What is an aromatherapy massage and why do I need one?!

by Alison Angold CIDESCO CIBTAC

What is an aromatherapy massage?

An aromatherapy massage is a range of massage movements, including lymphatic drainage, pressure points and Swedish massage using a blend of essential oils. It is called an aromatherapy massage due to the fact that inhaling and absorbing the aromas of the essential oils, has beneficial and therapeutic benefits.

As a qualified, professional and experienced massage therapist I believe that an aromatherapy massage should be different from a usual Swedish body massage. Many beauty or massage therapists will carry out a Swedish massage, use pre-blended aromatherapy oils, call it an aromatherapy massage and charge you £10 extra! While this is technically ok, I prefer to offer my clients and teach my students an alternative to the usual Swedish massage and blending tailor made essential oils specifically for that client.

A proper aromatherapy massage should be carried out by a qualified aromatherapist, not just a massage therapist.

Hands massaging a back.  What is a an aromatherapy massage

Swedish massage vs aromatherapy massage

Swedish Massage

A Swedish massage is a series of manipulating movements, principally designed to ease and relieve muscle aches and pains. Within a Swedish massage the skins tissues and muscles are manipulated and often lifted away from the bones. These movements release tension from the muscles, increase blood circulation and soothe and relax the muscles. A Swedish massage is highly relaxing but can also be stimulating and reviving due to its manipulating properties. Swedish massage is carried out with a basic, unscented, carrier oil, such as sweet almond oil or grapeseed oil.

Aromatherapy massage

An aromatherapy massage, in my opinion, should be different in movements from a Swedish massage. The main difference is that essential oils blends are used. These can either be pre-blended oils, or a tailor made blend personally mixed for you.

In my aromatherapy massages I include massage movements such as lymphatic drainage, pressure points, shiatsu, while incorporating some more manipulating movements from Swedish massage, where needed. I feel that by offering a completely different treatment for an aromatherapy massage, then the client not only benefits from the aroma’s of the oils but also the specific, different movements used.

An aromatherapy massage is carried out with essential oils. These can either be pre-blended, which means that they have already been mixed into a carrier oil in the correct quantities. The oils usually come in names such as, ‘relaxing blend’, ‘uplifting blend’ or ‘detoxifying blend’. These oils are great for ease of use, and getting the measurements and mix just right, but a properly qualified aromatherapist, should be able to mix you a blend of essential oils, that is specifically tailored to your needs.

A thorough consultation should be carried out prior to an aromatherapy massage. In fact a consultation should be carried out before any beauty or massage treatment – if they don’t do one, perhaps look for another salon!

The consultation tells the practitioner any precautions that she must consider, along with any particular issues or needs you have and what you want to gain from the treatment and how you want to feel afterwards.

Benefits of aromatherapy massage

The benefits of a good aromatherapy massage are plentiful!

Aromatherapy massage movements

Lymphatic drainage movements are designed to encourage the lymph and the waste in the body, and particularly under the skin, to move more efficiently. This, in turn, not only keeps your body healthy by removing unwanted waste, but reduces the appearance of cellulite and fatty deposits under the skin. Pressure points, depending on where they are performed, help to clear or stimulate an area. They can work on the nerve pathways in the area to either soothe the nerves to calm the body or stimulate them to encourage better responses. Circulation is increased throughout the massage, and this encourages all areas of the body to work more efficiently bringing fresh blood supply to the organs and tissues.

And, perhaps most importantly, an aromatherapy massage is relaxing. Because most of the movements performed are carried out at a slower, soothing pace, the body gets a chance to relax, the muscles relax and the mind gets a chance to switch off.

Essential oils

Add to this the use of essential oils and you have a extremely beneficial treatment!

Essential oils are the pure oils extracted from the leaves & flowers of plants, herbs, fruit or even the bark, resin and roots of trees. The molecules in essential oils, are so fine that they can penetrate the skin, when applied topically.

They can be absorbed to the deeper layers of the skin and from there, can enter the bloodstream and travel around the body to have a positive effect where it is needed.

In addition the molecules can travel through the membranes in the nose, when inhaled, so the smells of the oils can have a relaxing, uplifting or nostalgic effect on us, so can instantly make us feel better.

