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.