What Is Aromatherapy Massage?
Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT — Written by Kristeen Cherney on February 1, 2019
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:
Aromatherapy is often added to a traditional massage session as an extra service. The massage therapist might diffuse an essential oil in the room during your session or they might add a few drops of oil to massage lotion and apply it directly to your skin.
Aromatherapy massage uses
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)Trusted Source, 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:
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 is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils for certain benefits. Examples include lavender, orange and bergamot, and eucalyptus. These “aromas” are all plant-based derivatives from herbs, tree extracts, and flowers. Essential oils are extremely concentrated so to be used correctly they should be diluted into milder oils, humidifiers, or lotions.
The overall purpose of aromatherapy is meant to improve your physical and mental well-being. More consumers are testing out essential oil products than ever before by diffusing them at home or diluting them for skin usage.
Does aromatherapy work?
Scientific research about the health effects of aromatherapy is mixed or lacking.
According to the NCCIH, stimulating oils to boost mood have been found effective in some studies. Examples of these include lemon, orange, and tangerine. However, lavender, though widely considered safe, was found not to affect mood in that same study.
Another study looked at the effects of chamomile and massage therapy for anxiety relief. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI)Trusted Source, the results showed a greater decrease in anxiety symptoms after massages with chamomile versus massage without aromatherapy.
Overall, the NCI notes that aromatherapy has shown benefits for the following uses:
Aromatherapy massage risks
There are generally few risks associated with aromatherapy massage. One consideration is possible sensitivity to the essential oils used during your session. Your massage therapist should always dilute the oil with massage lotion or a carrier oil before applying to the skin.
If you’re unsure about a particular oil, ask the therapist to diffuse it in the room instead of applying it directly to your skin.
Possible symptoms of an allergic reaction to essential oils include:
Another consideration is the lack of regulation over essential oils and essential oil products used in an aromatherapy massage. Since many essential oils are considered cosmetics, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate them for safety and effectiveness.
Is aromatherapy massage safe during pregnancy?
A prenatal massage itself is generally considered safe. If you have calf pain or a history of blood clots, don’t get a massage. If you’re looking for an aromatherapy massage while pregnant, speak to a doctor about which oils may be safe ahead of time. There’s concern that essential oils can cross over into the placenta and result in fetal harm.
According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, you should avoid the following essential oils if you’re pregnant:
You’ll also want to use caution when considering aromatherapy massage for young children.
Read about how essential oils may disrupt hormones of young boys.
Tips for aromatherapy massage
When signing up for an aromatherapy massage, consider the following tips to make the most of this or any type of massage session:
Choose an essential oil based on your needs. For example, you might choose a citrusy scent for boosting your mood, lavender for relaxation, or eucalyptus for pain management.
Decide whether you want the oil diffused or applied directly to your skin during your massage. If you have any known sensitivities to a particular oil, it’s best to steer clear and choose something else.
Don’t go to your massage on a full stomach — this could cause stomach upset during and after your session.
Do drink water before and immediately after your massage and consider having a snack.
Take a warm shower after your massage. This helps remove any oils left on your skin.
Your massage therapist is also your first source for questions about an aromatherapy massage experience. They should be able to recommend specific essential oils, and discuss what product and techniques they would use based on your needs.
If the therapist doesn’t seem confident about aromatherapy massage, they may not have much experience including it in their sessions.
Some essential oils can irritate asthma and other breathing problems. When applied to the skin, essential oils made from citrus fruits can make the skin more vulnerable to sunlight. Avoid sun exposure after grapefruit, orange, or other citrus oil is used on your skin.
Also, don’t be afraid to speak up during your massage. If something doesn’t feel right, let the therapist know. You can also ask them to apply more oils and use more or less pressure at any point.
Remember that this is a quiet space, so your therapist won’t want to interrupt your experience with questions — it’s up to you to speak up.
You might reap some of the benefits of aromatherapy outside of massage sessions by diffusing essential oils in your own home.
Aromatherapy massages, when done by professional massage therapists, might enhance your experience, ultimately improving your self-care routine.
While scientific research is still being done to assess the health benefits of aromatherapy, there’s no doubt that it helps some people to feel better, often by temporarily decreasing sensations of pain or mood symptoms.
When coupled with the principles of massage therapy, aromatherapy might help you feel even better.
Last medically reviewed on February 1, 2019
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