Essential Oils: Amplifying A Great Massage!
This article is the second in my series on massages. In my first article I wrote about the many massage techniques that helped alleviate my lower back pain. In this article I will focus on Essential and Carrier oils. I cannot write about all the Essential and Carrier Oils out there, but I will write about the ones that have helped me the most.
Essential and Carrier Oils are obviously not required for a good massage, but they can help enhance its effects both physically and emotionally. Why not give them a try?
Essential Oils And Massages
Essential oils, or EOs, are distilled from the aromatic non-fatty areas of a plant such as leaves, bark, blossoms, roots and stems. The oils are “essential” in the sense that they contain distinctive scents, or essences, of the plants from which they were extracted.
Pure Essential Oils are from the same plant species consistently and are not adulterated or extended with synthetic chemicals. Essential oils evoke our connection to the botanical world and with Mother Nature. They are renowned for their therapeutic and beneficial effects.
Essential Oils are highly concentrated so a little goes a long way. With the exception of lavender (which is milder, but even then not recommended alone), they should always be diluted before applying directly to your skin as they can burn or cause severe skin irritation! This will be discussed further below in its own section on dilution.
Some of the most popular Essential Oils are: Tea Tree, Lemongrass, Lavender, Rosemary, Peppermint, Eucalyptus and Ylang ylang. Generally speaking, the best oil will be extra virgin cold pressed, as this process maintains the highest level of purity while retaining most of the natural nutrients and health benefits.
Favorite Essential Oils And Their Massage Properties
There are many Essential Oils to choose from, each with specific properties that affect the body differently. You’ll want to experiment, perhaps with some professional guidance, to find those best suited to your needs. To start you off, here are some of the most popular oils and Essential Oil blends whose effects are beneficial to massage and relaxation
- Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is one of the few Essential Oils you can apply undiluted to areas of the skin as an antiseptic as well as an anti-inflammatory. Tea tree essential oil benefits are numerous. When used in massage, it helps stimulate healing to damaged skin while supporting healthy functioning of the respiratory system. Tea Tree Oil’s healing properties are abundant. Not only is it a natural immune booster, but it also fights infection. It works to heal skin conditions, burns and cuts, and also works as an insecticide. In addition, it helps to soothe and treat cold sores, respiratory conditions, muscle aches, the flu, dandruff and Athlete’s foot. Though as stated you don’t have to mix it, with its mild scent, it blends well with most other oils.
- Lemongrass: Lemongrass essential oil for skin has analgesic, antimicrobial, antiseptic, astringent, antipyretic, fungicidal, bactericidal, and antidepressant properties, making it one of the most versatile and health-assisting Essential Oils. If your muscles are tight and sore, Lemongrass oil will work to reduce inflammation and bring relief to your aching muscles. Lemongrass oil blends well with Eucalyptus, Melaleuca, Geranium, Lavender, and Rosemary oils.
- Lavender oil: Lavender is probably the most well-known and widely used of all the essential oils. It smells great and is effective when used as a stress-relieving oil. Not only does it have a calming effect on the mind and body, it is also an antiseptic and is one of the two oils that you can apply directly to the skin in cases of burns or stings to ease the pain. Lavender oil is among the most widely available oils. Lavender also has the following therapeutic properties: antidepressant, anti-inflammatory decongestant, deodorant, diuretic and sedative. Lavender blends well with most oils (especially citrus oils), Clary Sage, and Geranium.
- Rosemary oil: Though I personally am not a huge fan of this oil’s smell, I can’t deny the results. Widely known as a mental stimulant, the antidepressant properties of Rosemary oil make it ideal for enhanced memory, focus and overall brain performance. It also acts as an analgesic, soothing aching, cramping muscles, headaches, and migraines. As an antiseptic, it helps with digestive and liver infections. It is great for skin issues as well. Rosemary blends well with Tea Tree, Basil, Frankincense, Lavender, Peppermint, and Eucalyptus oils.
