Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Massage Oils, Phthalates & You

An oil massage always begs that question, “How much oil to use?”  Are you one of those therapists or massage customers who thinks less is more?  Or does generous, slick, smooth and slippery-sensual sound infinitely better?  Does it matter?

Fundamentally, the style of massage will, to a large degree, determine how much oil the therapist needs to use.  Feast your eyes on this recent clip, showing a creative, bold and pretty special oil massage technique:

Had Trayl, the massage therapist and teacher in the clip, been less than liberal with the oil, the guy receiving the massage would probably have had mild friction burns.  How much of that oil was absorbed into his skin, do you think?  How many of the ingredients in that oil found their way into his bloodstream?

The US Center for Disease Control has for more than a decade been studying what they call Body Burden and Bio-Monitoring – the level and concentration of chemicals found in large population samples.  They have, in particular, been studying phthalates – a group of chemicals most commonly found in plastics and in synthetic fragrances.   Their studies show phthalates in the bloodstreams of as much as 75% of the US population samples tested. (1)  Why is this relevant to massage oils?  Phthalates are a common component of plastics manufacture and most commercial massage oils are sold in large plastic containers, which means the oils carry high levels of phthalates since oils dissolve plastics over time, especially when stored at warm temperatures.  Massage oils made with a mineral oil base have high levels of phthalates, which are also a commercial solvent used in the mineral oil production process.  And many, many commercial massage oils are synthetically fragranced.  If you are unlucky enough to receive a massage with a synthetically fragranced cheaper mineral oil that came out of a plastic bottle, you are basically getting a mega-phthalate dose.
So should you be worrying about that?   Phthalates, sometimes called “the everywhere chemical” are known endocrine disruptors – they mimic, block or suppress normal hormone function in the body; they can affect fertility and sexual development, disrupt sexual function, aggravate the growth of hormone dependent cancers and also affect foetal development, since they cross the placenta.  Giving yourself a mega-all-over phthalate dose whilst stimulating circulation and absorption through the physical massage technique is most definitely NOT a health-enhancing move.

Does that mean just using less oil fixes the problem?  Actually no.  The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (2) has published specific research which suggests that combinations of various chemicals with estrogenic properties may actually have additive or even synergistic effects in the body.  Lots and lots of low doses of various chemicals bind together and add up to powerful chemical cocktails in your bloodstream. (3) 2+3 = not 5, but maybe 10.

What does all this mean?  It (thankfully!) doesn’t mean you need to forego that sensual, healing and relaxing oil massage.  Phew!  It does mean, that as a massage customer you need to ASK about what is being applied to your body during that 60-90 minutes.  It especially means you need to consider what oils you use as a massage therapist.  While your client may only receive one 60-90 minute exposure per week, as a therapist you may literally be half-covered in it for as much as half your working day, every day.

What to insist on, whether you are the client or the massage therapist?

· A good quality plant-based massage oil;
· A massage oil which is scented using only 100% natural essential oils. If the term “fragrance oil” appears on the label, it is NOT natural – this is a soft and more politically acceptable industry term for a chemically synthesized fragrance;
· A massage oil not packaged in plastic – preferably choose glass or metal containers which do not chemically react with the oil inside.
As Trayl, the massage therapist and teacher in the clip says, an oil massage is wonderfully relaxing and healing in that it provides the impetus for a shift in nerve function and gives a breathing space, if you like, for the body to begin to naturally heal and re-align itself.  All oil massages should be not only feeling good, but be health-enhancing to the body over time, regardless of how much oil you choose to use or receive.

Enjoy, share, relax, experiment with technique... and be sure to choose only natural, health-enhancing oils.

Foot-note: You can contact Trayl Aitken-Cade, the therapist and teacher featured in the clip, via his website He teaches advanced classes in Chiang Mai, Thailand at Sunshine Massage School


(1) i Commonweal Biomonitoring Resource Center (2005). Taking It All In: Documenting Chemical Pollution in Californians through Biomonitoring. Available online at Accessed August 19, 2008.
Environmental Working Group (2006). Across Generations: Industrial Chemicals in Mothers and Daughters: The pollution we share and inherit. Available online at Accessed August 19, 2008.
Environmental Working Group (2005). Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns. Available online at: Accessed August 19, 2008.
Environmental Working Group (2003). Body Burden: The Pollution in People. Available online at: Accessed August 19, 2008.


(3) viii Ramamoorthy K, Wang F, Chen IC, Safe S, Norris JD, McDonnell DP, Gaido KW, Bocchinfuso WP, Korach KS (1997). Potency of combined estrogenic pesticides. Science 275: 405-6.
Foster WG, Younglai EV, Boutross- Tadross O, Hughes CL, Wade MG (2004). Mammary gland morphology in Sprague-Dawley rats following treatment with an organochlorine mixture in utero and neonatal genistein. Toxicological Sciences 77: 91-100.

ix Xie L, Thrippleton K, Irwin MA, Siemering GS, Mekebri A, Crane D, Berry K, Schlenk D (2005). Evaluation of estrogenic activities of aquatic herbicides and surfactants using a rainbow trout vitellogenin assay. Toxicological Sciences 77: 91-100.

1 comment:

  1. really, for me, has always been important, too, the correct use of aromatic oils during the massage. I plan to write a proper article soon. (Creative massage)