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Fight Client Stress With Scalp Massage

Contact Author Annet King June 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

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skin care client receiving a scalp massage

One of the most under-utilized techniques in the spectrum of touch therapies is the massage of the scalp. Health practitioners of every discipline agree that stress is the No. 1 enemy of wellness and well-being, and that chronic stress—ongoing, long-term anxiety—has never been more of a societal ill than it is right now. Scalp massage offers an immediate, low-tech, extremely accessible solution that may be seamlessly integrated into your service menu.

One of the key benefits of scalp massage is the simplicity and modesty of the technique. The client does not need to disrobe, and it can be offered in an open, unisex space, making it exceptionally marketable and well-suited to walk-ins and people in a hurry. In the United States, it is common for scalp massage to be offered simply as a dry service, unlike in India where the practice may involve oils selected according to the ayurvedic calendar, dosha—a client’s energy and body type—and tradition. Providing a scalp massage without oil, of course, vastly increases the appeal of the treatment in modern, urban settings, where freshly shampooed and styled hair is the cultural preference.

The roots of scalp massage

The roots of this method date back nearly 4,000 years to a type of ayurvedic technique native to the East Indian culture. The modern version hails from India via the United Kingdom, also known as Indian head massage. In India, the practice, involving the use of oils, is said to keep long hair strong, lustrous and in beautiful condition, and it is even claimed to prevent graying and thinning of the hair. However, it is now known that innate hair qualities, including color, coarseness, density, distribution and wave pattern, are determined primarily by genetics. Still, the intimacy of head and scalp massage speaks to a healing, life-affirming experience that helps enhance well-being. Will it make the hair more beautiful? Well, it couldn’t hurt!

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The practice poses few, if any contraindications—just be sure to complete a thorough written consultation and skin analysis with your client, and refrain from performing scalp massage on anyone with obvious neck injuries or recent facial surgeries. Also, allow three days before performing scalp massage after injectable procedures.

Scalp massage may be offered as a stand-alone touch therapy and also may be incorporated into skin, hair, spa and body treatments. It’s an ideal value-added service when a mask, body wrap or deep-conditioning treatment is processing on the client, or as the final step to bodywork. Keep in mind that some state boards are picky about what areas of the body a skin care professional, massage therapist and cosmetologist may officially touch, so be sure to carefully check specific local rulings before offering or advertising this service. (Editor’s note: Log on to for a complete list of state board contact information for each state.)

On the subject of using oil as part of a scalp massage, it will make the experience more sensory for the client. A few drops of a calming aromatherapy blend, or a warm nut- or plant-based oil can be used if your client is suffering from dry scalp. Obviously, it is important to check with your client before incorporating oil to ensure they are not leaving your treatment room to go straight to a company function. If you are a full-service spa and the client prefers the use of oil, recommend that she schedule a shampoo, blow-dry and styling following the scalp massage.

Marketing and retail

Suggest that scalp massage be added after a nail service, before hair services, during an eyelash tint or as part of the client’s next skin care treatment. Send clients home with a trial size of a stress-relief oil, which they can use over the third eye area in the evening, and apply to their neck and shoulders to wind down and release stress.

Recommend scalp massage as a gateway experience to potential male clients who may be newcomers to the professional skin care experience. It’s nonthreatening, noncommittal, and it feels good. Consider introducing it to your clients as a nonalcoholic happy hour offering, since it’s a great way to relieve tension, especially for clients who spend their days in front of computer screens. Eight hours plus on a keyboard every day commonly results in eye strain, as well as neck, shoulder and jaw pain from clenching the teeth. Clasping a handset phone receiver between ear and shoulder—something many still do, in spite of the invention of headsets—adds to the problem.

Scalp massage is also a natural recommendation for two extremely common issues: frequent headaches and insomnia. It’s the equivalent of slipping out of an excruciatingly cute pair of stiletto heels, or loosening a tight necktie and starched collar; it’s soothing, sedating and relaxing—a much-needed release from the chronic stress that defines modern living.

Annet King is the director of global education for The International Dermal Institute (IDI) and Dermalogica. She develops, writes, presents and monitors the success of all classes that comprise the IDI curriculum, and is CIDESCO-, ITEC- and CIBTAC-certified. King’s initial career as the operations director for Steiner involved overseeing spas onboard several luxury cruise liners. This parlayed into extensive work in the skin care field in Singapore and other areas of Southeast Asia. She can be contacted at 310-900-0811 or

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How-to Treatment: Scalp Massage

Cost: $20–25

Duration: 15 minutes

Contraindications: Injuries or surgery; skin infections or disorders in and around the affected area; inflammation; weeping eczema; arthritis in the neck; medical conditions that give the client concern

Preparation: The treatment can be performed on a treatment bed or at a hair station.

