Massage cream ingredients

Updated July 20, 2017

The massage ritual was exercised throughout history for its healing, relaxing and rejuvenating principles. Different massage creams are applied to the skin for their distinct qualities. This is why it is essential to understand what ingredients exist inside massage creams. Massage cream generally consists of a water and oil base with emulsifiers, preservatives, fragrance and colour added for packaging aesthetics. Commercially made lotions typically contain many synthetic ingredients. Choosing natural-based creams may be a healthier and safer alternative.

Oil Base

The oil base in all commercially made creams, including massage creams, contain at least one of the carrier oils, such as olive oil, almond oil, hemp seed oil, jojoba, grape seed oil or coconut oil. Carrier oils are blended with supplemental essential oils, such as lemon eucalyptus, bergamot, blue cypress, neroli, clary sage, frankincense, tea tree, vanilla and ylang ylang.

One other oil frequently found in all types of personal care creams, including massage creams, is mineral oil. Mineral oil is a synthetically made oil product derived from petroleum. A synthetic formation of castor oil, which is listed as PEG hydrogenated castor oil, is often found in creams as well, serving as both an oil and an emulsifier.

Additional components added to the oil base are antioxidants and emulsifiers. Antioxidants are beneficial to human skin, but they also preserve the shelf life of oils within a cream base. Vitamin E is an excellent antioxidant, as well as vitamins A and D.


Emulsifiers, also known as surfactants, are organic salts used to bind an oil base to water in order to have a cream base or lotion in the proper consistency. Thus, the emulsifier is an integral ingredient of massage cream.

Commonly used synthetic emulsifiers are the PEG group of emulsifiers listed on bottles. TEA and DMDM Hydantoin are both common as well. All of these synthetic emulsifiers have been identified through studies to carry significant health risks, including extremely high levels of carcinogenic risk factors. TEA is not required of manufacturers to be listed on ingredient labels.

Natural and healthier alternatives include wax derived from palm oil, and natural emulsifying waxes such as beeswax, and beeswax blended with borax, also known as sodium borate. Lecithin also serves as a natural emulsifier.

Water Base

The second base to all massage creams is a water base consisting of forms of glycerine, mineral salts, alcohol or alcohol extracts, preservatives and varying amounts of water, such as rain water.

Water-soluble vitamins with herbal extracts and floral essences are often added to the water base as well, particularly within natural-made massage creams. Vitamins K, C and B are all excellent water-soluble vitamins. Vitamin C, citric acids and fruit extracts are excellent vitamin sources that act as natural preservatives as well.

Glycerine is not a harmful additive, but oftentimes manufacturers replace glycerine for an economical synthetic -- propylene glycol. However, propylene glycol is recognised by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety in the United States as an unsafe neurotoxin. Vegetable glycerine, or glycerine mixed with aloe vera gel, are healthier additives to a water-based cream.


Paraben has been a traditional preservative used in lotions and creams. Paraben mimics the hormone oestrogen and is a leading allergen. To detect paraben on a bottle, look for paraben starting with suffixes like methyl, ethyl, butyl and propyl.

Natural and safer preservatives found in massage creams are grape seed oil, citrus seed extracts, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate derived from naturally occurring amino acids in glycine, and of course, vitamins C and E.

Fragrances and Color Dyes

FD&C colours frequently found in creams are unhealthy dyes made from coal. Essential oils with herbal extracts, floral essences and fragrant oils are healthier additives over synthetic fragrances and colour dyes. Unfortunately, synthetic dyes and fragrances are commonly found in massage creams and other personal care creams.

Some fragrant oils used in massage creams are rosemary extract, eucalyptus, lemon grass and lavender oil. Fragrant oils differ from essential oils in that floral and herbal extracts are infused into carrier oils.

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About the Author

With 10 years of academic writing/editing experience, Rain Morie took the leap into independent writing, editing and photography in 2006. Publications Morie has written for include "AllVoices," Today.Com and Bright Hub. Morie has a fine art education in dance and photography. She returned to university to complete a B.A. and master's in sociology and psychology.