Each essential oil has a variety of properties, or therapeutic actions, meaning that it will have a particular effect on an area or system of the body. These are just a few of the therapeutic actions that essential oils have;

  • Analgesic – relieves pain
  • Antiviral – kills virus’s or prevents a virus developing
  • Expectorant – helps remove fluid from the lungs and respiratory tract
  • Immuno-stimulant – stimulates and strengthens the immune system
  • Tonic – invigorates and gives strength to the body
  • Calming – has an overall calming effect on the body
  • Relaxing – has a general relaxing effect
  • Sedative – calms the nervous system
  • Stomachic – aids digestion and eases indigestion

So depending on how you feel or any issues or ailments that you might be suffering with, a really beneficial blend can be mixed to use during your massage.

Essential oils used for aromatherapy massage

There are so many different oils to use for aromatherapy, that there are too many too list here! Here are some of the most popular essential oils and their uses;

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Oil being dripped from a bottle in to a hand.  What is Aromatherapy massage?

Grapefruit

As this is a citrus oil, the scent is uplifting and is a tonic in the fight against lethargy and fatigue. Grapefruit is also a natural diuretic so great for conditions such as cellulite and water retention. It also stimulates the immune system so good for preventing colds and flu.

Rosemary

A stronger smelling oil, rosemary is stimulating and uplifting.  This oil is good to use if you suffer with brain fog, and general tiredness, and also helps with aches and pains surrounding joints.  It improves circulation and helps chest conditions associated with colds and flu. 

Frankincense

A comforting, warming and relaxing oil that relaxes and calms an overactive mind. It is rejuvenating for dry, mature skins and eases urinary tract infections.

Lavender

Lavender is an all round good oil that relieves so many symptoms. It helps to relieve stress and anxiety, relaxes and soothes tense muscles, and stress related conditions such as palpitations. Lavender is a good skin healer, so great for use on scars or spots and it also balances emotions, lifts depression and helps relieve headaches and migraines.

Sandalwood

A relaxing, sedating oil that soothes tension, and relives insomnia. It also calms irritated skin conditions, and gives relief to chest infections, coughs and colds.

Clary Sage

This oil uplifts and promotes feelings of well being and euphoria. It can also soothe nervous tension, anxiety and panic, and balance hormones. A very useful oil to inhale at times of anxiety. It has also been known to reduce high blood pressure.

Black Pepper

A very stimulating oil but very warming for muscle aches and pains. Black pepper encourages circulation and and is very good for digestive issues.

Using essential oils for aromatherapy massage

Essential oils should always be blended into a carrier oil for massage application. For full instructions and techniques for blending, see my full article HERE

Blend your own aromatherapy massage oils by using a carrier oil such as Sweet Almond Oil and a range of Essential oils.

Precautions to aromatherapy massage

As wonderful as it all sounds there are some considerations and precautions to take before having an aromatherapy massage.

(If you are having a professional aromatherapy massage, the consultation that your therapist carries out prior to the treatment, should highlight any precautions for the treatment)

Pregnancy

There is a lot of conflicting information out there on the use of essential oils during pregnancy. Even though essential oils are natural they are actually highly complex chemicals, which can have a wide range of effects on the body. No essential oils should be applied to the skin during the first 3 months of pregnancy. There are some oils that provoke menstruation, so these need to be avoided at all times during the whole pregnancy, similarly there are some oils that stimulate the muscles of the uterus, so again these must be avoided at all costs. The following oils should be avoided during pregnancy;

  • Basil
  • Carrot Seed
  • Cedarwood
  • Chamomile
  • Clary Sage
  • Cypress
  • Fennel
  • Jasmine
  • Juniper
  • Marjoram
  • Melissa
  • Myrrh
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme

Sunlight

Most citrus oils are phototoxic, meaning that if the skin will burn if exposed to sunlight where the oils are applied. If the following oils are used, avoid direct sunlight to the skin;

  • Bergamot
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Mandarin (mildly phototoxic)
  • Orange

High Blood Pressure

Thyme and Rosemary essential oils should be avoided by those with high blood pressure.

Epilepsy

Fennel and Rosemary should not be used by those with epilepsy.

Alcohol

Ideally alcohol should be avoided after an aromatherapy massage, as the massage can remove waste and toxins, so we don’t want to be adding more into the body. However alcohol consumption should be avoided, specifically after the use of Clary Sage, as it increases the effects of alcohol (ie, makes you feel more drunk!)

Homeopathic remedies

Eucalyptus, Black Pepper and Peppermint essential oils are not compatible with homeopathic medicines.

Allergies & sensitive skin

Even though there are specific essential oils that are anti-inflammatory, if you have very sensitive skin and skin allergies, proceed with caution with the use of essential oils in the case of an allergic reaction.