Tropical Stay-Cation: Help Clients Escape Through Scent

By Nyssa Hanger , MA, LMT, RYT

Tropical Stay-Cation: Help Clients Escape Through Scent

By Nyssa Hanger , MA, LMT, RYT

The summer is a great time to incorporate tropical scents into your practice. The sweet zest of orange, the more timid and soft scent of grapefruit, and the exotic floral bouquet of ylang ylang can all help bring the aroma of the tropics to your treatment room.

Since many of our clients use our massage sessions as a way to "get away" for an hour and enjoy themselves without the stress of work or home, the combination of fruity and floral scents can aid in the effect. I like to think of it as creating an "aromatic stay-cation." Your clients can take the scents home with them (if available) and then be transported back onto your table. It won't quite be the same of course, so it also reminds them to come back.

Scent of the Tropics

I think of tropical scents as being those of fruits and flowers. Both are generally uplifting scents with universal appeal. Many of us have fond memories of laying in the sun, enjoying a fruity beverage, perhaps applying coconut-scented sunblock. Though we do not get an essential oil from coconut, rather a lipid-based carrier oil, we can use the full coconut oil in place of fractionated coconut for a slight coconut aroma.

Creating a tropical atmosphere in your session can be easy and fun. But there are a few things to consider before just putting a bunch of oils together and applying to your clients' skin or diffusing throughout the air. The fruity scents available to us in essential oils are mostly from citruses. Citrus oils come from the peels of the fruit usually through a method of mechanical pressing, rather than steam distillation like most other essential oils. This means they can contain some different types of components, some of which are considered phototoxic.

Citrus Dangers

Citruses extracted through steam distillation do not have this phototoxic quality. This is one reason why it is important to know the method of extraction for all your essential oils. This is important because when we apply essential oils to our clients' skin, even when they are diluted, they can still cause a phototoxic reaction when the skin is exposed to sunlight.

These can range from mild irritation to welts and severe blisters. These reactions only occur when the skin is exposed UV rays either from sunlight or a tanning bed. During the summer seasons it is especially important to be aware of such dangers since many of our clients might be going to the beach, the tanning bed, or enjoying some outdoor activity sometime later that day or the next. The skin is susceptible to phototoxicity for up to 24 hours after the application.

My practice is in Florida, so I am cautious of this throughout the year. This is why I don't use any phototoxic oils at all on the clients' skin, though I use them for diffusion often. Common phototoxic citrus oils include: bergamot, grapefruit, lemon oil (expressed), lime oil (expressed), bitter orange (expressed). But there are also non-phototoxic citrus oils. Bergamot FCF is bergamot that has had the furanocoumarin, or phototoxic components) removed. When lemon oil or lime oil is distilled, they do not pose a phototoxic risk. Both mandarin and sweet orange are safe and non-phototoxic even when they are expressed.

Citrus & Floral

Citruses do well blended with florals because they give the scent more texture and help create a more complex aroma. Florals tend to be stronger in aroma intensity, which means you often need less of them. They also tend to be pricier since the yield of essential oil from flowers is much less than from the citrus peels.

Most often I turn to two oils in particular for my florals in tropical scents, using the other florals as accent scents for one main reason: price. Many florals like neroli (orange blossom), rose and jasmine are often very expensive, so I will use them more sparingly. The two that are inexpensive and floral enough are ylang ylang and lavender. Ylang ylang has a really strong scent, and it is too strong for many, but using just a touch in a blend with some citruses can give it a sweet lift as if some blooming flower caught a breeze from a tropical island.

Blending Scents

Some combinations that I like are lime with ylang ylang for an out of this world, tropical scent, or grapefruit and lavender for something a little more subtle. You can interchange the citrus scents and see what better fits your style or throw in a drop or two of some lemongrass or ginger for some spiciness. The two main ways you will want to create a tropical themed atmosphere is through diffusion and topical application. They can be done together or separately, depending on the oils you choose, your preferences, and the clients' preferences.

In general, I like to only use the expensive oils like rose, neroli, or jasmine in a diluted blend for the skin (about 15 drops per ounce of carrier), particularly for application to face, neck or chest. We want clients to be able to smell the aroma of these potent florals.

Phototoxicity issues are only a concern for topical application, but not for diffusion. Remember, you can still apply phototoxic oils to the skin and it not be a problem as long as the skin is not exposed to UV rays for a day or so afterward. My general approach is only use phototoxic oils for diffusion, but in a case where you do use them on a client, just let them know the caution.

Be safe out there in both the treatment room and the sun. Hopefully you can get yourself a tropical stay-cation too with some fruit and floral aromas. Remember that the only way to authentically create the ultimately relaxing experience for your client is to continuously remind yourself what it is like to be the client.