It's important to speak up for yourself when necessary.

By Rebecca Norris
December 27, 2019

Massages are easily one of the most luxurious, relaxing treatments you can treat yourself to. Manicures and pedicures count as self-care, but massages have a way of physically kneading out pent-up stress and anxiety from the day, weeks, or even months. The only problem? Many people don't know what to ask for to get the most out of their massage—or, if they do, they're too uncomfortable to do so during the actual session. When it comes to determining how to be your own advocate, knowing the general rules of massage etiquette can help feel confident to make the most of the experience. Ahead you'll find everything you need to know for before, during, and after your treatment.

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Related: Your Complete Guide to Self-Massages

What to Wear

Believe it or not, you can actually wear whatever you want during your massage. "You should wear whatever works for your comfort level—that spectrum is different for everyone," explains Demetri Travlos, Chillhouse assistant general manager and lead licensed massage therapist. "If you want your massage fully clothed, that is perfectly fine. Your comfort is paramount but do try to dress in athletic wear—massaging through a parka might be a little difficult."

Joanna Vargas, celebrity facialist and founder of Joanna Vargas Salons and Skincare Collection, agrees, noting that while most of her clients typically go unclothed during their treatments, it all comes down to what you're most comfortable with. For some, that's wearing a bra and underwear, while for others it's relaxing completely bare. The biggest takeaway is to leave enough skin visible so that your massage therapist can apply lotions and oils and really knead your muscles. Lotions and oils not for you? Thin clothing, like a camisole and spandex shorts, is just fine.

How to Approach Conversation During a Treatment

Not talking to the only other person in a dimly lit room you're sharing for a relatively extended period of time can feel awkward. But, remember: It isn't for your masseuse. Don't cloud your headspace—effectively squashing your main objective (to relax!)—by worrying about not talking enough. In fact, less is really more. "Before you begin the treatment, it is very important to let your therapist know how strong you would like the treatment to be, and tell him or her about any physical issues," says Paul Labrecque Salon and Spa massage director Michael Shanahan. "[But after that] I think it is best to keep the conversation during a massage to a minimum. Vargas agrees with this sentiment, noting that most massage therapists want you to relax and not feel obligated to keep a conversation going.

If you actually do want to talk to your therapist during your massage, go for it. "If you and your LMT feel comfortable with one another to chop it up the entire session, then, by all means, do so," Travlos says. "Some people prefer silence to really get into that chill state. Andm if you are in a spa that is open concept where other clients can hear you, silence is suggested."

How to Ask for the Right Pressure

A massage is only relaxing and renewing if it meets your pressure standards. After all, if there's no pressure at all, you might feel frustrated that you're paying hard-earned cash for a sub-par service; and if there's too much, you might be too preoccupied with the pain to actually unwind. "It's normal to indicate at the beginning of the massage how much pressure you want," Vargas explains. "You should be very direct. The amount of pressure you request is completely up to your preference. If you have a specific issue that you want addressed, the massage therapist will likely offer their opinion on how much pressure is needed to provide therapy for that area."

At the same time, don't feel like once you initially describe your pressure preference that you can't speak up again during the massage. "Don't be afraid to speak up during treatment if you want a pressure change," Shanahan emphasizes, noting that massage therapists simply prefer to hear your pressure preferences in advance to provide the best experience possible. It's also worth noting that during the preliminary conversation of pressure is the ideal time to be open and upfront with your massage therapist on where you like to be touched. "Always keep the lines of communication open during session, as work on your shoulders will feel significantly different than work on your glutes or feet," Travlos says. "Also one therapist's deep pressure may be another's medium or light, so always take the time to say what you need. Your body, your rules."

What Not to Do During a Session

This one is super simple: Don't move. "Ideally, you will lay there and just melt into a state of happy bliss," Travlos says. "Do your best to breathe, relax, and receive the work, but let your therapist know if things need to change or something hurts or makes you uncomfortable." Another (obvious) habit to avoid? Vargas reminds us that massages are not the time to be checking messages and replying to emails.

How Much to Tip on a Massage

Once your massage is over, you almost always have the option to tip your therapist. This occasionally gets overlooked, depending on where you're getting the treatment. While massage-centric spas and parlors are a no-brainer for tipping, medical and sports massages offered in doctor's or physical therapist's offices aren't always regarded in the same way. As a general rule of thumb, Vargas says that a 20 percent tip is the recognized average for a good service.

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