Getting a license for your massage startup business can be more of a challenge than you might think. While states that require massage therapist licensing have a straightforward process for individuals seeking professional credentials, massage parlors themselves are often regulated at the local level. Local ordinances and licensing processes can be complex and may require a significant amount of time.
When calculating your expenses for a massage business, allow for delays in the licensing and permitting process. You may have to wait several months to get permission to open your business.
Obtaining a Massage Parlor License
Not all states require massage therapists to hold a professional license, and most state laws that do credential massage therapists have only been in existence for little more than a decade. In recent years, however, there have been more efforts to professionalize massage therapy and to regulate its practice.
The reason for these changes is largely an effort to establish therapeutic massage as a health care discipline. There is also the ongoing concern about regulating vice. Many communities are concerned about the possibility of brothels operating under the guise of offering massage. While these concerns are sometimes addressed by investigations by local law enforcement, many communities seek to preemptively address potential problems by tightly regulating the licensing process.
Requirements for a Massage Parlor
Licensing regulations and ordinances vary by jurisdiction, but some typical requirements include:
- Owner Requirements: Owners of massage establishments may have to be able to pass a criminal background check. In some cases, you will have to work with your local sheriff's department to complete the investigative process.
- Facilities Requirements: Regulations and ordinances may require you to modify the premises in which you operate your business. For example, you may be required to provide different rooms for male and female patrons, reasonably bright lighting and restroom facilities. Zoning laws may also restrict the operation of your business.
- Clothing Requirements: Many massage ordinances require massage therapists to wear clothing that adequately covers their bodies and is made of opaque material. These requirements are designed to encourage a professional appearance and counteract stereotypes.
- Signage: Some areas may require your business to display signage that includes a list of your services as well as their cost. You and your staff may be forbidden from providing any massage therapy or bodywork services.
- Outcalls: Some massage therapists provide outcall services. This means that the therapist will provide massages at a client's workplace, in a home or at a hotel. Some jurisdictions do not permit outcalls or strictly regulate them.
Professional Licensing for Massage Therapists
Licensing requirements vary by jurisdiction. Most states regulate massage therapy, and many require licensure. In addition, towns and cities may have their own credentialing requirements. If you plan to earn your own license or hire other massage therapists to work for you, it's important that you understand the licensing requirements for the area in which you operate.
In most cases, massage therapy licensing requires practitioners to complete a training course, pass a state licensing or national certification exam and undergo a criminal background check. It is possible to obtain massage therapy training through standalone massage schools, some cosmetology schools, vocational schools and community colleges.
Training programs are typically at least 500 hours in length but often exceed 1,000 hours. Training is a combination of classroom courses as well as practical work in a student clinic or through internships at local spas, health care offices or bodywork centers. After initial licensure, massage therapists are often required to complete continuing education courses as a condition of license renewal.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Massage Therapists
- Orange County Sheriff's Department, CA: Article 1. Massage Establishments and Massage Technicians
- City of Chicago: Massage Establishment Licensing in Chicago
- American Massage Therapy Association: Massage Therapy Licenses and Permits
- Mayo Clinic "Massage: Get in Touch With Its Many Benefits." Accessed Feb. 14, 2020
- National Institutes of Health. "The Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States." Accessed Feb. 14, 2020
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health "A Regional Analysis of U.S. Insurance Reimbursement Guidelines for Massage Therapy." Accessed Feb. 14, 2020.
- Healthcare.gov. "What Marketplace Plans Cover." Accessed Feb. 14, 2020.
Lainie Petersen lives in Chicago and is a full-time freelance writer. She has a long career in business and media, primarily in marketing, online content and regulatory compliance. She holds a master's degree in library and information science from Dominican University.