Essential Oils for Massage Therapists

Essential oils in massage therapy

What are essential oils?  

Essential oils are highly concentrated oils derived from a plant. There are two main processes by which oils are extracted from the plant. One is through distillation; the other is via hydrodiffusion.  

  • Distillation: This is one of the most used processes for extracting oils. It comes in two different forms. 
    • Steam: Steam passes through the plant material into a still. The heat and pressure cause the plant to release the oils, which then vaporize into another container. When exposed to a cool surface, the steam condenses into a liquid containing both essential oil and water. The essential oil then floats to the top, where it is collected.  
    • Water: During water distillation, plant material is submerged directly in water. Once the oil is released into the water, it can be collected. This is a good option when obtaining oils from delicate materials like flower petals.  
  • Hydrodiffusion: This process forced steam through the plant material from above rather than below in your typical steam distillation. This can result in richer essential oil. Cold expression and solvent extraction can be used to obtain the oils using this method.  

Recommended course: Essential Oils in Healthcare 

How to use essential oils in a massage therapy session 

Oils can be used to enhance a massage therapy session in the following ways.  

  • Inhalation: Pleasant smells can impact the body’s limbic system, promoting a sense of relaxation and well-being. Adding the oil to a bamboo diffuser, utilizing steam, or placing the oil on a piece of cloth or cotton ball allows the scent to spread throughout the room. 
  • Absorption: Direct contact with the skin is another good way to take advantage of the benefits of essential oils. Adding the oils either to the lubricant or water (e.g. in a foot soak) allows the pores to absorb the oil’s benefits. 

What are the benefits of essential oils?   

All essential oils have varying chemical compositions, giving each a different property. Some oils are calming or clarifying. Some are stimulating or detoxifying. Matching the properties of each oil to a client’s specific goals or conditions is a simple, low-impact way to help meet the client’s needs. 

Just as there are many benefits to using essential oils, there are also cautions and considerations to remember. 

  • Essential oils are in a concentrated state, so it is important to use a carrier such as oil, lotion, or water to dilute the oil. Oils should never be applied directly to the skin without first being diluted.  
  • When conducting an intake, be sure to ask about allergies. If clients have allergies to certain plants, avoid that oil. For example, if a client has environmental allergies to ragweed, avoid the use of chamomile oils, as chamomile is in the ragweed family.  
  • In their concentrated form, essential oils have a strong aroma. Some of these aromas will linger, which is important to note when developing customized oil blends. Blended oils should have a base, middle, and top notes, each of which evaporate at different rates. The top notes are the first to evaporate, then the middle, and finally base notes. When creating a blend, be sure to ask clients about their sensitivity to smells. Consider not only the current client, but also the clients immediately following. Should the next client have a sensitivity to smells, be sure to schedule extra time for the room to air out.  
  • When incorporating oils into a session, test the diluted oil on a patch of skin prior to doing the whole massage. This will give an idea of any reactions the client may have to using this modality.