Aromatherapy is one of the most fun, creative and lucrative modalities you can add to your practice. Learning aromatherapy will take just a small investment of your time and money, and will add a fascinating new dimension to your healing work.
Aromatherapy can be incorporated into almost any practice, whether you specialize in Swedish, deep-tissue, chair or sports massage. It can be just as effective at a chiropractic office as it is in a day spa. It is also useful for augmenting energetic work, such as Therapeutic Touch and reiki.
“Aromatherapy is a natural enhancement of my massage practice based on vibrational healing,” says Mickey Mercer, owner of Chosen Stone Therapy in Winter Park, Florida. “To maximize the healing potential of touch therapy, I use high-quality essential oils blended to utilize their specific vibrations and aromas to lead my clients to realize their ultimate goal of health.”
Essential oils address the main two reasons clients seek our service: pain and stress. Each essential oil is made from naturally occurring plant chemicals; this is what gives the oil its power to heal. The oils enter the body by way of skin absorption and inhalation. Because of their small molecular size, they are able to penetrate through the capillaries and the blood-brain barrier. This produces an almost instant response from the central nervous system.
Benefits of Aromatherapy Massage
Depending on the properties of the oils, they may be able to reduce pain, relax the mind, ease tension, alleviate depression, balance hormones, replenish energy, decrease anxiety and increase feelings of well-being. They are safe and effective for killing bacteria, fungus and viruses. They also treat skin conditions such as burns, irritations, acne, rashes, premature aging and inflammation.
In France, medical-aromatherapy treatments are covered by health insurance, and many formulas can be purchased at pharmacies. There has been extensive research done on essential oils, especially in Europe and Australia, where aromatherapy is practiced as a form of integrative medicine.
In 2004 the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to two scientists for their discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system. Their studies show how an odor can trigger distinct memories from childhood or emotional moments, either positive or negative. In a series of pioneering studies they have clarified in molecular detail how our sense of smell works.
“Aromatherapy is a great tool to help any massage therapist enhance their treatments and set themselves apart from the competition,” says Jennifer Hochell, regional director for the Holistic Institute of Aromatherapy and owner of JennScents and the Clermont Herb Shoppe and Day Spa in Clermont, Florida. “Simply creating your own signature blend of essential oils in a base of massage oil or cream is one way to do this. You can bottle this up, add a personalized label and sell it to your clients.
“This special touch will help increase your profits as well as client retention and loyalty,” Hochell continues. “You can also create your own massage-blend line that contains a palette of four to five different scents for your clients to choose from to incorporate into their massage treatment or to take home with them. This extra service will help meet their specific needs; whether it’s to relax, rejuvenate or replenish their mind, body and spirit.”
Medical vs. Non-Medical Aromatherapy
I had the pleasure of speaking with David Crow, a doctor of Oriental medicine, an aromatherapy educator, and the owner of Floracopeia, in Nevada City, California. Crow travels around the world to meet with distillers, import exotic oils and teach seminars.
He was very clear when he differentiated medical aromatherapy from aromatherapy massage as practiced by a massage therapist. In medical aromatherapy, especially in France, essential oils are used undiluted on the skin and taken internally. This type of therapy can have contraindications and requires advanced training.
However, if a massage therapist uses the essential oils properly diluted, aromatherapy poses very few contraindications. For example, I have read in many books that stimulating oils, such as peppermint, eucalyptus and rosemary, should not be used with clients with high blood pressure. Yet I could find no scientific research to back this up. David assured me that when used in small amounts for a massage, the essential oils would not produce a negative reaction. My years of experience validate this as true. A proper dilution would be no more than 10 to 15 drops of essential oil to 1 ounce of unscented oil, lotion or cream.
Some essential oils can be used undiluted on the skin, but in very small amounts. Two examples are lavender and tea tree. They can be applied “neat,” which is the term used for undiluted, to a bug bite or a blemish, but no essential oil should ever be used undiluted on large areas of the body.
I have heard of therapists claiming to get dermatitis from using essential oils over a long period of time, but I would have to question the purity of the oils and think that the reaction was to chemical additives in the
essential oils. Crow did tell me that the number-one reaction to aromatherapy is allergic. He agreed that this usually occurs because of synthetic chemicals in the oils—so be sure you know and trust the company you are purchasing oils from.
The therapist should ask the client about any known allergies, and then have the client smell the oil before using it to see if he or she has any adverse reaction to the scent.
One major contraindication of aromatherapy is pregnancy, as there is little research on the effect of oils on pregnant women. It’s also important to keep oils away from eyes and not use citrus oils in the sun as they are photosynthesizing— meaning they increase the body’s sensitivity to sunlight. Also, store oils properly so they stay safe and effective (storage will vary with types of oils).
7 Recommended Essential Oils
These are the top seven oils I recommend you start using in your practice, based on their safety, affordability, availability, acceptability and exactitude.
1. Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is the most effective pain-relieving
oil. Its main chemical constituent is menthol, which is used in many over-the-counter, pain-relieving gels (but it is usually derived synthetically). Try using one drop on the temples and the occiput for the client who has a headache; be sure to not get too close to the eyes. This oil needs to be properly diluted before it is used on larger areas of the body. Use 10 drops of oil to 1 ounce of unscented lotion or massage oil. Peppermint is also great for tired feet and sore muscles.
2. Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) is safe and beneficial when used as an antispasmodic. It’s a good choice for treating menstrual pain, and beneficial for both men and women for relieving muscular pain, nervous tension and stress.
3. Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) is a hormone-balancing oil. It is indicated for premenstrual syndrome, mood swings, stress, anxiety, painful menstruation and skin problems. The scent is pleasant to most people, and it can be used as an alternative to lavender.
4. Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) is the top choice for relaxation and stress. It can be used by anyone and can treat a wide variety of conditions: muscular pain, inflammation, depression, insomnia, dermatitis, burns, rashes and acne. It combines well with most other oils and has been used medically in France for hundreds of years.
5. Grapefruit (Citrus paradsi) is fresh, uplifting and useful for toning the skin. It is a mild diuretic, and can be used for cellulite treatment and lymphatic massage. Be careful about using grapefruit before sunbathing, because all citrus oils are considered photo-toxic and should never be used before sun exposure or when using a tanning bed, as this can cause a burn and/or skin discoloration.
6. Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) addresses painful muscles as well as congestion of the respiratory system. This includes sinus problems, colds, flu and allergies. Eucalyptus has antibacterial and antiviral properties. It may be blended into massage oil or lotion, or a few drops can be put on a tissue underneath the face cradle of a massage table to relieve sinus congestion.
7. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is very stimulating, and is useful for mental and physical fatigue. I like to use it for fibromyalgia clients, athletes and anyone who is low on energy. Rosemary should not be used during a pregnancy massage.
Use Aromatherapy to Boost Your Business
Why not begin delving into aromatherapy? Gradually expand your knowledge by reading or taking a class. I promise that your clients will be aromatically impressed by the results!
About the Author
Katie Haley is an esthetician, spa specialist and licensed massage therapist, and is a certified medical aromatherapist in France. She is a past president of the Florida State Massage Therapy Association, Central Florida chapter, and a national educator for BIOTONE. She owns
CosmicFlower Aromatherapy Inc., in Orlando, Florida.