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Massage Today
December, 2008, Vol. 08, Issue 12

Working With Women, Part 1

By Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT

Over the years, this column has covered a host of information on the way to use essential oils in massage practice. Earlier columns have covered the basics of aromatherapy and important safety issues, working with specific problems as well as profiling sedative, stimulant and known skin-sensitizing essential oils.

It is good to have that information in mind whenever you are adding aromatherapy to a massage practice. (For more information on this topic visit

This article focuses on specific essential oils for women's physical and emotional needs. (The special concerns of working with pregnant women were discussed in a previous article: Part 1 will give a brief profile of five essential oils in relation to their effect on women's issues. Part 2 will cover other essences including important flower oils of jasmine, rose, neroli and ylang-ylang. Essences for working with women's special needs are those that deal with amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, PMS, childbirth and menopause, certain common complaints in the urinary and digestive systems and those that address confidence, desirability, life cycles and self-image.

Here again, it is important to combine the physical effects of essential oils with the subtle effects on the mind and emotions for the best result. It is best to treat each client as an individual, listening to the issues that are uppermost in their lives. To do so results in a specific, custom blend that will have a more powerful influence than a standard "PMS blend." For example, as it could well include an essence not mentioned below that resonates with a different type of specific need. Mindfulness and knowledge combine in choosing the essential oils that will enhance the massage session and offer a long-lasting effect.

Five Essential Oils That Address Women's Needs

CHAMOMILE: There are three varieties of chamomile used in aromatherapy. All have similar properties in the sense of their physiological ability to aid digestion, boost the immune system and relieve pain and inflammation in the body and mind. Aromatherapist Gabriel Mojay says that the key to understanding the "psychological effect of chamomile" is its energetic influence on the solar plexus where issues of control and desire to nurture are located. A buildup of tension here results in frustration and irritability, "over-controlling" or losing control. (These qualities make it one of the oils that is most used with children, too.) Chamomile is also an emmenagogue, which means it aids in bringing on menstruation. Historical use of this plant for female reproductive complaints is shown in the botanical name of German chamomile or chamomile blue, Matricaria recutita, which is derived from the word "matrix" or "womb." German chamomile also has remarkable skin and wound healing properties as well as a relaxing effect on spasms that cause pain during menstruation and it is beneficial for urinary tract infections, such as cystitis. Because of its great power and strong aroma, German chamomile might be seen as the "matriarch" of the chamomiles.

The word chamomile is originally derived from the terms chamai - "on the ground" and melon - "apple." The most commonly used chamomile is Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) which has the softer, familiar apple-like smell. It is gentler in action, used to treat red, irritated, sensitive and dry skin, and is helpful for insomnia, digestive complaints, nervous tension and headaches.

Moroccan chamomile (Anthemis mixta) is the least commonly used and has a more camphoraceous aroma. Some aromatherapists choose this for menstrual problems where there is also depression, irritability and digestive issues, such as colitis.

CLARY SAGE: The botanical name for clary sage, Salvia sclarea, refers to healing and clarity. The euphoria for which this essence is known is also grounded. It relaxes while providing a mental-emotional uplift. Clarity helps dispel illusion, fluctuating emotion and despondent worry. Salvatore Battaglia tells us that clary sage is one of the most important women's remedies as it addresses all three phases of life: menstrual, childbirth and menopause. Its antispasmodic and analgesic effect relieves cramping; it is a uterine stimulant and emmenagogue, and studies have shown that it is one of the best pain relievers during labor. During menopause, clary sage has an estrogenic effect that is probably the result of pituitary/gonadal stimulation. It is known to ease hot flashes. Some aromatherapists caution that this essence should not be used with women who have a history of estrogen-dependent tumors, a contraindication that would be more of a factor with continual use than using a few drops in a massage blend during an office visit.

CYPRESS: This tree originates in the eastern Mediterranean and is exceptionally long-lived. Some are believed to be 2,000 or more years old, a fact reflected in its botanical name Cupressus sempervirens (from the Cupressacea family - "always living"). While all evergreens give a reassuring sense of persisting life, making them a comfort in times of bereavement, Mojay tells us that cypress helps us cope with and even accept difficult change, both inner and outer. It is useful in times of transition such as career change, ending of a close relationship or empty-nest syndrome. Cypress unearths fears that block change and strengthens in time of self-doubt. Physiologically, cypress is a circulatory decongestant, used for varicose veins and hemorrhoids. It is a menstrual regulator that relieves painful periods, heavy bleeding during periods as well as severe hot flashes during menopause.  

SWEET FENNEL: The botanical name (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce) describes a common herb with a dried hay-like aroma; this variation is "sweet." A diuretic and lymphatic decongestant, Mojay says this essence helps free repressed and toxic emotions and encourages confident self-expression and creativity. It is indicated for simple fluid retention, cellulite and weight control. Fennel is helpful with urinary tract infection and is recommended to help regulate the menstrual cycle. During menopause, fennel helps balance symptoms of fluctuating hormonal levels. Due to levels of the ketone fenchone and the estrogen-like action of trans-anethole, contraindications for the use of fennel include epilepsy, pregnancy, estrogen-dependent tumors and breast-feeding. Sweet fennel has less of this ketone constituent than bitter fennel.

GERANIUM: The fruit of this bushy shrub is thought to resemble a stork's bill, and so the botanical name (Pelargonium graveolens) contains the Greek word for stork, pelargos. In the same way that the stork can balance easily on one leg, Geranium essential oil is known for its ability to bring balance to the body and emotions. Mojay tells us that this essence conveys calm strength and security, relieving chronic and acute anxiety, particularly due to stress from overwork. Because of its aphrodisiac quality, it reconnects those with an overload of mental energy to sensuality, spontaneity, and pleasure. Citing the work of several aromatherapists, Battaglia tells us that geranium oil may stimulate the adrenal cortex, increasing hormones that are essentially regulating and balancing. This makes geranium good for situations of fluctuating hormone levels such as PMS and menopause. As both a diuretic and lymphatic stimulant, this essence is helpful with cellulite, fluid retention and simple edema of the ankles. The aroma is familiar from skin-care products, which use this essence for its ability to balance the production of sebum, making it useful for all skin types.

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


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