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.