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.

7 thoughts on “Massage Therapists: How I Chose a Massage Cream for my Ultra-Sensitive Skin

  1. Thanks for the info.
    Is there a reason why you wouldn’t try fractionated coconut oil?

  2. I don’t like using coconut oil for massage. Too oily for me. Many massage therapists use fractionated coconut oil and like it, but I prefer massage creams over oils.

  3. Hi Alicia, Does the Pure Touch Organics cream stain sheets at all? I would guess it might because of the jojoba oil but you mentioned the shea butter is the dominant base. Thanks.

  4. I’ve. Web design with dry cracked and horrible itchy hands for about 2 years now! I’m at my white end! I’m having breakdowns crying cause I itch so bad. I’m using calamine to calm the itch but it. Ur a also! I’m trying shea and jojoba right now but nothing seems to work. It’s awful and so embarrassing!

  5. Sometimes it’s an allergy to the massage cream you’re using and sometimes it’s something else. I learned early on that liquid soap dries out my skin terribly — especially antibacterial soap. Liquid soap makes my hands crack and bleed. Once I switched to using a triple-milled Swiss bar soap to wash my hands, a lot of my lizard skin problems went away. If you have really sensitive skin, change your soap as well as your massage oil. With the massage oil, keep the ingredients simple — try sesame oil as a massage oil and keep it refrigerated when you’re not using it. My massage school had almond oil and sesame oil available for us to practice with, and the sesame oil was the least allergenic because of the people who have hidden nut allergies. Best of luck to you!

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