It’s a question you hear in the clinics of all massage schools, Portland, OR to Portland Maine: Do you prefer lotion or oil? If you visit our massage clinic, you will definitely be asked this question. So today we’re taking some time to explore the pros and cons of each.

From the perspective of skin health, oil and lotion each offer benefits—assuming that your therapist selects lotions free of petroleum products and other noxious chemicals, that is. Many of us love our over-the-counter creams and lotions to create soft, touchable skin. But here’s the rub: Many of those trusted lotion brands contain toxic synthetic chemicals that have been tied to serious health problems.

With that said, massage therapists tend to be very picky about skin products, generally eschewing synthetic chemicals. Our campus store carries a variety of eco-friendly, skin-friendly massage lotions and creams. Assuming that your LMT is using non-poisonous lotions and creams, let’s go on to consider the advantages and disadvantages of massage oil and lotion.

Using Creams & Lotion for Massage
–Penetrates the skin, providing hydration and softness.
–Many people feel lotion helps their skin look younger.
–Lotions often contain beneficial vitamins and compounds, such as vitamin D, aloe vera, shea butter, vitamin E, and keratin.
–The beneficial ingredients in lotion can replace lost skin moisture, heal skin conditions, and repair damaged skin.

–Lotions are more likely to contain synthetic chemicals.
–Many creams come in a jar, which cannot be easily attached to a holster.
–Lotion can feel cold when applied to skin. Some therapists keep lotion warmers for this purpose.

Using Oils for Massage

–Protects the skin’s lipid barrier, retaining more moisture.
–Most natural oils are noncomedogenic, meaning that they will not clog pores or cause breakouts
–Many massage therapists feel oil glides on the skin better.
–Oil warms up the quickest, so it’s easy to get it warm before applying to skin.

–Oil is slippery. If it drips on the floor you may end up taking a tumble.
–Some clients feel oil is too greasy. (To accommodate such clients, you can provide a warm towel to remove excess oil after your session.)

Jojoba oil is an excellent choice for massage because its structure is the closest to the oil our skin produces (sebum). Because Jojoba oil is so like sebum, it is quickly absorbed in the skin. And as a bonus for massage therapists: It doesn’t stain linens.

In general, it’s best to avoid scented oils and lotions, as some clients are extremely sensitive to smells, and the wrong scent could ruin their massage. If you want to use an essential oil or other scent, run your plan by the client prior to the session.

If you’re currently enrolled in massage therapist schooling, or you’re a practicing LMT, what are your secrets for massage lubricants? Do you recommend using specific combinations for certain body types? (For instance, we have heard that hirsute clients are best served with a combination of oil and lotion that mats down the hair but doesn’t pull on it during massage.) We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!