- Geranium Oil: Geranium Oil is known for its relaxing and uplifting effects. The flowery aroma with a hint of mint that comes along with this oil just adds to the relaxing effect, making it good to use for massage therapy. This Essential Oil is also good for the skin and helps sooth aches and stress. In traditional medicine, geranium was also used to promote better circulation, improve the nervous system, and even revitalize the body tissues.
- Peppermint oil: The fresh familiar scent of this oil often makes it a top pick. It has a cooling compound, Menthol, which enhances mood, sharpens focus, combats irritation and redness, alleviates symptoms of congestion, and aids in digestion.This and the Eucalyptus oil both have the cooling effect which feels great on the skin to most people (unless you’re sensitive to that). Peppermint oil blends well with Lavender, Tea Tree, and Rosemary oils.
- Eucalyptus oil: Though some find the scent a bit overwhelming, Eucalyptus oil is one of the more commonly used essential oils for massage because of its anti-inflammatory properties that help treat muscle cramps, spasms and sprains. It also helps with skin problems and even has the ability to prevent and heal scar tissue. Add all this to its ability to help open blocked nasal passages and stimulate the senses, and you have a versatile oil that helps on many levels. Eucalyptus is a powerful treatment for respiratory issues. In addition, it is used as an antiseptic, antispasmodic, decongestant, diuretic and stimulant. It also has cooling properties, which gives it deodorizing characteristics; therefore, it helps fight migraines and fevers. This cooling capability also helps with muscle aches and pains. Eucalyptus oil blends well with Lavender, Lemongrass and Rosemary oils.
- Ylang Ylang oil: This sweet smelling oil’s properties include a sedating effect on the nervous system which helps with relaxation, while stimulating blood circulation and the production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. It is also perfect for all skin types as it helps dry skin conditions as well as oily skin and acne. While its calming properties are its most powerful, Ylang-Ylang oil is also used to soothe headaches, nausea, stimulate hair growth, reduce high blood pressure and fight intestinal problems. Ylang Ylang blends well with Bergamot, Geranium, Grapefruit, Lemon, Marjoram, Sandalwood, and Vetiver
Essential Oils are used in a wide range of fragrances, cosmetics, hair-care and skin-care products such as shampoos, natural lotions, creams, moisturizers, body oils, bath oils, lip balms, perfumes, scent candles, etc’…
They are also utilized in massages which is how I personally benefit from them. They lubricate the skin and reduce friction, combining a smooth stroke that won’t tear-out hairs with aromatherapy and health benefits to your skin. Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of plant-derived, aromatic essential oils to promote physical and psychological well-being. These scents and effects on your skin is what can turn a good massage into a great one!
The Importance Of Carrier Oils
A Carrier Oil is a vegetable oil extracted through the method of cold pressing and derived from the fatty portion of a plant, usually from the seeds, kernels or the nuts. Carrier Oils are often overlooked because they generally have a neutral scent and don’t contain the therapeutic qualities of Essential Oils, but they play an indispensable companion to them, especially when applied topically.
They aren’t volatile (volatile oils evaporate rapidly and contain the natural smell and characteristics of the plant) like essential oils, which makes them an excellent medium for dilution and application.
Carrier oils are called that because they “carry” the Essential Oil to your skin to help assist the treatment. Essential oils compounds are extremely fine and they can pass through the skin and into the body quickly, so in order to prevent that you can combine them with Carrier Oils. These thicker oils that come from the fatty part of the plant can increase the length of time the essential oils stay on your skin and also prolong the aromatherapy effects.
Some people mistakenly think using Carrier Oils reduces the effectiveness of the oil but really it can be the opposite. Dilution increases the surface area of absorption and with certain oils can prevent sensitivities that the more concentrated Essential Oils sometimes cause.
There are many different types of Carrier Oils available. At the health food store, you’ll likely find single content oils. If you shop at spa shops or skin care stores, you’re more likely to find blended massage oils containing two or more oils.
You’ll want to research the different massage oils because some are more likely to leave you feeling greasy after the massage, while other massage oils go rancid quickly and can take on an unpleasant smell. Worse, some oils might irritate skin or cause allergic reactions.
