Massage is one of the most intimate and healing gifts we can give those we love, and the right massage oil or lotion can enrich the skin, enhance the experience, and invigorate, relax or even arouse the senses with fragrant, pure essential oils. Because of its healing benefits, massage has become an integral part of many natural products consumers wellness programs.
Although professional massage therapists train extensively, often for several years, amassing a comprehensive understanding of anatomy, wellness and appropriate techniques, there are simple, safe "amateur" techniques that anyone can learn and share with loved ones. Many professional massage schools offer classes for nonprofessionals, and a plethora of books and videos provide step-by-step guidelines.
At-home massage can take many forms and have many moods; as an expression of sexual intimacy, it can be a rewarding and scenic route to closeness and sensual exploration between consenting adults. There are also many nonsexual forms of massage that offer truly enjoyable avenues to stress relief and relaxation. Infant massage is increasingly popular as a loving way to bond parent and child and promote children's health.
In fact, once confined to overmuscled athletes or euphemistically named "massage parlors," today massage is a very legitimate business and is the most popular form of alternative healing therapy, according to the American Massage Therapy Association, based in Evanston, Ill. By offering a selection of high-quality massage products, retailers can reap the benefits of this most enjoyable bodywork tradition.
No Friction, No Irritation
Whatever the style or purpose of the massage, the right oil or lotionâthe most fundamental of massage tools, along with the skill and good intentions of the massage therapistâis key to enjoying the experience. While customers often choose products based on scent, there are subtle but important differences among oils.
The oil's general purpose is to reduce friction that's caused by skin against skin, says Claude Gagnon, CEO of Lakeside School of Massage Therapy in Milwaukee, Wis., and Madison, Wis. By allowing the massage-giver's hands to knead muscles smoothly and evenly, the oil (or lotion or cream) facilitates the massage.
"Oils are used for general-purpose massage, while lotions and creams are used for deeper massage therapy techniques," Gagnon says. His primary criterion for choosing oils is high-quality materials, but personal sensitivities are also a concern. "I look for the least reactive and hypoallergenic products," he says.
Moisturizing And Therapeutic Benefits
Experts recommend avoiding any petroleum-based synthetic oils or heat-refined oils; fortunately, nature offers a wide selection of oil-giving plants. The best massage oils use a blend of cold-pressed plant oils as a base or carrier oil. Blends may include oils of sweet almond, apricot kernel, jojoba, avocado, borage, grape seed, sesame, evening primrose, sunflower or hazelnut.
In fact, these oils serve as excellent body moisturizers as well as massage oils, following the traditions of many cultures around the world that rely on clean, nongreasy, absorbent, pure oils for health and beauty. Body care product manufacturers recognize the dual purposes of massage and skin care and recommend marketing their products as such.
"Our skin-care oils are 100 percent pure vegetable oils extracted from natural plants and botanical sources, such as almond kernels, grape seed and jojoba," says Theirry Jean, aromatherapy category manager for the Boulder, Colo.-based Frontier Natural Products Co-op, makers of AuraCacia massage oils and pure essential oils. "These oils have soothing and moisturizing properties and are highly valued for their ability to nourish the skin with fatty acids, antioxidants and natural vitamins."
"Oil keeps your skin very supple," agrees Susan Griffin-Black, founder of EO Essential Oil Products, based in Corte Madera, Calif. "Our massage oils can also be used as moisturizing body oils, so it's a matter of choosing the base oils that would best do both. Our new label specifies 'for moisture and massage'âit's a crossover product, chosen to be light and nourishing with added vitamins and lecithin."
Retailers should understand and emphasize these benefits to the skin, Griffin-Black says, because Americans often are biased against using oils on the skin for fear that they'll be thick, greasy or staining. High-quality body and massage oils are, in fact, just the opposite. "For fall, we're launching a new product called a body quencher, with very rich, luxurious and exotic blends that can also be used for massage," she adds.
Dazzling The Senses
Unscented oils can be used, but many prepared massage and body oils include pure essential oils in a high-quality base for aromatherapy benefits, mood and fragrance. With carefully chosen and blended pure essential oils, or concentrated plant extracts, oils can fit almost any mood and offer quite specific benefits, according to skilled aromatherapy masters.
"There is a very strong growing interest in aromatherapy, with the industry experiencing strong growth of 20 percent annually," says Frontier's Jean. "People are looking for solution-oriented oils; they want a nice scent and the benefits of aromatherapy, so the art of blending essential oils with massage oils is very important."
And in a world that's become quite sensitive and sometimes hostile to artificial fragrances, the natural scents of pure essential oils are enticing without being imposing. "Adding aromatherapy into a bodywork venue seems like such a natural thing to do," says EO's Griffin-Black. "Every other sense is occupied, but we often leave out the sense of smell."
EO's products are blended to suit a variety of moods. "Lavender is soothing, grapefruit is detoxifying and stimulating, rose geranium helps hormonal balance, lemon and eucalyptus are rejuvenating and invigorating," Griffin-Black says.
For lucky lovers who share the pleasures of home massage in the bedroom, a few essential oils offer intoxicating sensual delight. "For romance, ylang-ylang is known to be an aphrodisiac, and we blend it with cedarwood to create a sweet and woody combination that's one of our best-sellers," Griffin-Black says.
Of course, the adventurous can blend their own combinations in unscented base oils, sold in bottles or in bulk. The most erotic natural scents are jasmine, neroli, ylang-ylang, everlasting and blue chamomile. Recommend some or all of these and you may find yourself with unusually happy, contented, smiling customers.
Elaine Marie Lipson ([email protected]) writes about natural health and beauty, yoga and organic foods from her home in Colorado. She is the author of The Organic Foods Sourcebook (Contemporary Books, 2001).
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXII/number 11/p. 28, 30