Massage Therapists: How I Chose a Massage Cream for my Ultra-Sensitive Skin

Sometimes, I think I might have the most sensitive skin on the planet. I know this isn’t quite true, but it has presented some challenges for my career in massage therapy. When I’m working, I wash my hands at least a dozen times a day, which certainly doesn’t help my hands stay moist and supple. And to make matters worse, as soon as a massage oil starts to go rancid (which takes about 2 weeks after you’ve opened the bottle!), the skin on my hands starts to get red and itchy when I use the oil. This goes for all of the massage oils including sesame oil, almond oil, olive oil, or apricot kernel oil. Jojoba oil is a plant wax, and therefore doesn’t go rancid, but I don’t like the glide very much, and it’s EXPENSIVE!!!!! Coconut oil is nice, but it’s way too oily, and my clients smell like coconut macaroons after their massages. So I solved my dilemma for 12 years by choosing a deep tissue massage cream made by a company called Elta in Switzerland. It was hypoallergenic, non-greasy, and it never went rancid. It was my dream cream. Well, guess what? Last year (2012), Elta decided to discontinue their deep tissue massage cream. Jerks. All of a sudden, I needed to find a substitute, and fast.

To conduct my research, I took the opportunity to travel to Seattle to visit my best friend and my very favorite massage supply store, Zenith Supplies. They have a massage oil bar there, where you can buy samples of oils and creams before you commit to a gallon jug. I know I’m allergic to avocado oil, so I vetoed everything with that. Scents bother me, so I nixed all of the scented oils and creams. I also nixed the lotions with herbs like arnica in them, because I don’t want to overload my liver with the herbs that are in my massage cream (remember that the skin is the body’s largest organ, and everything in your massage cream is absorbed into your body to be detoxified by the liver). I looked for “hypoallergenic,” and also brought my pendulum along so that I could do some discrete muscle testing on myself to check for specific allergies to products. I narrowed down my selection to three products made by Biotone and brought the samples with me to my friend’s apartment to use her as a test subject.

I immediately eliminated Biotone’s Deep Tissue Massage Lotion from the running. It didn’t have enough glide for me, and like many lotions, it evaporated and cooled down my test subject’s skin too fast. I stuck with Biotone’s Advanced Therapy Massage Lotion and their Pure Touch Organic’s Massage cream and used both in my massage practice for 9 months.

Even though I had selected two creams that were supposedly hypoallergenic, I started getting eczema on my fingers within the first week of using the new creams. For some stupid reason, I didn’t think it was either of the massage creams, because I had been so careful to select “hypoallergenic” creams, and neither of them immediately caused my hands or fingers to itch immediately afterwards. It also goes to show that muscle testing on yourself (in my case, using a pendulum) definitely has a margin of error. Here’s how I eliminated all of the possible causes of my eczema:

  • I started using gloves every time I washed dishes in case it was my dish soap
  • I gave my cat a bath and converted her to 100% indoor only in case petting her was causing allergies (dirt gives me eczema)
  • I stopped using liquid soap entirely (anti-bacterial soap is especially drying!)  and exclusively used Swiss triple-milled bar soap to wash my hands, because I know that this kind of soap doesn’t dry my hands (it’s expensive, but worth it)
  • I went back to using a personal hand cream that I knew I wasn’t allergic to
  • I converted my shampoo and conditioner to products I knew I wasn’t allergic to

In spite of these precautions, nothing really eliminated the eczema. My index fingers on both hands were scaly and itchy, and I needed to use a nail file to buff them down before each massage client. Lovely. So I knew by simple logic that one of both of my massage creams was causing the eczema.

I figured out the culprit by using only one of the creams at a time for a few weeks to see what my skin’s reaction would be. And voila, the Advanced Therapy Massage Lotion was the culprit. So I gave the rest of my bottle to a massage therapist friend who has no skin allergies, and have stuck with the Biotone Pure Touch Organics Massage Cream ever since. It has a shea butter base, which makes it really thick and difficult to spoon into the squeeze tube I use, but my eczema has disappeared, and my hands are happy once more.

To make a long story short, never give up and keep experimenting with creams, lotions, and oils. If you have sensitive skin like I do, you CAN have a successful massage career and you don’t have to suffer with dry, itchy skin on your hands. The right product is everything.

