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Massage Today
January, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 01

Aromatherapy for Clients With Special Needs

By Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT

In previous articles, we've explored some myths about aromatherapy and focused more on the idea of using essential oils safely. This article will continue an exploration of using aromatherapy in massage treatments for clients with special needs.

When I went to massage school in 1984, cancer was a contraindication for massage.

No questions, no exceptions. Today, we are aware of the great benefits massage can have for a client with a cancer diagnosis, and less convinced that massage will cause cancer cells to migrate to other areas of the body. With certain exceptions, such as cancer of the lymphatic system, massage therapists routinely see clients in all stages of cancer and even provide relief in the hospice setting.

How does the use of aromatic essential oils during massage affect clients with cancer? For the most part, they will have the same positive effects for the cancer patient as for other clients, with one notable exception: the client engaged in a course of chemotherapy.

Aromatherapists Jane Buckle, Ann Percival and Pam Conrad are RNs who have studied this issue and worked with many clients in active chemotherapy. As a result of their observations and research, it's suggested that because essential oils can compete with the receptor sites for chemotherapy, essential oils can be applied in massage up to two days before a chemo treatment, and then should not be used for nine to 10 days after chemotherapy is administered. At all times during the chemo regimen, keep the dose of essential oils low by using only two drops per ounce of carrier oil or lotion.

It's felt that inhalation to counteract accompanying nausea is acceptable. Peppermint can be inhaled unless the client has cardiac problems or is on the chemo drug 5FU, as peppermint enhances absorption fourfold. Ginger also relieves nausea, but it can reduce clotting time. Spearmint is another choice which is considered especially good for children. Essential oils of carrot seed, lavender, helichrysum and geranium are beneficial for the skin after radiation treatments. These same essences help reduce the formation of scar tissue.

There has been research on the use of essential oils to prevent and treat some forms of cancer. One such research paper can be found online at Although this does not fall into our scope of practice, if we avoid diagnosing and prescribing, there is no problem in simply knowing the benefits of essential oils that contain monoterpenes and using them in your massage blends. The monoterpenes are found in the essential oils of many plants, including: lemons, oranges, grapefruit, caraway, dill, bergamot, peppermint and spearmint. People contact these monoterpenes in their diet on a daily basis; they are found in grasses and tomatoes and are associated with vegetables and some evergreen trees.

As we already have learned, citrus oils have many helpful properties, but expressed oils (squeezed from the rind) have phototoxic properties and should not be used before exposure to the sun. Steam-distilled oils are safer and bergaptene-free. Bergamot can be purchased without the phototoxic elements.

Caraway and dill-seed oils should be used in small amounts and highly diluted, as they are known skin sensitizers and are toxic at high levels. They are contraindicated for use with pregnancy, babies and children. Mint oils also should be highly diluted due to skin sensitivity, and avoided during pregnancy.

The psychological, emotional and spiritual effects of essential oils are of great value for the client with cancer or any life-threatening illness, as well as for those who are experiencing the illness of someone dear to them. The "evergreen" oils (pine, juniper and cypress) carry the message of everlasting life and relieve excess emotion. Frankincense and lavender bring a calm sense of protection and connection to spiritual strength. Mandarin soothes the inner child. Marjoram, bergamot and rose calm the heart and lift the burden of grief.

Click here for previous articles by Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT.


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