Lavender herb and essential oilAs a massage therapist you’ve embarked upon a career of well-being. Your initial studies have opened up a world with many different paths and modalities. One of which is the use of aromatherapy for your practice. The term has been used and misused over the years, so much that those of us who do practice aromatherapy feel compelled to lay down some basic information. Just because something is labeled or sold as aromatherapy doesn’t make it true.

The term Aromatherapy is fairly new and was coined by Pierre Gattefosse, a French perfumery chemist who is credited with initiating a scientific approach to the study of essential oils for therapeutic purposes in the early 1900s. However, the practice of using essential oils for medicinal application has gone on for centuries. As science progressed and medicines became more pharmaceutical the use of essential oils were, and still .are, primarily used in perfume and flavor industries.

Because of this fact, it is important to know where your essential oils come from and how they are produced. The business of perfumes and flavorings is huge, and although scent and taste are very important to these companies, the method of extraction that is most profitable for them rarely renders an aroma therapeutic grade essential oil.

These are five basic tips you should know when buying essential oils online or at a store:

1. “Pure” does not mean “Therapeutic” grade

There is no government agency or regulation to oversee the “therapeutic” value of an essential oil. Just because an essential oil is pure does not necessarily make it therapeutic grade.

2. Bigger is not necessarily better

Beware of big marketing trappings. Do the research behind the hype of any company that sells essential oils. It is important to know the country of origin, the method of extraction and the botanical name of the oil you are purchasing.
3. Protect with proper storage

A pure and undiluted essential oil will not go rancid. Rancity can only occur if there is a fat present, if the essential oil is diluted in a vegetable oil it will go rancid over time.

Essential oils are very volatile and they will vaporize when exposed to open air. They are best protected in a dark amber or cobalt blue bottle and when not in use capped tightly.

4. Know the ingredients in ALL your products

For a massage therapist, this is especially important with respect to all body care products since you will be in contact with them every day. Therapeutic aromatherapy requires choosing a high grade therapeutic oil, and if you are taking that much care and investment in your essential oils, don’t they deserve being used in only high quality natural ingredient bases? To do otherwise is like using prized truffles to serve with Spam. Yuck! The ingredients to stay away from are sulfates, parabens, petroleum based ingredients (like baby oil or vaseline), pthalates and synthetic fragrances or colors.

Take the time to read the ingredients in your products by using references such as A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingedients by Ruth Winter, M.S.
5. Take note of extraction methods

Not all methods of extraction produce a safe and therapeutic essential oil. The first two methods, steam distillationy and cold pressed (expressed) are used to extract most of the essential oils used by most aromatherapy practitioners. Within both of these methods there are techniques and procedures that are particular to the extraction of the essential oils being harvested.

Solvent extraction is used in obtaining natural essences which are used like essential oils but the name of the end product is an ‘absolute’. Absolutes are used in aromatherapy, in my experience, for aesthetic therapies, since absolutes are primarily floral. Some flowers rendered as ‘absolutes’ are; Rose, Jasmine, Neroli and Vanilla. The only solvent acceptable for aromatherapy would be a grain alcohol.

6. Pay attention to pricing

Prices should not all be the same if the oils are truly pure and undiluted. The cost of sweet orange oil is significantly less than the cost of lavender oils which is also significantly less than that of steam distilled Rose oil. If you’re browsing through various oils on a website and they have a flat price on all of their products, beware.

Essential oils are a wonderful way to enhance your massage therapy practice through aromatherapy. Your health, and your client’s health, is well worth the effort and extra expense of safe, quality body care products. Good luck!

What kinds of aromatherapy products do you love and what do you look for when you purchase essential oils? Share in the comments!

Comments from original Massamio post:

I would also advise to research what kind of testing has been done on the oil to check its purity and quality. A common test is the GCMS test.   And I would also advise to look for an expiration date on the oil. Some have longer shelf lives than others. Any of the citrus oils will expire, or lose their effectiveness quicker than most other oils. I have checked many and so far I have found 1. Kobashi Oils located in the UK. — Posted @ Friday, July 12, 2013 8:42 PM by Sherri DeFord

Thanks for the tips. — Posted @ Sunday, July 14, 2013 7:56 PM by Benjamin McDonald

The solvent extraction plants are used to extract essential oil from oil bearing plants. Hi technologies are used for the extraction of oil by these processes. — Posted @ Monday, January 20, 2014 4:06 AM by agrowchem