Aromatherapy & Your Clients: Selecting the Right Scent

By Eric Stephenson

Aromatherapy & Your Clients: Selecting the Right Scent

By Eric Stephenson

To most, simply hearing the word "aromatherapy" brings about a sense of serenity. If you are massage therapist, these words can be music to your ears (and nose). Beyond the fresh scents, aromatherapy is a holistic treatment option that can provide real health benefits and alleviate many stress-related and painful ailments.

Research shows aromatherapy is a natural remedy for relaxation. Aromatherapy and scent have demonstrated a direct effect on the body's autonomic nervous system (fight/ flight- rest/digest) tendencies in our brains. For example, a recent study showed the inhalation of lavender can reduce sympathetic nervous activity and decrease blood pressure,1 while the inhalation of rosemary can increase sympathetic nervous activity and provide mental/psychological clarity.2

  • Energize – comprised of lemon, ginger and geranium, this scent provides a stimulating and invigorating experience that uplifts the senses, while providing balance and air purification for a deep cleanse.
  • Refresh – eucalyptus, peppermint and patchouli are combined for an enlivened, yet balanced and soothing experience.  This naturally purifying and cooling scent freshens the air for total relaxation.
  • Calm – lavender, nutmeg and black pepper come together for a treatment that is uplifting, nurturing and relaxing.

How to select the right scent for your client

Stress looks different for everyone. Some clients experience stress from an active lifestyle and constant movement where others are stressed from lethargy, depression or anxiety.

Selecting the appropriate oil and scent varies from client to client, and even day by day.  If you have a low-energy or lethargic client, it would be a good idea to recommend a scent that will stimulate them and get them moving, like ginger or lemon. For someone who has been burning the candle at both ends, perhaps recommend something more relaxing, like lavender.

It is important to note that the goal of aromatherapy is not always to remove the client from their fight or flight state of mind, but rather neutralize their cognitive stressors. Part of an effective intake process is to always ask your client questions and understand where their stress is coming from.

Ways to use aromatherapy

There are several approaches for utilizing aromatherapy, with the most popular form being inhalation.  Our sense of smell causes an immediate emotional response through the limbic system which may have a variety of desired effects. One of the most favorable aspects of aromatherapy is its practicality- essential oils can be evaporated into the air through diffusers, spray, steam baths or oil droplets.

Massage is also another form of direct application wherein aromatherapy oils are applied and absorbed through the skin. To ensure safe application of essential oils, oils should never be applied directly to the skin, but rather diluted with a carrier oil or lotion such as grapeseed oil. Certain parts of the body like the palms, soles of feet and temples may have better absorption capability as humans generally have a higher concentration of sweat glands in those areas.

Can regularly applying aromatherapy be beneficial or harmful to the massage therapist's health? Like everything in life, exposure to aromatherapy is good in moderation. Therapists may  experience relaxing and energizing benefits from exposure to aromatherapy, just like clients do.

The Takeaway

It's fascinating to ponder that the human nose has over 400 scent receptors that can detect over a trillion different smells. Through aromatherapy, massage therapists have the ability to utilize holistic, essential oils that have the potential to  instill relaxation, revitalization, stress relief and more. As a massage therapist, how might you tap into this therapeutic approach in your practice?


  1. Sayorwan W, et al. The effects of lavender oil inhalation on emotional states, autonomic nervous system, and brain electrical activity. J Med Assoc Thai, 2012 Apr;95(4):598-606.
  2. Sayorwan W, et al. Effects of Inhaled Rosemary Oil on Subjective Feelings and Activities of the Nervous System. Sci Pharm, 2013 Apr-Jun;81(2):531-542.