Do I have to take all my clothes off for a massage?

taking clothes off for a massage
••• If you're concerned about taking your clothes off for a massage, try reflexology. Getty Images: mediaphotos

"Do I have to take all my clothes off for a massage?"  The short answer is "no".  The whole point of getting a massage is to relax and take care of yourself.  If you are worried about being naked during a massage, by all means, keep your underwear on.  You can even keep all your clothes on for some kinds of massage.

A traditional Swedish massage or deep tissue massage is done without any clothes because the therapist uses oil for glide over your bare skin.

 Wearing panties or underwear is fine, but a bra would be awkward.  However, keep these points in mind.

The Therapist Won't See You Undress

The massage therapist escorts you to the treatment room, usually chatting a little bit to put you at ease.  She'll give you instructions about what to do after she leaves the room, such as:

  • where to hang your robe or street clothes, usually on a hook.
  • how to position yourself on the table, such as "in between the sheets, face down, with your face in the cradle."  
  • what to expect next.  "I'm going to step out of the room, and wait for you to get ready.  I will knock before I come back in."  

The therapist usually gives you a minute or two to get settled, and when it's quiet, she knocks on the door and asks "are you ready?" She won't come in until you answer.  That way, you are assured you won't be caught in a state of undress. 

The Therapist Won't See You Naked

In the U.S., massage therapists are required by law to use draping techniques.

 This means that you're under a sheet or towel, and the therapist is working on only one uncovered part of the body at a time.  Draping allows you to be naked or almost naked underneath a sheet or towel and feel safe, warm, and unexposed. 

The first step in draping is for the therapist to folds back the sheet to your hips and start massaging your back.

 This is the most uncovered you are going to be during a massage.  When she's done, she covers your back.

Next she uncovers one leg, tucking the sheet under your opposite leg so the sheet won't come loose. Therapists are so skilled at this move that you barely notice it.  (They spend a lot of time practicing that in school! )  She massages one leg, covers it up, then does the same on the other side.

When it's time to turn over, you get precise instructions again. The therapist says, "I'll hold up the sheet so you can scoot down and then turn over onto your back."  The therapist holds the sheet up fairly high so she can't see you turn over; as you settle onto your back the sheet comes down, covering your whole body again.  

From there, the therapist massages the front of your legs, one at a time while the other is covered; your arms; and finally your neck and shoulders, sometimes finishing with your scalp.   

Are There Any Massages Where I Can Keep All My Clothes On?

You can keep your clothes on in several other massages and spa treatments if you want to ease into it.  One of the best massage treatments for beginners is reflexology, where the therapist works primarily on reflex points in the feet that relate to rest of the body.

 Even though they are working on your feet, you get relief in other parts of your body.

Another good clothes-on treatment is craniosacral therapy, a very gentle, relaxing treatment where the therapist starts by gently holding your head in various positions to address imbalances in the craniosacral system.  They also slip one hand under your sacrum and hold the other on your belly, holding each position as they gradually move up the spine.

Reiki is a gentle form of energy work that can be done clothes-on.  Other types of energy work are usually done while the person is clothed.  

Thai Massage is always done on comfortable clothes on a mat on the floor, but it's not really a beginner treatment. The therapist is putting you into various positions and there is a lot of contact, so it's best if you're comfortable with massage before you try this one.

 

There are other techniques and modalities that an experienced massage therapist has at their disposal, so you can always ask the spa if they can customize a clothes-on treatment for you.

You can get a facial and leave your bra and panties on, though it is helpful to put your bra straps under your arms.  You can even leave your robe on, though it constricts what the esthetician can do, like a nice arm and hand massage. 

Is There Anything Else I Should Know?

The draping requirements are for the U.S.  If you're traveling to spas in the Caribbean, Europe or the Far East, different rules apply.  Attitudes towards nudity are more relaxed, so all the protocols we're used to in the U.S. might not apply.  The therapist might not leave the room when you undress or might walk in without knocking.   There might be one rather small towel to cover yourself with rather than a set of bedsheets.  

Body scrubs and other body treatments use water and sometimes are a little messier than massage.  If you're concerned about nudity, start somewhere else.