Essential oils are EVERYWHERE. Aren’t they? EVERYWHERE. Aromatherapy (the use of aromatic plant extracts and essential oils.) was a $4 BILLION market in 2016. This same market is projected to come close to doubling in 2024. That’s a lot. Just think that over. $4 BILLION.
That being said, essential oils can be pretty awesome tools but they aren’t without concern. It truly is important to know about the oils you choose to apply and their contraindications. Some examples are this daycare that had to be evacuated due to the use of a essential oil diffuser or this accident with serious chemical burns on the face ( Come on, ya’ll…don’t do this stuff at home!). These really are important reminders that essential oils are kinda dangerous! That being said, IF I use oils within my massage practice, please know that I only use oils that I have been extensively trained in. So while my practice is mostly scent-free, here are some things to consider asking your massage therapist before adding oils into your session.
What kind of training do you have in aromatherapy?
Unfortunately, aromatherapy isn’t regulated like massage therapy is. So truly, anyone can call themselves an aromatherapist. This can be kinda tricky to determine whether or not a person has the training needed to use essential oils safely. For massage therapists who provide aromatherapy massage, it’s important that they are armed with the education about both the benefits AND the side effects of the oils they choose to use. This includes things like:
- Appropriate dilution and application
- Drug interactions
- Common allergies
- Signs of reaction
- First aid
This really doesn’t mean that your massage therapist needs to know about every single oil ever made before they can practice! In fact, starting with a handful of oils and limiting yourself to them until you feel more comfortable is probably the safest way to start.
Where did you get your training?
Just as important as the “what” of training is the “where” (think about it. Do you wanna see a surgeon who got their degree over a one weekend course? Probably not). Who trained them? Was it a reputable school or third party organization? Do they have a certification process that includes an exam? Or was that certification from a one hour webinar (ehhh)? Keep in mind that any training received from the same business or organization that is selling essential oils is suspect. The National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy ( man, that’s a mouth full of words!) has educational standards posted on it’s website, which is an example of what a strong educational program should look like.
And to head off any feelings of weirdness, it’s not insulting to ask questions like this! A well-trained ANYONE are proud to tell you where they received their education ( or at least they should be)
What specific ingredients will you be using on me?
Answers like “my special blend”, let’s be honest, are not specific. But then again there are other answers that might seem fine on the surface, that are not. “Mint” for example doesn’t really cut it. Some clients might be just fine with peppermint, but have a terrible skin reaction with wintergreen. Carrier oils ( the oil that essential oil is mixed in) are an important item to make note of as well. Coconut oil is a popular carrier oil, but probably isn’t a good one if you have a coconut allergy. On that note, it’s probably important to ask your massage therapist what kind of cream, oil or lotion they use. Even if it’s unscented.
So why is all of this important? If you have any kind of reaction, you need to know exactly what it was that caused it. Telling your doctor “ umm…. It smelled spicy? I think it was ginger?” isn’t gonna help them ( or you). Even if you don’t have any known allergies, it’s worth knowing which oils are commonly known irritants and asking specifically for those that are less likely to produce a reaction.
One last thing…
Any oil can be problematic if not used appropriately.If something feels super itchy or burns, go ahead and let someone know. A massage therapist should NEVER suggest that you ingest or take an essential oil internally. That’s not to say there are not circumstances in which using oils in these ways would be appropriate (that’s a whole other topic of discussion), just saying it’s not within a massage therapists scope of practice.
What do you recommend?
This is one of the more common questions I get asked. While I normally don’t like to recommend one company or brand but here is a small list of companies I will order from
Aromatics International ( this is the company I order the most from)
Plant Therapy (this company is a little more economical with organic ingredients)
Do-Terra ( I like to order some of their specific blends)
Aromahead Institute ( this is where I’ve done most of my continuing education)
Essential oils can be enjoyable and even helpful. However, they SHOULD be safe. Asking a few questions can help ensure that your experience with aromatherapy massage is both.