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A Do & Don’t Guide to Essential Oils

Aromatherapy has been around as early as within Greek mythology with claims the gods were gifted with the knowledge of perfume and fragrance. The actual term “aromatherapy” first originated back in 1937 when French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse coined the term after suffering a burn injury, which then spurred his curiosity about the healing power of essential oils. With holistic therapy accounting for more than 40% of beauty treatments provided in the UK, it is easy to see the appeal of offering aromatherapy treatments but there is some vital know-how required to ensure safe practice which we discuss here…


What are essential oils?

Made from parts of certain plants like leaves, herbs, barks, and rinds. Makers use different methods to concentrate them into oils known as essences or essential oils. These should always be mixed within a carrier massage medium such as oil or cream before application and never used neat directly on the skin.


Essential oils can be used as part of massage treatments, within tailored skincare products, through inhalation (such as when added to oil burners or vaporisers) or added to the bath. They have been shown to have both physical benefits such as anti-bacterial or anti-fungal properties, effects on blood pressure etc. and also psychological benefits such as elevating mood, reducing feelings of stress or anxiety and improving sleep.

Essential oils should only be used by trained professionals who have a full understanding of the effects of each oil used and only following a full consultation, with referral to the client’s GP for any health concerns of which the therapist is unsure of suitability to receive aromatherapy treatments.

The Dos & Don’ts of Aromatherapy

  • Some oils are photosensitive such as orange and grapefruit oil meaning they break down under UV exposure which can exaggerate their effects on the skin increasing the risk of skin sensitivity, risk of UV skin damage and/or allergic reaction. Advise clients to avoid prolonged, direct sun exposure for 24 hours after treatment.
  • Only purchase from approved suppliers to ensure professional quality oils and check the latin names given to see the origin of the oil as there are many forms of expression for some oils such as rose oils that alter their effects and efficacy.
  • Never apply directly to the skin, mix essential oils within a carrier oil at a ratio of 1%-5% depending on the essential oil. Natural substances can be irritating, toxic, or cause allergic reactions. Those with previous reactions, known allergies or hypersensitive skin may wish to have a patch test on a small area 24 hours before a full body treatment.
  • Store oils in brown glass bottles and avoid direct sun exposure to avoid breaking down of the oils which will reduce shelf life. Typically oils are said to be at best for 12 months but should never be used after 3 years. Ensure oils are stored safely in a locked metal cabinet as some oils are flammable and should be secure away from reach of children at all times for safety.
  • Some oils affect how the body absorbs or processes medications, clients should consult their GP to check for safety and for the GP's records for future possible prescriptions if having regular treatments to ensure they stay safe and get the most from medical and holistic treatments.
  • Never use essential oils on damaged or open skin such as cuts, sunburn or rashes without medical advice as this could cause discomfort, further irritation or even damage to the skin.
  • The elderly may be more sensitive to essential oils so you should dilute them further than usual. Some oils, like birch and wintergreen even in small amounts may cause serious problems in children aged 6 or younger as they contain a chemical called methyl salicylate. Never use essential oils on a baby without medical advice and most insurers will not cover you to work on those aged under 16 without GP approval.
  • Special care should be taken in pregnancy. Essential oils may make their way into the placenta, an organ in your uterus that grows with your baby to nourish the fetus. To be safe it’s best to avoid certain oils if you’re pregnant (both as client and therapist). Those include wormwood, rue, oak moss, Lavandula stoechas, camphor, parsley seed, sage, and hyssop but as a general rule most insurers will not cover you to use essential oils for pregnant clients without specialist training.
  • Most therapists will train to use pre-blended oils (where you gain an understanding of the oils within a pre-made blend). Such training will not usually cover you for insurance to blend your own essential oil based products or massage oil blends. Further advanced training is usually required to provide blending services or to produce essential oil based products for resale.

Top tip: When offering Aromatherapy massage treatments, you can typically charge 10-25% more than for standard Swedish massage treatments. It is well worth training within the use of essential oils to allow your clients to gain greater benefits from their massage treatments and the use of massage oils can help with relaxation and a greater sense of well being to further enhance the massage experience and outcomes.

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