Supplies needed:

1 sheet

3 towels

1 steamed towel

Scalp or body massage oil

Step 1: The client’s head should be at the same height as the therapist’s hara, or energy center, which is located just below the belly button. This allows the therapist and the client to connect through these two high-energy areas of the body. It is also a good height for maintaining proper body posture throughout the treatment. Keep in mind that you, as the therapist, must be in the right energetic and mental place for a treatment to be truly effective. Closing your eyes and breathing with your client is very effective to help push out busy thoughts and quiet a chattering brain.

Step 2: Apply one drop of an essential oil blend to your hands. Encourage abdominal breathing throughout the treatment. Hover your hands two inches over the client’s nose and instruct her to take a few deep breaths, then press hands onto the chest, shoulders and back of the neck. Keeping one hand behind the neck, use the other to gently touch above the upper lip. Applying essential oil blends to these areas helps to initiate calm and relaxation for the client.

Step 3: Starting with the middle finger on the third eye, located between the eyebrows, gradually lay one hand on the client’s forehead and gently follow with the second hand placed on top. Instruct the client to take three deep breaths, and do the breathing along with her. Gradually lighten pressure with the hand and remove finger from the third eye area. This helps you and client to connect and maintain calm throughout the treatment.

Step 4: Place hands onto the client’s shoulders with your thumbs on the trapezius. Apply pressure in large circular movements, in toward the center and slide out three times. This stimulates blood flow to an area where most hold tension and stress and, therefore, helps to relax the muscles.

Step 5: Slide up the neck to support the occipital ridge (base of the head) with one hand. With the other hand, begin to squeeze the back of the neck between the heel of the hand and fingers on either side of the spine, being careful not to put pressure on the spine. Squeeze once at the base, the middle and the top of neck with alternating hands six times. This technique helps with tension headaches by stimulating blood flow, which assists in the re-oxygenation of the tissues. Plus, it feels insanely good for your client.

Step 6: Comb through the hair with long, gentle strokes, making sure to cover the entire scalp. This helps to detangle the hair, making it easier to perform the scalp massage without causing discomfort.

Step 7: With your nail beds, run fingers through the hair at the scalp. With smooth movements, move off the scalp, and apply a gentle tug from the root of the hair, making sure to cover the entire scalp. This stimulates blood flow to the scalp muscles and hair follicles.

Step 8: Using fingertips, apply small, stationary inward/downward circles three times each on the four sections shown in the accompanying images. Each finger must be felt by the client for effective results. This technique rebalances body energy and aids in clearing the mind. (See Sections of the Scalp on Page 58.)

Step 9: Using the pads of your fingers, apply short, deep wave glides along all four sections of the scalp, making sure that the gliding is on the scalp and not only in the hair. This stimulates blood flow and nerve endings.

Step 10: In small bunches, grasp onto the root of the hair. Using the flat portion of your knuckles, apply pressure onto the scalp, moving the scalp in three big, circular motions. This helps release scalp tension.

Step 11: Starting at the hairline using the padding of all the fingers, massage or move the scalp and hair using large, circular finger frictions through all four sections. This releases scalp tension and is deeply relaxing.

Step 12: Place thumbs one on top of the other at the crown point of the head, which is located at the top center of the scalp. Apply firm pressure for a count of 3. This pressure point helps relieve congestion, dizziness and headaches. It is one of the most useful points in acupressure. Many clients report feeling more calm, centered and clear after this area is treated, but it is also very sensitive for some clients.

Step 13: Comb through the client’s hair with long, gentle strokes, making sure to cover the entire scalp. This signals to the client that the massage is coming to a close, because it’s a repeated movement.

Step 14: Cover the client’s ears with the edges of your palms, and apply medium pressure around the ear as though you are creating a suction. Re-introduce your client to sound slowly with three deep, gently audible breaths. Your palms should be facing up as you release contact. This technique gently and tenderly brings the client back to Earth.

Step 15: Ask the client how she feels. Exchange a few sentences with your client in the afterglow to be sure that she is back with you. Remind your client to sit up slowly, and to wait a few moments before rising and dressing to avoid any sudden drops or spikes in blood pressure. If the client is going on to other services, guide her to the next treatment area. If she is ready to check out, escort her and initiate a re-booking.

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