Essential oils
Essential oils

What is Aromatherapy?

By Massage Today, Editorial Staff
September 14, 2022

What is Aromatherapy?

By Massage Today, Editorial Staff
September 14, 2022

Aromatherapy is the holistic technique of using essential oils to promote both physical and mental health. The essential oils can be inhaled (via diffusers, sprays, or inhalers), or diluted and rubbed directly on the skin or in lotions, oil, and creams.

Adora Winquist, an author and modern alchemist, defines aromatherapy this way: “Aromatherapy is the art and science of using pure extracts from aromatic plant materials, termed essential oils, to attend to specific health and wellness needs while utilizing a holistic framework.”

Essential oils are made with different types of plants—such as lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus, and cinnamon—that offer different benefits. In massage therapy, oils are often mixed to create customized blends that focus on a client’s specific needs, such as improved sleep, reduced inflammation, or reduced pain.

What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are the liquids extracted from plants via various types of solvents and distillation methods. “Essential oils are the most potent form of plant medicine, as such, they are the most volatile, concentrated aspects of aromatic plants,” Winquist says. “They are extracted through a distillation process (water/steam/vapor).” In addition to distillation, some oils, such as citrus oils, can be obtained via the expression of their peels, Winquist notes.

Because the essential oils are so concentrated, plants are needed in large quantities to produce the half-ounce bottles essential oils are most commonly sold in. For example, according to Enchanted Aromatics, a New Mexicobased company that specializes in natural aromatic products, it takes 61 pounds of cedarwood to make one half-ounce bottle of cedarwood essential oil, three pounds of cinnamon leaf for one half-ounce bottle of cinnamon oil, and 47 lemons for one half-ounce bottle of lemon oil.

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It’s important to note that quality of essential oils can vary widely, so massage therapists need to do their homework when picking oils to use in their practice.

“There are numerous factors that contribute to the quality of the essential oils on the market, including growing methodology, timing of harvest, and form of plant material used (fresh or dried),” says Winquist. “Other factors relate to the length and type of the distillation process.”

Some of the main things massage therapists should look for when purchasing essential oils to make sure they are of high-quality include:

  • Common name
  • Latin name
  • Part of plant used
  • Method of distillation
  • Country of origin
  • Use of amber or blue bottles to deflect UV rays
  • Inclusion of reducer droppers to prevent evaporation and oxidation

What are the Benefits of Aromatherapy?

Although there is limited research, there are myriad benefits associated with aromatherapy, and different essential oils are believed to provide different benefits. For example, lavender is used to help alleviate stress and improve sleep. Peppermint oil is believed to help ease headaches and act as an anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antimicrobial. Lemon oil can help ease nausea.

Some of the most common overall benefits of aromatherapy include:

  • Pain management
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Reduced stress
  • Headache and migraine treatment
  • Decreased anxiety

The most immediate way to experience the effects and benefits of essential oils is via inhalation. Essential oils can also be absorbed via the skin, with absorption rates differing by oil and individual. “Aromatic massage is an effective method when working through the skin. Because it increases circulation, essential oils are absorbed more readily into the skin,” Winquist says.

Who Could Benefit from Aromatherapy?

With such a large variety of essential oils offering an equally large variety of possible benefits, there are many different people who may be helped by aromatherapy. Anyone looking for additional assistance dealing with chronic pain, stress, sleeping issues, and anxiety may all benefit from a massage therapy session that includes aromatherapy.

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Additionally, some massage therapists are beginning to integrate aromatherapy into massage sessions with clients suffering from long-haul COVID symptoms like headaches and shortness of breath.

What are the Risks Associated with Aromatherapy?

Oftentimes, people conflate something being natural with something being safe. But this is not always the case. Before using essential oils in a massage therapy session, make sure clients don’t have any health conditions—like epilepsy, for example—that may contraindicate the use of aromatherapy. Allergies, too, need to be considered.

Additionally, oils should never be used internally unless they were developed specifically for internal use or expressly state they can be used internally. Essential oils should always be diluted with a carrier oil for use on the skin. The specific type of essential oil should also be researched for possible side effects before use. Citrus oils, for example, should not be used topically before sun exposure.

Young Living Essential Oils, a company headquartered in Lehi, UT, encourages massage therapists to only use one new essential oil at a time to determine how a given individual responds and to be able to pinpoint the source of any possible allergic reactions. The company also warns against using essential oils on areas where cosmetics, personal care products, or cleansers with synthetic ingredients may be used as it may take these chemicals deeper into the skin and fatty tissue. “In this form of plant medicine, less is, more often than not, best,” says Winquist.