We live in an era that’s just begging us to chill out. ASMR soothes our ears through noise canceling headphones. Videos of cute puppies fill our social feeds. Automatic massage chairs beckon our sore backs at the car wash. But when it comes to settling into a deeper level of chill, the nose knows.
Add fragrant essential oils to therapeutic body work and you’ve got aromatherapy massage. Regular, non-scented massages offer up a ton of benefits for your bod. But aromatherapy massage might also help reduce anxiety, lower stress and boost your mood.
So take a whiff and relax as we walk through the potential benefits of aromatherapy massage.
What is an aromatherapy massage?
Aromatherapy massage combines the benefits of traditional massage with the holistic benefits of scented essential oils, or concentrated oils that are derived from various plants. So an aromatherapy massage helps your body and your mind.
Common essential oils include lavender, tea tree, chamomile, bergamot, geranium, lemon, ginger, and cedarwood. These fragrant oils are potent, so they’re diluted in a neutral carrier oil like coconut oil, jojoba oil, olive oil ,or sweet almond oil before they’re applied to your skin.
During the massage, the aroma of the essential oil travels to the part of your brain known as the limbic system. This versatile set of structures serves many purposes, including regulating emotion. And voila. Pleasant fragrances trigger dopamine and serotonin resulting in, you guessed it, pleasant emotions.
Benefits of aromatherapy massage
Specific scents bring about different benefits – and let’s face it – different noses have different preferences, so make sure to take a sec to help your massage therapist pick just the right essential oil for you.
Beyond simply giving you good, relaxing vibes, aromatherapy massage offers up other health benefits. The combo of fragrance and therapeutic touch might help you:
It’s important to point out that the FDA categorizes essential oils as cosmetics “because they are not drugs for treating or prevention of disease.”
But even without these pleasant smells tickling your brain cells, massage therapy on its own has inherent benefits such as:
- Reducing muscle pain and tightness
- Reducing inflammation
- Shortening recovery time after injury by improving blood flow
- Breaking down scar tissue
There are several types of therapeutic massage, each with their own focus and purpose. Deep tissue massage, which aims at alleviating the worst of the worst muscle aches, offers specific benefits for people experiencing:
- High blood pressure
- Plantar fasciitis
- Tennis elbow
- Sports injuries
- Postural problems such as scoliosis
Best oils for aromatherapy massage
Each essential oil is said to have its own specific benefits. Some scents will help you chill out, like jasmine or lavender oil. Others will give you a bit of an invigorating zing, like eucalyptus or lemon. Tell your massage therapist what you hope to get out of the massage and they’ll help you choose a scent based on your goals.
Whatever your individual goal, your massage therapist will guide you to an appropriate essential oil. Here’s what might be on the spa menu:
- Jasmine oil is commonly used to alleviate symptoms of depression and reduce inflammation.
- Lavender oil has a calming effect that might improve sleep and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Peppermint oil is thought to manage pain from headaches.
- Bergamot helps to regulate blood pressure.
- Chamomile eucalyptus, and rosemary are said to reduce inflammation.
Here are some other popular essential oil choices for aromatherapy massage:
- Tea Tree
If you want to relax, you might not want to choose an essential oil that will pep you up. Or, if you’ve been a bit of a couch potato lately, you might want to avoid relaxing smells and opt instead for a scent that might give you some spring in your step.
Before you start an aromatherapy massage session, take a moment to really check in with your body and your emotions. Share your thoughts with your massage therapist. Focus on areas that might be experiencing discomfort or pain and also remember to give your therapist a full description of how life is going for you. Are you experiencing insomnia Did you have a recent trauma Are you suffering through a period of anxiety or severe stress? All of these details will help your massage therapist hone in on how to help you.
Risks of aromatherapy massage
Besides any allergic reactions or skin sensitives to the essential oil or carrier oil, aromatherapy massage is thought to be generally safe, but there are a few specific warnings.
For those of you who are pregnant, be sure to consult with a health professional before booking an aromatherapy massage. There are some concerns that the following essential oils may cross into the placenta and harm the fetus:
With that in mind, the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) also emphasizes that “there have been no recorded cases of miscarriage or birth defect resulting from aromatherapy massage using therapeutic applications of any essential oil.”
There is also a concern that certain citrus based essential oils may increase skin sensitivity to sun exposure. So enjoy that lemonade on the beach, but not that lemon essential oil.
Also, pets and children may have certain adverse reactions to essential oils. Though it bears further study, some evidence suggests that essential oils may disrupt certain hormones in young boys.
Again, it is essential (wow, pun) to perform a patch test on your skin a day or two before having an aromatherapy massage. And if anything makes you uncomfortable during your massage session, speak up!
How to make aromatherapy massage oil
If you want to dabble in making your own aromatherapy massage oil, make sure to start with a quality carrier oil such as jojoba oil or coconut oil. The carrier oil might have an unexpected reaction with your skin, so it’s important to do a patch test with your carrier oil before you mix in the essential oil. Here’s what to do:
- Dab some carrier oil on your wrist or just below your ear.
- Cover the oiled patch of skin with a bandage.
- Check back on the area after a day or so.
- If you find a rash or any redness, rinse that skin with water and try a different carrier oil.
Once you’ve found your carrier oil, you’ll want to choose your essential oil. There aren’t any official standards that regulate essential oils on the market, but here’s our handy guide to finding a good one.
Once you’ve chosen your scent, put a few drops into your carrier oil. Here’s the recommended dilution specs for adults:
- 2.5 percent dilution: 15 drops essential oil per 6 teaspoons carrier oil
- 3 percent dilution: 20 drops essential oil per 6 teaspoons carrier oil
- 5 percent dilution: 30 drops essential oil per 6 teaspoons carrier oil
- 10 percent dilution: 60 drops essential oil per 6 teaspoons carrier oil
Again, you’ll want to perform another patch test to make sure you don’t have any unexpected allergic reactions. If you see a rash, hives, redness, swelling, or itchiness, rinse thoroughly and talk to a dermatologist.
Aromatherapy massage combines all the health benefits of therapeutic body work with the holistic benefits of fragrant essential oils. Derived from plants, these potent oils give off smells that stimulate the limbic system in your brain. The resulting health benefits can range from easing some symptoms of anxiety and depression to helping with insomnia or reducing inflammation.
If you want to get in on the mixology, you can make your own essential oil lotions from diluting quality essential oils with a neutral carrier oil. Be sure to perform a patch test of both the carrier oil and the diluted essential oil solution before slathering up.
If you aren’t sure which scent you need, consult with a certified aromatherapist or massage therapist who is knowledgeable about essential oils. They’ll guide you to aromas that match with your goals. From relaxation to reinvigoration, your nose will ultimately lead you in the right direction.