The use of scents to please our noses and to heal our bodies and minds goes back millennia, and aromatherapy massage benefits are quite popular today.
Combining aromatherapy with massage is a simple enhancement that any trained massage therapist can do and that can be added to any type of massage style.
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the use of concentrated aromatic plant extracts (essential oils) in a carrier oil (common carrier oils include jojoba and coconut oils, for example) for the purpose of supporting healing. The essential oils are most often used in room diffusers for inhalation or applied directly to the body in a carrier oil or lotion.
Ancient civilizations, and practitioners today, used fragrant oils to heal wounds, skin irritations, and infections, to relieve aches and pains, stress, anxiety, digestive upsets, and respiratory issues, and to boost immunity and alertness.
Massage therapists use both room diffusers and application to the body when they practice aromatherapy in combination with massage, said Brooke Riley, a licensed massage therapist who is an operations specialist for Massage Heights, a family-owned therapeutic massage and facial services franchise company based in San Antonio, Texas.
“Aromatherapy in a massage can be customized to fit the needs of the client,” she said.
Aromatherapy Massage Benefits
Essential oils are generally considered safe although there aren’t any well-defined studies on the subject, according to the authors of a study published in 2015 that reviewed the scientific literature on aromatherapy.
Typically, adverse effects have been found to be minimal: allergic reactions, such as skin, eye, and mucous membrane irritation. The FDA doesn’t regulate essential oils; however, it may regulate some of the product types, such as cosmetics and lotions, they are used in.
Even though an adverse reaction is unlikely, it is important for massage therapists to consult with their clients before using aromatherapy, said Riley. She suggests massage therapists complete an intake form and medical history during the pre-session consultation to determine if there’s a possibility of allergic reaction.
She also said massage therapists can test a small amount of the essential oil on a client’s forearm (if the oil is being used on the body rather than inhaled) to check for a reaction on a small-scale level.
If the client has a reaction, Riley said to immediately wash the area with cold water or a cool wet towel. That should clear things up, but if the client has a severe reaction, he or she may have to see a doctor. Make sure to clearly communicate about potential reactions with your client. It may also be a good idea to have them sign a consent form, she said.
Many manufacturers offer essential oils for massage work, and some massage therapists even make their own. Riley cautions massage therapists to do their homework before they start using essential oils with clients.
“There are some very reputable companies to buy oils from, but there are also a lot of companies that use synthetic fragrances in their oils. My biggest advice is do your research on the companies you are buying from, look at ingredient lists and ask questions,” she said. “If a company cannot give you answers as to how they make a product, that should be a red flag. Remember you will be putting this product on a client’s body, meaning it has to be the best quality.”
Sometimes clients want to use essential oils they bring to the massage session. Riley does not recommend using products your clients bring to the session.
“If a client brings in a product you have not had the time to make sure the product is of good quality,” she said. Also, maybe your client loves it and hasn’t had a reaction to it, but you might have one. You don’t want to find that out in the middle of a session.
Getting Started with Aromatherapy Massage
Massage therapists do not need to get specific massage technique training to use aromatherapy in their massage practice, Riley said. “That is what makes aromatherapy so appealing (to) therapists,” she said. “(Therapists) may have the cost of the oils for the service, but they do not need to change what they are doing to add it to a service.”
While no specific massage technique training is required to offer aromatherapy massage, it will only benefit you and your clients to take some classes on aromatherapy so you have a good understanding of how essential oils work on the body, how to use them safely, and for what purposes specific essential oils are used.
Popular Aromatherapy Essential Oils
There are many essential oils that offer a variety of benefits, but these are the most common ones used in aromatherapy massage:
• Eucalyptus: used to treat severe pain due to damaged nerves (neuralgia), headache, rheumatoid arthritis, and muscle and joint pain and aches, and to boost the immune system.
• Lavender: helps with sleep and anxiety.
• Peppermint: is a pain and ache reliever, digestive calming agent and decongestant.
• Lemon grass: is used to boost the immune system, calm nausea and vomiting and elevate mood.
• Orange blossom: is used to induce peace and calm.
• Clary sage: relieves menstrual cramps and anxiety and stress, and helps manage pain during childbirth.
Adding aromatherapy to your massage offerings will make you stand out, Riley said. “A therapist can really start to customize their services by letting the client add on [aromatherapy] to the basic massage service,” she said. “Those add-ons turn into more money made in the long run if you get the pricing right.”
Riley says her own clients who use aromatherapy were excited when she started offering it. “I have to say my clients love the aromatherapy choices we now have to offer. Depending on their mood for the day, or the issues we are working on, we match the aromatherapy to that service. They love it!”
Stephanie Bouchard is a freelance writer and editor based on the coast of Maine. She frequently reports news and features for MASSAGE Magazine.