My Top Eight Favorite Carrier Oils
- Sweet Almond Oil: The texture is slightly oily, which allows hands to glide easily over skin. Sweet almond oil is absorbed fairly quickly, but not so quickly that you need to keep reapplying it. It’s aroma is light, faintly sweet and nutty and it has a pale yellow color.
Properties: Sweet Almond oil makes a beautiful base for warming, spicy essential oils such as cinnamon and clove, and is one of the best bases for use in a massage that seeks to loosen and warm stiff muscles and arthritic joints. Sweet almond oil is one of the most popular massage oils among massage therapists. Compared with other oils, sweet almond oil is reasonably priced. It usually does not irritate skin. People with nut allergies should not use almond oil. Sweet Almond oil is wonderful for helping to relieve itching, dryness, inflammation and burns.
- Apricot Kernel Oil: The texture is slightly oily, absorbs into the skin semi-quickly. It’s scent is very faint and it also has a pale yellow color.
Properties: Apricot kernel oil is warming and moisturizing, releasing blockages in the respiratory and digestive systems. If you are looking to make a decongestant, try making a massage oil using this oil and eucalyptus or peppermint essential oils, then apply to the chest above the lungs or apply tiny amounts just under the nose (carefully avoiding the sinuses). Apricot kernel oil is similar in texture and color to almond oil, but costs slightly more. It is rich in vitamin E, a quality that gives it a longer shelf life than the typical oil. Like almond oil, apricot kernel oil is absorbed relatively rapidly into the skin, so it won’t leave people feeling greasy afterwards. This property also makes it a good oil to use for aromatherapy massage. Apricot kernel oil is a good alternative to sweet almond oil for people with nut allergies.
- Avocado Oil: The texture is thick and the oil leaves a fatty, almost waxy feel to the skin. The oil has a medium, somewhat sweet, fatty and nutty in aroma with a deep olive green color.
Properties: If combined with chamomile or lavender oil, an avocado oil massage can relieve symptoms of high stress, PMS or poor sleep. However, it is best to blend avocado oil with other, lighter oils such as safflower oil, as it is very intense by itself. Avocado contains palmitic acid, palmitoleic acid, oleic acid and linoleic acids. This oil is wonderful for dehydrated skins as it has the ability to penetrate the upper layers of the skin. Avocado oil is very moisturizing and therefore also very helpful for rashes, eczema and aging skin types.
- Grapeseed Oil: This oil is thin but can leave a glossy film on the skin. The oil has a light, slightly sweet with a hint of a nutty aroma. The color is mostly clear, but has an almost unnoticeable tinge of yellow/green.
Properties: Very cleansing and purifying, grapeseed oil is excellent for removing toxins from the body. Try mixing it with tea tree oil and applying to blemishes. It is almost odorless and makes a good choice for aromatherapists looking for a bland carrier oil. Grapeseed oil is a powerful anti-oxidant and is light enough to use on delicate facial skin.
- Jojoba Oil: This oil easily absorbed by the skin and has a non-oily, softening effect with a light to medium aroma, not as sweet as the nut oils but pleasant. It has a distinct yellow color.
Properties: Excellent for all skin types, but most especially for eczema and psoriasis. Jojoba oil is actually a wax extracted from the seed of the jojoba plant. Jojoba oil is a good option for most people prone to back acne because it is thought to have antibacterial properties. Jojoba uses are various and it has a very long shelf life, so it’s a good choice if you don’t use it regularly. It is quickly absorbed, which makes it a favorite Carrier Oil for aromatherapy, though this also means it won’t remain on the skin for long unless blended with a longer lasting oil. This longer duration on the skin is important in order to make a useful massage oil blend.
- Sunflower : This is a light, non-greasy oil that won’t leave your skin feeling oily. The scent is a bland slightly fatty smell and the color is light amber.
Properties: The oil, extracted from sunflower seeds, is rich in the essential fatty acid linoleic acid, as well as palmitic acid and stearic acid, all components of healthy skin. So this will leave your skin feeling healthy after the massage. It is naturally hydrating and rich in vitamins which reduce dryness in skin, and can easily be blended with other essential or carrier oils for all kinds of massages and skin types. Keep in mind that sunflower oil can go rancid quickly, so it should be purchased in small quantities and stored in a dark cool area. Squeezing one or two capsules of pure vitamin E oil into the bottle may help to extend the shelf life. If you are allergic to the sunflower plant family you should avoid Sunflower Oil.
