forget the smell, and not in a bad way.  I just felt that I needed to reapply too often, especially on students with dry skin.  So, I went on to try Biotone’s Advanced Therapy Gel.  It gave great glide, especially on my problem students.  I also liked how it worked with leg hair and while giving a Swedish with gloves.  But as I advanced through school and stopped needing to make everyone frictionless I figured it wasn’t right for me.  I started using a slower deeper style.

When I graduated I started working in a rehabilitation setting and used cocoa butter for myofascial strokes and then using Biotone’s Advanced Therapy Lotion to thumbstrip muscles and to make nice.  Eventually I went to spa where they provided Biotone’s Dual-Purpose Massage Creme.  It’s a very popular choice and I used it for some time.  It gives glide without losing much drag.  I decided that I didn’t want a cream with almond oil as its base.  So, I switched over to Biotone’s Herbal Select Creme.  Since I was doing Swedish at the spa I enjoyed this cream that gave me more glide and decided to switch to the Herbal Select Oil.  Eventually I started getting out on my own more and wanted to come back to more drag.  I started using Sacred Earth Botanical Cream which is similar to Dual-Purpose and advertised as vegan.  At the time it was sold in a large pump and I enjoyed using.  Then I wanted something more natural and I started using Santa Barbara Massage Cream.  I enjoy it, but I want to try my hand at making my own cream.  I’ll keep you posted.