What is an Aromatherapy Massage?

Benefits and tips on getting the most out of one

Aromatherapy Massage
People Images/Getty Images

Aromatherapy massage is massage therapy with essential oils (highly concentrated plant oils) added to the massage oil or lotion.

Inhaling essential oils through the nose is thought to promote beneficial changes in the mind and body by affecting the limbic system (a region of the brain known to influence the nervous system). Essential oils are also believed to be absorbed through the skin.

Why Do People Get Aromatherapy Massage?

Since aromatherapy massage is a bit like Swedish massage but with scent added, people often get it for muscle- and joint-related conditions or for physical or mental stress.

Other conditions include:

Each essential oil used in aromatherapy is said to have different properties. For example, some calm while others energize. Here are some widely used essential oils and their purported properties:

  • Calming – chamomile, lavender, geranium
  • Uplifting – ylang-ylang, clary sage, rose, neroli
  • Energizing – rosemary
  • Decongesting – eucalyptus, pine, tea tree

Your massage therapist may pick oils based on your symptoms.

The Benefits of Aromatherapy Massage

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.

Massage with aromatherapy may also ease menopausal symptoms. In a study published in Menopause, researchers compared 30-minute aromatherapy massage (twice a week for four weeks) to massage with plain oil or no treatment and found that both massage and aromatherapy massage were effective in reducing menopausal symptoms (with aromatherapy massage being more effective than massage only).

Other research suggests that aromatherapy massage may not be helpful for some conditions. For instance, a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2016 evaluated the effects of massage with or without aromatherapy on symptom relief in people with cancer. Researchers 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". 

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".

What to Expect During an Aromatherapy Massage

After the consultation, essential oils may be selected for you and mixed into the massage oil or lotion. Many massage therapists use pre-blended massage oil or lotion.

The subtle aroma of the essential oils fills the air around you during the massage.

After the massage, the massage therapist may suggest a blend that you can use at home in between massage treatments.

Related: Questions About Massage You May Be Too Embarrassed to Ask

Precautions

A licensed massage therapist should take your health history before the massage. Massage may not be appropriate for people with certain conditions, so it's a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before getting treatment.

Essential oils may cause an allergic skin reaction. Essential oils can be absorbed through skin, so it's important to avoid excessive use of aromatherapy oils. If you're sensitive to scents, aromatherapy may not be right for you.

Pregnant women should check with their doctor before getting a massage (and get a recommendation for 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.

Final Thoughts

Aromatherapy with essential oil-scented massage oils and lotions may help to ease stress and anxiety. If you're considering trying aromatherapy massage, talk with your massage therapist (and healthcare provider) about whether it's appropriate for you.

Some additional tips on making the most of your massage: 

  • Don’t eat a heavy meal before the massage
  • If it's your first time at the clinic or spa, arrive early so you can complete the necessary forms. Otherwise, you may want to give yourself some time to rest and relax before starting the massage. 

Sources:

Darsareh F, Taavoni S, Joolaee S, Haghani H. Effect of aromatherapy massage on menopausal symptoms: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. Menopause. 2012 Sep;19(9):995-9. 

Sadeghi Aval Shahr H, Saadat M, Kheirkhah M, Saadat E. The effect of self-aromatherapy massage of the abdomen on the primary dysmenorrhoea. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2015 May;35(4):382-5. 

Shin ES, Seo KH, Lee SH, et al. Massage with or without aromatherapy for symptom relief in people with cancer. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Jun 3;(6):CD009873. 

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

Continue Reading