I was forewarned, but it still came as a shock when my back started aching a few months before my 24th birthday—an inevitable horror of aging. After stress-googling for a few hours, I decided that a hot stone massage would be my remedy. I then quickly booked a 60-minute session at Milk + Honey Spa in hopes of coming out as a less wound-up, stress-free woman.
Intrigued? Keep reading to learn more about my experience getting a hot stone massage and what some of the benefits are, according to the experts.
Meet the Expert
What Is a Hot Stone Massage?
Believed to have started in China, smooth, heated stones used for massage have been around for several thousand years. As massage therapist Amber Lynch describes, “A hot stone massage is a relaxing body treatment using flat, heated stones to ease deep into the muscle layer and erase tension held in the body while increasing circulation to the tissues.” While the idea of placing 140-degree volcanic stones on your body may freak you out, there’s frankly nothing to be afraid of. The entire experience is quite therapeutic and enjoyable.
To further illustrate how heat is a powerful tool for the body, dermatologist Ava Shambam explains that heat helps the blood vessels expand, thereby increasing blood supply delivering more oxygen to tissue and carting away waste, similar to cardio. Fluids and toxins are also able to move more efficiently through the lymph system for elimination. “Combining heat with massage increases lymph movement and blood flow temporarily, improving skin appearance in areas that are more stagnant,” Shambam adds.
Heat is also known to increase skin permeability. Meaning that it may support better absorption delivering topical actives in creams, lotions, or oils for patients who are experiencing dehydrated skin, have a dry skin type, or are suffering from a disrupted skin mantle.
The Benefits of a Hot Stone Massage
- Pain relief
- Muscle tension relief
- Increased circulation
- Increased relaxation
- Increased product penetration
- Better posture
- Stress relief
- Sleep support
“Almost anyone can benefit from heat helping to relax muscles, but those with high amounts of tension, muscle knots, or lactic acid buildup after exercise can benefit most as heat can increase blood flow and relax muscles. Increased blood flow can bring more oxygen to the skin to help optimize its function. For muscles that are tight or hold tension and even contribute to headaches or teeth grinding, such as the temples and jaw, hot stone massage can help reduce stress and pain by relaxing those muscles,” says dermatologist Jennifer Herrmann.
How to Prepare for a Hot Stone Massage
The most important thing to remember is to adequately hydrate before and after your session to aid in the detoxification and flushing process.
Before getting any massage treatment, you’ll want to be open with your therapist about what you like and what makes you uncomfortable. Do you have a high tolerance for pressure? Do you want a male or female therapist (most salons allow you to choose prior to coming in)? Would you like to stay fully clothed? The more specific you are with them, the more tailored your treatment will be.
What to Expect During a Hot Stone Massage
After you lie down, smooth, flat stones are placed at specific points on the body and gently moved along the muscles. “The hot stones help the massage therapist ease into the muscle tissue at a deeper level while applying less pressure to the muscles, thereby avoiding any resistance by the muscles to lock up or resist the work. The extra warmth provides faster therapeutic results and deep relaxation,” Lynch explains.
The hot stones are more of an add-on to a typical deep pressure massage than something that steals the show. However, as a sensual Taurus, nearly everything about this experience appealed to me—the plush robe, the aromatic body oils, the zen “spa music," the feeling of hot rocks on my skin.
While some massages feel akin to getting beat up on the playground, this 60-minute massage was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The pressure was just right, and dare I say it, I felt blissfully relaxed by the end... maybe for the first time since I went freelance and forewent 401K matching and proper health insurance.
Potential Side Effects
You should avoid hot stone massages if you have a tendency to overheat or struggle with dizziness and increased circulation. According to Herrmann, certain inflammatory conditions like active infection, injuries, rosacea, and even melasma may be exacerbated by heat, so heat must be used carefully or not at all in such situations.
“Be mindful during the first trimester, and as always, they should not be used if you have blood clots or severe heart conditions,” Lynch warns.
However, if you don’t have any preexisting conditions, there really should be no negative side effects unless the stones are too hot for the skin.
Prices may vary depending on the length of your massage and the location of the spa, but typically, a hot stone massage rings in between $100 and $150 for an hour.
Shambam suggests following up with a lipid-rich emollient moisturizer or body oil and a good night's sleep.
The Final Takeaway
After months of working from odd sitting arrangements (hunched over in bed or stress-crying at my makeshift Ikea desk), this massage was completely necessary. I used to think that massages were a frivolous activity touted by those who conflate self-care with expensive procedures, but I see the light now. Not only are there so many physical benefits, but it felt great to let my guard down and have an expert physically massage away my worries.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but hot stone massages will heal me—modern-day poetry.
Hao J, Ghosh P, Li SK, Newman B, Kasting GB, Raney SG. Heat Effects on Drug Delivery Across Human Skin. Expert Opin Drug Deliv. 2016;13(5):755-768. doi:10.1517/17425247.2016.1136286