How to Remove Rancid Oil from Massage Sheets

In April, I discovered that my beloved deep tissue massage cream had been discontinued. Suddenly, twelve years of using the same fabulous massage cream dissolved in one fell swoop. I broke into a panic and started researching replacements. The reason I loved this cream so much was because of its hypoallergenic nature. I have uber sensitive skin. Most massage creams and oils leave my hands feeling itchy, dry, scaly, and lizard-like, which is pretty bad for the longevity of a massage career. I flew to Seattle and visited my very favorite massage supply store, Zenith Supplies, and bought some samples of creams and lotions for research. My best friend Christine lives near Seattle and volunteered to be my massage lotion testing research subject. She’s so brave. I found two great creams from Biotone, with hypoallergenic ingredients, and have been using them ever since.

Now, here’s the problem. It’s four months into my new massage cream usage. This week, I noticed that my massage sheets are taking on a nasty, rancid oil smell. Yuck!!!!! I am pining for my old deep tissue cream, but it’s not coming back any time soon. So, today I drove to Safeway and bought four cases of Classic Coke (On sale: buy 2 cases, get 2 free).

No, I’m not going on a Coca-Cola drinking binge. My blog is called, “Creating Wellness,” remember?

Did you know that Coca Cola is one of the best degreasers ever? I learned this trick in massage school. One can of Coke emptied into the washing machine along with the normal amount of laundry detergent lifts that nasty rancid oil smell right out of the sheets. It’s like a magic fairy wand. You can let the sheets soak in it for a while, or just run the washer as you normally would. And then, voila! Fresh, clean sheets. Many massage therapists use bleach to pull the oil out. It doesn’t work very well, and leaves your sheets smelling like a rancid hot tub. Yummy.

In the rest of the world, Coca Cola also helps get that stale, human oil smell out of bedsheets. You know what I’m talking about. You pull the “clean” sheets out of the closet, and after you’ve made the bed, there’s an unwashed human smell lingering in the room. Coca Cola is better than linen spray, and a million times better than Tide. With my uber sensitive skin, I don’t want any nasty perfume-y crud rubbing its chemical compounds into my skin. That’s a recipe for disaster.

I found another blog that lists 51 uses for Coca Cola. Let it be known that I have used Coke in the past to remove rust from car brake light wires with fabulous success. Notice that I don’t recommend drinking it. Coca Cola cans are lined with BPA, and the same compound in Coke that degreases my sheets also removes the BPA right along with some of the aluminum from the can. When you drink it from the can, you’re getting all that great BPA along with a shot of aluminum. Keep the Coke in the laundry room.

For the Coca-Cola curious:
51 Uses for Coca Cola – The Ultimate List

Therapeutic Massage — the Top 10 Benefits

The economy is challenging right now, and many people are holding out for special occasions like birthdays to receive a massage. Since an hour massage runs anywhere from $50 to $150, many of us can think of many other ways to spend that money. Rather than thinking of massage as a way to pamper yourself, I invite you to think of it as an investment in your health.

Top 10 Benefits of Receiving Regular Massage:

  1. Reduces or eliminates pain and muscle tension from chronic or recent injuries
  2. Reduces stress and fatigue
  3. Alleviates headaches and lowers the need for migraine medication
  4. Accelerates your recovery from muscle injuries and surgeries
  5. Improves poor posture
  6. Increases joint flexibility and muscle range of motion
  7. Increases circulation and lowers blood pressure
  8. Improves immune system function
  9. Alleviates symptoms of depression
  10. Enhances attentiveness and focus

For more information on the scientific research being conducted on the benefits of massage, visit the website for the Touch Research Institute.

When to Avoid Massage

While my clients appreciate the many benefits of massage, such as reducing pain and stiffness, recovering quickly from injuries, reducing stress levels and blood pressure, and boosting immunity, there are also times when you should either wait or see your doctor first. I’ve realized over time that many of my clients don’t know when to avoid massage. Here are a few examples:

  • When you’re coming down with an illness
  • If you’ve just had a vaccination shot
  • If you’re recently recovering from major surgery (with general anesthesia)
  • With burns (including sunburn) or open wounds
  • With severe osteoporosis
  • If you’ve been diagnosed with blood clots, especially in the legs
  • With major injuries, unexplained pain, or fractures
  • If you have any contagious skin conditions
  • If you have any kind of blood clotting disorder
  • If you’re being treated for cancer

With these tips in mind, I hope you continue to take good care of yourself and make sure that you follow an inspiring self-care routine. Here’s to your good health!