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What is Aromatherapy?: A Massage Therapist’s Guide

Aromatherapy centers around holistic medicine that utilizes extracts from natural plants for health and wellbeing. Many massage therapists apply aromatic essential oils medicinally combined with their massage techniques to improve their client’s physical and emotional health.


How Aromatherapy Works


Aromatherapy works by stimulating receptors in the nose responsible for smell, sending messages by olfactory cells to the part of the brain that controls the drive for survival, emotions, and instinct called the limbic system. The olfactory cells recognize scents as specific aromatic molecules that fit into receptors on these cells. Although not fully understood, scientists believe that these nerve signals’ action causes powerful mood changes in response to particular smells.


Massage Therapy in Harmony with Aromatherapy


Massage therapy, combined with essential oils, candles and incense, stimulates positive emotions and relaxation, equipping clients with coping mechanisms for many other health issues. An aromatherapy massage is a popular multi-purpose way of using supplemental care for health issues. The skin absorbs essential oils maintaining suppleness, it offers pain relief, and the aroma’s mental stimulation provides clients with the ultimate massage session.


Oils to Consider in Aromatherapy Massage


These are the top recommended essential oils to start using when practicing certified aromatherapy massage, based on their effectiveness for health issues, as well as clients preferences.

Lavender or Lavandula – Lavender is a flowering plant in the mint family and one of the most versatile and popular essential oils due to its clean sweet aroma which promotes relaxation. Lavender is known as balancing or adaptogenic, meaning it completes a function the body needs. It helps your client’s body to better handle stress, making it very useful in massage therapy. Lavender is also helpful in promoting better sleep, pain relief, boosting stamina, and elevating energy levels.

Peppermint or Mentha piperita – The main chemical in peppermint is menthol, used in many over-the-counter pain-relieving applications. One drop applied to the temples of clients complaining of headache symptoms, before their massage, can be very beneficial. Be sure to properly dilute the peppermint oil before placing it on larger areas of the body. To cut down the strength, use ten drops of oil to every 1 ounce of lotion or massage oil. Peppermint also contains a stimulating property that leaves a tingly feeling making it an effective essential oil for massaging sore, achy muscles, especially the legs and feet associated with diabetic neuropathy or fibromyalgia.

Eucalyptus or Eucalyptus globulus – Eucalyptus oil helps relieve painful muscles and respiratory congestion due to sinus blockage, colds, flu, and allergies. This essential oil contains antiviral and antibacterial properties. Blending eucalyptus into massage oil and lotion, or placing a few drops on a tissue beneath the massage table’s face cradle relieves sinus congestion.

Grapefruit or Citrus paradsi – Grapefruit contains a fresh, uplifting scent and is useful for toning the skin, as an addition to lymphatic massage, a mild diuretic, and in cellulite treatment. Using a citrus oil like grapefruit helps balance mood swings and decreases blood pressure. Grapefruit and other citric oils are photo-toxic, which causes burns and skin discoloration if exposed to the sun or tanning bed.

Rosemary or Rosmarinus officinalis – Rosemary contains detoxifying properties that help facilitate a healthy digestive tract, relieve flatulence, constipation, bloating, and cramps. Through massage, this oil allows the body to absorb nutrients from food better by stimulating circulation. Rosemary Essential Oil helps reduce pain, stimulate hair growth, eliminate headaches, soothe inflammation, and strengthen the immune system. Rosemary puts forth a distinctive energizing, evergreen, citrus-like, herbaceous scent. This essential oil is from the aromatic herb plant kin to the Mint family.

Clary sage or Salvia sclarea – Sage is beneficial for muscles when used as an antispasmodic. Diluted clary sage oil is also effective against several bacterial strains. Theis essential oil is extracted from the leaves and buds of the plant. Sage exudes a clean, refreshing scent that you can use as a skin balm or gently inhale as part of an aromatherapy treatment.

Geranium or Pelargonium graveolens – Geranium acts as a hormone-balancer and is indicated for premenstrual syndrome, stress, mood swings, anxiety, and PMS. Indications in traditional medicine: geranium helps improve circulation, stimulate the nervous system, and tighten tissue, acting as an astringent for a more toned look. Geranium has a pleasant floral scent that adds to the relaxing effect when used alone or combined with lavender.

Frankincense or Boswellia – This sweet and woody scent is used for grounding and relaxation and fosters stress relief during a massage session. This oil also blends beautifully with lavender. If a cold has a client feeling under the weather, Frankincense helps boost the immune system, opens up bronchial passages, deepens breathing, and soothes coughs. It also works effectively as an anti-inflammatory and aid in relieving depression.

Bergamot or Citrus bergamia – Bergamot has a spicy and citrusy aroma similar to Earl Grey tea, as it’s the flower that provides that specific tea’s flavor. Bergamot is the size of an orange, with a yellowish-green color like a lime, depending upon its ripeness. It’s unique because of its antiseptic, antispasmodic, and pain-relieving abilities. Bergamot also claims the dual effects of uplifting and calming, leaving the client feeling both rejuvenated and refreshed after an aromatherapy massage session.

Coriander or Coriandrum sativum – Coriander, derived from the Cilantro plant, is a sweet essential oil that contains relaxing and soothing properties. This oil also assists in promoting a healthy digestive and circulatory system. Some even believe Coriander helps relieve the contracting muscles in the throat that causes coughing.

Tea Tree Oil or Melaleuca alternifolia – Tea tree oil, mostly found in Australia, comes from steaming the Australian tea tree’s leaves. This essential oil contains the best antibacterial and antiseptic qualities out of all the essential oils. Tea tree oil can help acne, contact dermatitis, athlete’s foot, and head lice. However, like all other essential oils, do not ingest tea tree oil. It’s necessary to dilute tea tree oil, use one to two drops to 12 drops of a carrier oil, such as coconut oil or almond oil.

Practicing Caution When Utilizing Aromatherapy


Typically, during the session, the massage therapist directs the client to breathe in essential oils through steam inhalations, sprays, or vaporizers. Massage therapists should only use essential oils by providing topical or inhaled aromatherapy treatment. Essential oils should never be ingested or placed in the mouth. Certain essential oils may interact with some medications and cause them to be less effective.

Although many essential oils are safe when used as directed, research the oils before application. Here are a few examples of reactions to watch out for when using essential oils:

  • Children younger than five should not use aromatherapy because they can be susceptible to the oil.

  • Certain essential oils irritate and cause airway spasms in lung conditions like chronic lung disease, asthma, or respiratory allergies.

  • Some oils cause skin irritations in people with allergies, especially in the nose, eyes, and mouth membranes.

  • People with estrogen-dependent tumors like breast or ovarian cancer need to stay away from oils such as aniseed, fennel, and clary sage with estrogen-like compounds.

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