- Safflower Oil: This oils texture is very light and soothing with a slightly flowery nuetral scent and virtually clear color.
Properties: Very light and somewhat cooling, safflower is a great carrier oil for use with Essential Oils that clarify and focus the mind such as Lavender. Safflower has Oleic acid and it is also rich in Vitamin E, which aids in preventing cell damage to membranes, helps to diminish signs of aging while keeping the skin rejuvenated, smooth and supple. Safflower oil contains some of the highest levels of nutrients of any carrier oil, and is very smoothing and beneficial for the skin and hair. It is very helpful for treating acne and scars. Safflower oil is famous for massage blends as it can quickly absorb and, like all virtually colorless oils, can easily wash from sheets without dark stains. You’ll find this especially helpful when you are giving or getting massages at home using your own linen.
- Sesame Seed Oil: This is a mildly thick oil which may leave skin feeling oily, so it can be blended with lighter massage oils. The aroma is medium with a distinctive sweet, nutty sesame scent which can sometimes be overpowering if not diluted with the proper Carrier or Essential Oil. The color is light yellow
Properties: Sesame Seed oil combines well with very strongly scented Essential or Carrier Oils that are sweet in nature such as vanilla and clove. However, Sesame Seed oil has a distinctive smell, and will not suit just any blend. Sesame oil is thick in consistency and is a wonderful detoxifier often used in Ayurvedic massage. It is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory. Sesame Seed oil detoxifies skin, acts as a natural UV protector and leaves an oily film on skin. It is especially good for anxiety, poor circulation, constipation, bloating, and excessive dryness. It is best for chronic dry skin, including psoriasis and eczema. Sesame Seed oil contains antioxidants, vitamin E, protein, lechitin and minerals.
To sum up: When choosing a Carrier Oil, basically any of the vegetable, nut, and seed oils that people regularly use for cooking and food preparation could theoretically be used. However, it is important to note that most of the oils you typically find in grocery stores are highly refined and they contain solvents and petroleum residues. This topic will be covered in a future article about natural vs. synthetic oils.
So what oils do you want? Unprocessed oils are the absolute best as they are the richest in vitamins, minerals, and proteins which nourish the skin. Keep in mind that unlike Essential Oils, Carrier oils do not have a long shelf life. They will usually go rancid after anywhere from 6-12 months. Since most Carrier Oils don’t have a strong aroma of their own, if you can smell a very intense bitter smell, it has gone rancid and must be thrown out.
Diluting Essential Oils Explained
Essential oils are highly concentrated. The vast majority of them must be diluted before they can be safely applied to the skin. The most effective way to dilute Essential Oils is with a Carrier Oil, which should always be stored away from heat and light to ensure its freshness.
The addition of jojoba oil as 10% of your carrier oil will help extend the shelf life of your blend as will Vitamin E oil which is an excellent anti-oxidant; adding it to any aromatherapy blend will help extend the life of most vegetable oils. Make blends in small batches that can be used within a short time frame. Your Carrier Oils, Essential Oils and blends can be stored in the refrigerator for extended shelf life.
There are only a few essential oils that are generally recognized as safe to use undiluted (sparingly): Lavender, German Chamomile, Tea Tree, Sandalwood, and Rose Geranium.
Finding The Right Oil For You
So now that you’ve had a look at several popular Essential and Carrier Oils, it is time to figure out which work best for you, both alone and blended. Consult your massage and aroma therapists and try small amounts at first. Eventually you’ll develop your own list of favorites. Remember that each person’s skin and body react differently to the same oils, so what works for one person, might not for you. Also, when using only pure natural oils, results can be different from batch to batch, so it should always keep you on your toes. I wish you the best of luck in finding those oils that you enjoy and benefit from the most. Join me next time when I discuss the topic of natural oils vs. synthetic ones.