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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

All About Aromatherapy

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Essential Oils are a staple of Massage Therapy (among other complimentary alternative approaches), but what is the value of Aromatherapy? How does it work?

I am going to start this topic with the following disclaimer; I am NOT an Aromatherapist. In order to call oneself an Aromatherapist, it is its own certification process and specific number of hours in studies required. I do not have that certification or devoted that many hours of study to be able to call myself an Aromatherapist.

However, I have and do include the use of essential oils and basics of Aromatherapy in my massage therapy practices. Aromatherapy adds sensory depth, therapeutic value, and improved health when combined with massage! Aromatherapy was first coined by French chemist, Gattefosse in 1928.

The heart of Aromatherapy are Essential Oils. “Essential” is used in reference to the source materials; common sources include flowers, petals, leaves, grass, needles, stems, woods, nuts, and roots of plants. “Oils” is the essence or product derived once the sources have been extracted, however oil is a bit of a misnomer, essential oils tend to be lighter and more volatile than oils. Essential oils are more alcohol-like than they are oil-like.

There are two main ways to apply Aromatherapy in massage therapy; Topical applications or Inhalation. When essential oils are applied Topically, the skin absorbs the essential oil into the bloodstream. With Inhalation, the nose and/or lungs absorb the oil molecules into the bloodstream. Topical Aromatherapy applications tend to have the most Physical results while Inhalation applications effect Emotional results.

How Aromatherapy works...

There are two systems directly involved with Aromatherapy; the Olfactory and Limbic systems.

The Olfactory system is the body’s entire system of smell. The Olfactory system includes tiny hairs in the nose that collect aroma and/or fragrant molecules. These tiny hairs are actually the ends of nerves that lead directly into the brain.

The Limbic system is the region of the brain that is concerned with emotions, behavior, and memory. The Limbic system is also closely associated with the Hormonal system, this can trigger chemical reactions in the body.

In a nutshell, I will share my favorite quote that helps get tie this all together in the easiest way. “When a molecule of Essential Oil(s) is inhaled, it lands directly on the tip of a nerve cell that has its roots in the deepest parts of the brain.”

Aromatherapy is a great tool that massage therapists have in their tool belt and should be taken advantage of whenever possible. There is so much great and deeper information out there that I would encourage you to seek out when working with essential oils.

Peace and Healing,

Kirby Clark Ellis, MMT, BCTMB

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