Aromatherapy at Balance! You asked for it – we’ve got it. But now that we have it we had to wonder, what exactly is aromatherapy? And why should you consider adding this upgrade to your next massage? Well, for starters…
“Aromatherapy is the use of naturally extracted aromatic essential oils from fruits and plants targeted at improving overall well-being, aiding in the treatment of ailments, and stimulating the senses. Inhalation of the oils stimulates the brain’s response through the olfactory system and the direct application of oils are absorbed through the body’s largest organ, the skin.” ~ Brooke and Jessica
Essential oils – what are they?
There is a common confusion between essential oils and oil infusions. To infuse oils with scents such as common garden herbs is a simple process of soaking the herb in the oil. This is very different from an essential oil where the process of creation might give you high school chemistry nightmare flashbacks! Essential oils are made by physically separating the oil from the water of an organic material through the process of distillation. According to Dr. Brian Lawrence, “for an essential oil to be a true essential oil, it must be isolated by physical means only.” He goes on to explain that the physical methods of isolation include steam, steam/water, and water distillation can be used for the vast majority of organic materials. He notes that expression, or cold pressing, is a unique technique for citrus peel oils. Finally, the last method is specific to a very limited number of essential oil plants called maceration/distillation. In this process the plant material is macerated (soaked in a liquid to soften) in warm water to release the enzyme-bound essential oil. Maceration distillation is used for organic material such as onion, garlic, wintergreen, and bitter almond, to name a few.
Where did it all start?
Aromatic plants have been used for their healing qualities throughout history. In ancient Egypt, for example, religious ceremonies included oils, waters, incense, resins, and ointments. The Chinese recognized the benefits of herbal and aromatic remedies producing one of the oldest herbal texts, Pen Ts’ao by Shen Nung, cataloging over 200 botanicals! History has also shown use of aromatic plants by the Romans and the Greeks, as well as traditional Indian medicine.
Most modern references to essential oils and aromatherapy date back to the early 1900’s, and all point to France. It wasn’t until 1937 when a French chemist introduced aromatherapy as a medical discipline after stumbling upon the healing properties of essential oil and including it in a book. While working in his lab he suffered a severe burn, plunging it immediately in the closest liquid available; lavender oil! The rest, as they say, is history.
What are the possible benefits?
While there’s not a lot of good science in support of aromatherapy, it has been shown through the ages to offer a large range of physical and psychological benefits depending on the oil or combinations of oils or even the method of use for the oil. The purported benefits include, but are not limited to [examples in box brackets]:
Analgesic [lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus, rosemary, and more]
Anti-inflammatory [chamomile, spruce, peppermint, lavender, and more]
Astringent [lavender, geranium, basil, frankincense, and more]
Sedative [ylang-ylang, valerian, Roman chamomile, cedar wood, lavender, and more]
Antispasmotic [cayenne, clary sage, sandalwood, ginger, and more]
Expectorant [eucalyptus, rosemary, and certain conifer trees]
Diuretic [lavender, eucalyptus, lemon, grapefruit, and more]
The oils are used to aid in the treatment of a wide range of conditions and symptoms. This is just a list of some of the conditions and symptoms thought to be improved through the use of essential oils:
If you’re interested in aromatherapy at Balance, make sure to check in with your therapist about your specific health goals; they can help you choose the right blend. In general, and for example, here is a table of common essential oils used for aromatherapy at Balance and the conditions they are paired with:
Hay fever, burns, acne, arthritis, digestive problems, and menstrual/menopausal symptoms
Analgesic, antiseptic, calming/soothing
Headaches, depression, insomnia, stress, sprains, and nausea
Indigestion, nausea, headache, motion sickness, and muscle pain
“…be aware that certain essential oils should not be used by pregnant or nursing women.”
Are there any risks?
With any good thing we must always be aware of possible risks or side effects from use. Even with naturally derived ingredients it is possible to have a situation that might not be best suited for the use of essential oils or aromatherapy.
Citrus-based essential oils are phototoxic: exposure to direct sunlight should be avoided for at least four hours after application to prevent increased risk of sun burn;
Some essential oils are highly toxic and should not be used for aromatherapy at all. These include but are not limited to: bitter almond, pennyroyal, mustard, sassafras, rue, and mugwort;
A few essential oils, such as eucalyptus, wormwood, and sage should never be taken internally;
Other essential oils like cinnamon leaf, black pepper, juniper, lemon, white camphor, eucalyptus, ginger, peppermint, pine needle, and thyme can be extremely irritating to the skin if applied in high enough concentration or without carrier oil or lotion;
Also, be aware that certain essential oils should not be used by pregnant or nursing women.
Remember also that side effects vary by the type of essential oil used. If you experience an allergic reaction stop using the product immediately and contact a knowledgeable healthcare professional for further guidance. We also recommend testing new essential oils on a small patch of skin before rolling up you sleeves and bathing in them!
How are essential oils used?
Now that you know what they are, lets look at the many ways you can incorporate these healing oils into your life.
Inhalation: this is the most basic method of using aromatherapy. Several drops of an essential oil can be applied to a tissue or handkerchief and gently inhaled. A few drops can also be added to a bowl of hot water and used in a steam treatment. There are also essential oil diffusers, vaporizers, and light bulb rings that can be used to disperse essential oils over a larger area. This technique is recommended for treatment of a respiratory or skin condition.
Internal Use: some oils can be taken internally. Be sure to always seek advise from a qualified healthcare professional and never administer treatment for yourself (also known as the “don’t put things in your mouth that aren’t supposed to go there” rule).
Direct Application: due to the potency of some essential oils, adding them to an oil or lotion and then applying to the skin can help to prevent allergic reactions and skin damage.
And now, aromatherapy at Balance…
Aside from the basic benefits of getting massage, there are many others to getting an aromatherapy massage! Depending on the blend of oils you choose, you may increase the stress reducing effect, spur your energy and creativity, and even aid in the treatment of damaged or swollen muscles.
With aromatherapy at Balance, your session will include inhalation of the unfiltered essential oils, targeting the olfactory center of the brain, as well as absorption through the skin with a a combination of luxurious hot towels and a specially made hand mixed lotion produced by your therapist. These techniques are intended to promote changes to the mind and affects parts of the brain that in turn effect the nervous system.
Remember that each essential oil has different properties and historical use and as such are designed to for different conditions. In these cases, pay attention to your own specific health goals and focus on what’s most important to you. The next time you book a massage ask about the addition of aromatherapy and make the most of your session! And if body pain is your chief complaint, consider upgrading to our popular Restore treatment which includes topical analgesics or our very own Restore the Dragon trauma liniment. Ask for details the next time you come in.
Want more information? Check out our super-sweet aromatherapy at Balance video!
An eight year Marine Corps veteran, Dr. Strand discovered acupuncture as a last resort when recovering from a military related injury. His experiences and travels abroad impact not only his writing style, but his passion for life and medicine.