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Massage Mediums

Oils, waxes and creams

Massage mediums are substances used to allow the smooth flow of the hands over the skin during a massage. The medium chosen depends on the client's preference and skin type, the type of massage and your style.


Many say the “anointing” mentioned in the Bible and practised throughout middle Eastern cultures was a form of ritual massage. It was used to honour key people - nobles, wise men, prophets, and warriors. Don't you feel sometimes - whether you use oil or not - that massage feels like a kind of anointing?

The holy anointing oil described in Exodus 30:22-25 was created from:

  • Pure Myrrh (מר דרור mar deror) 500 shekels (about 6 kg)
  • Sweet Cinnamon (קינמון בשם kinnemon besem) 250 shekels (about 3 kg)
  • Sweet calamus (קנה בשם keneh bosem) 250 shekels (about 3 kg)
  • Cassia (קדה kiddah) 500 shekels (about 6 kg)
  • Olive oil (שמן זית shemen sayith) one hin (about 5 quarts according to Adam Clarke;  or about 4 liters according to Shiurei Torah, 7 liters according to the Chazon Ish)

Some claim an additional likely ingredient was cannabis - Benet argues, in support of the theory that cannabis was an ingredient of the holy anointing oil, that most of the other ingredients, if not all, are also theorized to come from Central Asian lands in which, Benet claims, cannabis was frequently used for spiritual and medicinal use.

In any case, enjoy your ‘annointing’ and may you and your clients feel honoured in body, mind and spirit!"  David Lauterstein, The Deep Massage Book.


The most popular mediums are natural vegetable oils and pre-blended oils which contain selected essential oils that are sympathetic to the desired goal being reached for example relaxation or stimulation. Other mediums which can be used include talc, body lotions and creams, but a general guide is; "if its good enough to eat, its good enough to use on the skin."

Oils, Balms, Waxes & Talc

The main determinant between oils, waxes, balms or talc is largely one of personal preference although very hairy bodies are easier to massage with oils, and if you are shopping for oils and waxes there are a great range of lovely blends and fragrances available.

A rule of thumb is that with any massage medium,
if you can eat it, its okay for your skin, if you can't eat it, don't use it.

Massage Oils

For general massage almost any vegetable oil will work, but some are better than others and with time you will develop your own preference. Cold pressed oils are best as they have a higher level of purity and should not contain any additives whereas petroleum based products and some supermarket oils may contain preservatives which can cause skin reactions.

There are many different types of massage oils available such as sweet almond oil, sesame oil, avocado oil and others. Some oils may leave you feeling greasy after the massage, while other massage oils go rancid quickly and have an unpleasant smell. Other oils may irritate skin or cause allergic reactions, so care must be taken so that persons with allergies to nuts and seeds are not exposed to oils derived from nuts and seeds.

Oils can also be made fragrant by the addition of pure essential oils which also have healing properties to support and enhance the effect of the massage. Most essential oils are antibacterial and energetically active, these will be discussed in a future article.

Massage Wax
There are a wide range of massage waxes available, made principally with a bees wax base, they are smoother to use and more suited to less hairy bodies.

Massage Gels
These are generally water based and therefore very cooling and the seaweed gel I sometimes use is nice to work with however it evaporates and absorbs easily so you need volume - perhaps a half litre per massage.

Talc can be used for people with liver damage and for massage in a cooler environment as talc does not cool the body as oils and waxes do.

Note; in cases of liver disease dry skin treatments such as using talc, acupressure or shiatsu are safer.

