Massage aromatherapy incorporates essential oils into a massage or a topical treatment. Typically, the essential oils are combined with a carrier oil, thereby diluting the essential oil before application. Massage aromatherapy is designed around the relaxing and soothing aromas that prepare the mind and the tissues for the massage technique to be applied.
This form of aromatherapy is typically incorporated into a professional massage offered through a licensed therapist. It is not uncommon for recipients to continue using the essential oils that were applied during the session in an ongoing topical approach without the specific massage techniques.
Topical aromatherapy is a popular method of using essential oils that is relatively safe as long as the essential oils are pure and used correctly. In general, spice essential oils such as black pepper, cardamom, cassia, cinnamon bark, clove, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, ginger, and juniper berry should be diluted to avoid dermal sensitivity.
Because they are photosensitive, citrus oils such as sweet orange, bitter orange, neroli, orange petitgrain, mandarin, lemon, etc., should never be applied topically if exposure to direct sunlight is expected within 12 hours. Many citrus essential oils contain furocoumarins, a specific constituent class that can cause the skin to react differently to UV rays. Free radicals and singlet oxygen are also formed during the process and can inflict damage on cellular membranes, organelles, and proteins. If exposed to UV radiation after topical application of photosensitive oil, the skin may become temporarily darkly pigmented, red, or irritated.
It is typical for essential oils such as peppermint or fennel to have a warming effect. This warming sensation would not be considered an irritation. However, if the area has any or all of the following sensitivity signs, additional dilution is recommended: sensitive to touch, raised, bumpy, red, and hot.
Essential oils typically found within the flowers, leaves, petals, or blossoms of the plants tend to be relatively safe with mild to no adverse side effects and can be used with very little to no dilution. The oils include basil, bay laurel, coriander, cumin, fennel, geranium, helichrysum, jasmine, juniper berry, lavender, marjoram, palmarosa, peppermint, rose, rosemary, sage, spearmint, tarragon, and tea tree, to name a few.
If you are new to essential oils, it is always wise to start with a sensitivity patch test. The sensitivity patch test is simple to do. Take the essential oil of choice and apply one drop at the desired dilution on the popliteal fossa (back of the knee) or antecubital fossa (front of the elbow). The skin in these areas is surprisingly sensitive. This patch test will allow you to determine skin sensitivity before applying the essential oil to larger areas of the body. If you experience irritation, continue to dilute the essential oil and retest until there is no noticeable irritation. Be sure to wash with soap and water, thoroughly dry the area, and wait ten minutes between each sensitivity patch test.
For further information about safely diluting essential oils, see our blog post HERE.
Recommended massage and cosmetic applications