From Swedish massages to hot stone massages, there are plenty of ways that you can physically relax. But there’s one type of massage that people are becoming more interested in: aromatherapy massages. This article will explain what aromatherapy massages are, why they’re beneficial, what relevant research says, and what aromatherapy massage products people should use.
- What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment that uses natural plant extracts to promote health and well-being. Sometimes it’s called essential oil therapy. Aromatherapy uses aromatic essential oils medicinally to improve the health of the body, mind, and spirit. It enhances both physical and emotional health. Aromatherapy is thought of as both an art and a science. Recently, aromatherapy has gained more recognition in the fields of science and medicine.
- How does aromatherapy work?
Aromatherapy works by stimulating receptors in the nose responsible for smell, sending messages by olfactory cells to the part of the brain that controls the drive for survival, emotions, and instinct called the limbic system. The olfactory cells recognize scents as specific aromatic molecules that fit into receptors on these cells. Although not fully understood, scientists believe that these nerve signals’ action causes powerful mood changes in response to particular smells.
- What is an aromatherapy massage?
Aromatherapy massage is used for a variety of different reasons, including relaxation, pain management, and improved mood. These are also some of the basic benefits of massage therapy. Adding essential oils is thought to enhance such benefits. Some of the most popular essential oils used in aromatherapy include:
- tea tree
- What are the different types of aromatherapy massages?
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), nearly 7 percent of U.S. adults use massage therapy on a regular basis. Massage therapy itself consists of the manipulation of muscles and lymph nodes through professional pressing and rubbing techniques. Some types of massages include:
- deep tissue
- hot stone massage
Essential oils can be added on to any type of massage for aromatherapy purposes. Massage therapy has been linked to short-term decrease in physical aches and pains and improved mood. Adding an essential oil for an aromatherapy massage can potentially enhance the effects. For example, if you have aches and pains from depression, then adding a mood-boosting oil like orange could also make you feel better.
- What are the potential benefits of an aromatherapy massage?
Each essential oil used in aromatherapy is said to have different properties. For example, some calm and make you feel relaxed while others energize. Since aromatherapy massage techniques are often the same as those used in Swedish massage (the most common type of massage in the US), people often get it for sore back, neck, and/or shoulder muscles or to ease stress. Use of therapeutic essential oils in massage is being explored for the following conditions:
- Dementia symptoms
- Menstrual pain
- Supportive care for people with conditions such as cancer
6. What research supports the benefits of aromatherapy massages?
Aromatherapy massage appears to reduce the pain and discomfort of menstrual cramps, a 2015 study from the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology suggests. Participants did a self-massage with rose essential oil, an unscented almond oil, or no oil on the first day of menstruation for two menstrual cycles.
By the second cycle, aromatherapy massage reduced the severity of pain compared to massage therapy with almond oil or no oil.1
Massage with aromatherapy may also ease menopausal symptoms. In a 2012 study published in Menopause, researchers compared 30-minute aromatherapy massage (twice a week for 4 weeks) to massage with plain oil or no treatment and found that both massage and aromatherapy massage were effective in reducing menopausal symptoms. Aromatherapy massage was the most effective.2
Other research suggests that aromatherapy massage may not relieve symptoms in people with cancer.
A review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2016, analyzed previously published studies and concluded that “this review demonstrated no differences in effects of massage on depression, mood disturbance, psychological distress, nausea, fatigue, physical symptom distress, or quality of life when compared with no massage.”3
When comparing aromatherapy massage with no massage, they found that “there was some indication of benefit in the aromatherapy-massage group but this benefit is unlikely to translate into clinical benefit.”3
- What essential oils should you use for an aromatic massage?
Lavender has soothing and anti-inflammatory properties that help rejuvenate the skin, making it a popular option for various skin conditions. Lavender is an excellent option for sensitive skin because of it’s dominant terpene: linalool. Lavender oil is also great at killing bacteria, which makes it useful for those who are struggling with acne breakouts and want to unclog pores. Lavender is also touted for its calming, relaxing, and uplifting properties. It’s, therefore, a great option for people who are looking for an essential oil to relieve tension and create a soothing atmosphere.
Lemongrass is a natural astringent, used to control excess oil on the skin. Studies show lemongrass has antibacterial qualities which makes it a great tool for fighting pimple-causing bacteria. Studies show the wonderful smell of organic lemongrass essential oil is a great way to relax the senses and pamper your skin. Thanks to its soothing and calming properties, alongside its dreamy scent, organic lemongrass essential oil can help you to drift off into a more peaceful night’s rest.
Rose essential oil is particularly helpful for aging skin because it is anti-inflammatory and a potent antioxidant. Its properties help increase elasticity and renew skin cells — and its antioxidant characteristics, in particular, protect the skin from free radicals, which cause aging. This essential oil can also reduce redness and puffiness in the skin because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
Studies show Sandalwood Essential Oil is a great natural remedy to promote mental clarity and cognitive function, allowing you to stay calm under stress and see things more rationally. Other studies support Sandalwood Essential Oil for it’s calming properties, claiming that smelling Sandalwood Essential Oil can help to create a feeling of relaxation and peace.
Sweet wild orange essential oil, and other citrus oils, are often used to enhance mood and relaxation. Generally, citrus essential oils are invigorating, energizing, mood-enhancing, and help lessen fatigue. In fact, a study found that citrus aromas could restore homeostasis after periods of stress — and this information is why essential oil blends that target mood improvement feature higher levels of citrus oils. The study also found that using citrus essential oils to stimulate the olfactory (smell) system can help reduce the number of medication that patients with depression have to take. According to the researchers, citrus essential oils have an effective method for normalizing hormones and balancing the immune system.
Clove is filled with antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Clove oil contains a compound called eugenol that helps in treating acne. While it has been known to have antimicrobial properties, a study found it specifically effective against the strains of Propionibacterium which cause acne. In 2017, researchers tested clove oil to see whether, when applied to the skin, it had any effect on chronic itching. The study found that, compared to petroleum oil, clove oil significantly relieved itching. Clove oil has been used for centuries in pain management. Researchers have found that clove has the potential to provide superior pain relief when compared to benzocaine
- What precaution should you take when getting an aromatherapy massage?
A licensed massage therapist should take your health history before the massage. Essential oils may cause an allergic skin reaction. Essential oils are highly potent and can be absorbed through the skin, so it’s important to avoid excessive use of aromatherapy oils and to only use oils that have been properly diluted by a carrier oil. If you’re sensitive to scents, aromatherapy may not be right for you. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, check with your doctor to see if this type of massage is safe for you. If it is, your doctor may also be able to recommend a licensed massage therapist who is certified in pregnancy massage. Massage shouldn’t be done directly over bruises, skin rashes, inflamed or weak skin, unhealed wounds, tumors, abdominal hernia, or fractures. If a massage is painful, tell your massage therapist immediately. If you have a health condition, you should consult your doctor before getting an aromatherapy massage. People with certain conditions, such as cancer, may need to avoid essential oils and/or massage at certain times during their treatment or avoid it altogether.