  • Sweet Almond Oil (Oleum Amygdalae)
    Extracted from almonds, sweet almond oil is the industry standard product that has been popular for many years. It is odourless and has a nice consistency to work with. Used to treat skin problems by the ancient Romans, it has long been used as a skin conditioner and it is also a good carrier oil to add essential oils to for aromatherapy. It is extracted from the sweet almond and it has a very slight odour, a nutty taste and is pale yellow in colour. This oil has been traditionally used by massage therapists to lubricate the skin during a massage session and is considered by to be an effective emollient which allows hands to glide easily over skin. Sweet almond oil is absorbed fairly quickly, but not so quickly that you need to keep reapplying it.
  • Apricot kernel oil
    Similar in texture and color to sweet almond oil, it is rich in vitamin E which gives it a longer shelf life than many oils. It is readily absorbed into the skin, so it won't leave people feeling greasy afterwards and this oil is often used as a carrier oil in aromatherapy.
  • Jojoba Oil
    Jojoba is actually a wax extracted from the seed of the jojoba plant and the unrefined jojoba oil has a clear golden colour at room temperature and a slightly fatty odor. Refined jojoba oil (as with most oils) is colorless and odorless. Jojoba oil is very silky and a quickly absorbed oil and needs to be reapplied often or mixed with other oils. It is has mild antibacterial properties and contains long chain wax esters that closely resemble skin sebum and very rarely causes skin irritations. Jojoba has a very long shelf life and is a favorite carrier oil for aromatherapy.
  • Coconut Oil
    My preferred medium, coconut oil is actually a light non-greasy oil popular as a sunscreen and its pleasant coco-nutty odour can often be smelt on our beaches. The unprocessed oil at room temperature is normally a solid fat, however it is normally processed using heat and chemicals, so if buying, check its purity of manufacture. Organic Virgin Coconut oil is sourced from the local communities on the unpolluted tropical islands of the South Pacific. The oil is cold pressed on certified organic plantations to produce a high quality virgin coconut oil, free from any trans-fatty acids and an important source of Medium Chain Triglycerides, especially Lauric Acid. Coconut oil is an saturated fat, which is highly heat resistant and thus ideal for cooking, baking or frying. It can be easily blended with other oils (olive oil or butter) and can be enjoyed in salads, smoothies or simply on its own. Delicious enough to eat straight from a spoon. A smooth, creamy, all purpose oil and is excellent as a skin moisturiser and softener though it may cause allergic reactions.
  • Sesame oil 
    Sesame oil is a little lighter than sweet almond, it absorbs into the skin easily, and is widely used in India for massage. Do not use the roasted sesame oil.
  • Olive Oil
    Most theraapists find this a bit too viscus, the olive oil molecules are larger than most oils and it can be hard to get a grip making a it a favourite for Turkish oil wrestling. But if you have a massage to do, and no other oil, it will be okay to use.
  • Johnsons Baby Oil or any mineral oil
    Use only if you've nothing else and you're desperate.  This mineral oil - a modified version of what lubricates our cars and industry has no place in or on our bodies.  Some say its useful for removing excess wax or sticky substances/residues left on hard surfaces.  But others report strong and unpleasant reactions to the smell as well as babies who have died inhaling or ingesting this product as the cap is totally not child proof.
  • Creams and beauty products
    These can be lovely to use and generally absorb into the skin fairly quickly, but like JBO above, these can have unpleasant consequences (discussed under cosmetics) as they often contain Palm Oil.
  • Polysorbate 80 An Additive in Massage Oil
    Polysorbate 80 is added to some massage oils so that the oils will not stain sheets towels and clothing and it makes the oil water soluble so that oils completely wash out of any fabric in a normal cold wash cycle. For the massage therapist this helps to keep sheets and towels last longer, to smell clean and fresh, and reduce laundry expenses. For the customer any oil remaining on their body after a massage will easily wash off. Polysorbate 80 is derived from sorbitol which comes from fruit or sugar beet, and it is formed into a polymer which helps emulsify water and oil mixtures. It is an oil in water emulsifier, dispersant, and co-solubiliser and thickening agent suitable for use in bath oils and room sprays and "easy wash out" Massage Oils.The usage rate is between 1-50% depending on the application. Lower usage rates indicate when polysorbate 80 is used as a solubiliser, and the higher rates when used as a dispersant.


  • Massage wax is difficult to remove from clothing - so use clothes that can be disposed of after a two or three uses.
  • Massage wax is hard to get out of your hair. To remove it, apply shampoo your hair and rub it in well for a few minutes. Then add water. The shampoo won't lather, but it gets you hair clean.
  • Massage oils are easier to wash out of hair and clothing, however don't wear you best clothes.
  • If you're having bad hair day, massage some natural oil (not baby oil) into your hair and you will get better control and lustre.
  • When massaging on a bed, to prevent oil soaking through and to guard against spills, its good to have an absorbent blanket under the sheet the person will lay on.

Note; in cases of liver disease dry skin treatments such as using talc, acupressure or shiatsu are safer.

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