We know what a rash means. It’s a sign of something ominous, terrible and fast approaching, with the sound of the ambulance siren in the distance. However, it’s also something you get if you simply scratch too hard. So if you develop a rash after your massage, don’t panic. It’s more common than you think. We examine some of the reasons for it below.

1) Histamines being released may cause a rash after massage.

Essentially, that’s your body responding as if you are allergic to the massage itself. It does not mean you are allergic to being massaged. Rather, it’s a matter of confused signals. You might also experience this when exercising. Usually, there is nothing to worry about, but you could use over-the-counter antihistamines if the rash is particularly itchy or unpleasant. In Eastern massage traditions, this can be referred to as the ‘release of trapped energy’, and is considered to be a good sign. It is up to you what you choose to believe, but the main message to take away is that it’s nothing to worry about. If this happens often and it bothers you, your masseur could mix in a little oil with antihistamine properties into your massage lotion.

2) You might have a skin condition called dermatographia.

To put it simply, it means that your skin reacts to stimulation. Conduct a simple test – scratch your skin. Does it redden, become raised and swollen? That’s likely dermatographia. It might also cause your skin to itch, and the reaction can be either instant or it might take time to develop. The causes of dermatographia could be stress, infections and certain medications. If you think you might be suffering from this condition, discontinue your massage sessions and see your doctor. Dermatographia is in essence the same as your skin releasing histamines (see the paragraph above), but the reaction is more severe.

3) Are your skin and muscles detoxifying?

male figure in beachwear

Detox during massage: a myth believed by many therapists.

There’s little evidence that massage can ‘detoxify’ the body, so this is most likely incorrect. The ‘toxins’ referred to are usually lactic acid. Lactic acid gets broken down during a massage (especially deep tissue massage) but your body then metabolises it – in less than an hour. So when my friend called me to say ‘ my back broke out after massage ‘, I could rule this out really quickly with a question: how long ago was your massage?

If a lot of lactic acid is released from the muscles, you might get a rash after your massage session. It is not harmful, but not altogether desirable as it might itch and feel uncomfortable for a bit. Don’t scratch! A simple over-the-counter cream could ease the itching. You are more likely to experience this reaction if you train and have well-developed muscles.

4) Allergic reaction to the massage oil or lotion.

If you have allergies, you should discuss them with your agency or masseur prior to the massage, so that only appropriate oil or lotion is used. You will likely know of any severe allergies (such as a nut allergy) which could pose a serious threat to your health. Your masseur should use a neutral, unscented oil or lotion instead of a nut-based oil. Some masseurs substitute grapeseed oil, but this is not an ideal alternative. A client who is allergic to nuts could have an allergy to seeds as well.

However, you might also have an allergy that you are not aware of, or one which does not manifest in a severe or obvious way. You might notice that your skin is irritated after the massage, and it might feel itchy (that’s contact dermatitis for you). In addition, you might have a runny nose during the massage and your eyes might water and itch. If you see a rash after the massage and suspect an allergic reaction, over-the-counter antihistamines should offer relief. In more severe cases (if you have trouble breathing or the rash is quite extreme), you might need to attend the A&E. Don’t forget to contact your agency or masseur to ask them about the massage oil used, so you have some idea what could have triggered your allergy.

An easy way to tell if it’s an allergy and not a reaction caused by deep bodywork is to look at the affected area. An allergy will manifest all over the body where the oil or lotion was used. However, a reaction triggered by the massage will likely be in one or a few concentrated areas.

5) Other allergies.

As in the above paragraphs, but the allergy is not to the massage oil or lotion. You could also be allergic to some ingredients in the disinfectant or cleaning agents used to clean the massage table or nuru mattress. If you are having a nuru massage, you could also be allergic to latex (if the nuru massage / sheet is made of latex). Latex allergy is quite serious, so if you know that you have it, you should let your agency or masseur know beforehand.

Developed a rash after massage? Stay calm yet cautious.

And finally, your masseur should never massage an area where you have a rash. If your rash is a reaction to a previous massage, it’s best to abstain from having another massage for a while. Remember, that most people get a rash or experience itchiness after a massage at some point in their lives, and in most cases there is nothing to worry about. However, if you suspect a severe allergy, you should seek medical assistance immediately. And if you do have an allergy you are aware of, tell your agency or masseur. Because, you know, in gay massage that massage oil really does end up everywhere.