Essential oils are powerful concentrations of oils from flowers and herbs. Often they are used in aromatherapy and massage. I use essential oils for the aroma, but do not apply directly to the skin commonly. I use rosemary most because it helps my clients achieve stress and pain reduction – two common goals of massage therapy. I use several essential oils, but rosemary is the most consistent to open my sessions of bodywork. Why? Because it benefits have been demonstrated in some decent studies.
The benefits that concern me and my clients are:
1) Stress Relief: Five minutes of inhalation of rosemary oil reduces the level of cortisol (your stress hormone) in your saliva. My clients smell a few drops for about 20 minutes at the beginning of the massage, while face down. This is the main benefit that I whole hearted embrace.
2) Pain Relief: Rosemary reduces inflammation, which is associated with lower pain. On request, I will apply rosemary directly to sore hands, allowing it to absorb through the skin rather than the olfactory system. This is a minor benefit, but anything helps - and when combined with the dopamine and seratonin effect of massage (see: http://bit.ly/stressmassage), pain reduction is tangible.
3) Immune System Boost: That same study that identified lower cortisol levels resulting from inhalation of rosemary essential oil also found that the free radical-scavenging activity in the subjects’ bodies also significantly increased. Free-radicals contribute to inflammation and aging, generally called oxidative stress. I beleive this because of the study. It is pretty hard to feel an immune system boost.
I also use lavender, lemongrass, and mint. Lemon grass and mint are especially helpful to end a massage, so the client comes back to reality from ‘lala land’. However, I find rosemary the most useful for my clients. This is part of my effort to give my clients the best massage therapy experience possible. If you are interested in the stress effects of massage even without the use of essential oils, see: http://bit.ly/stressmassage.
Jesse Atkinson, MA