Some companies promote the use of undiluted essential oils as a therapy where they drop the oils onto the client’s spine and massage the oils in. True aromatherapy associations try to distance themselves from these “therapies”, even going as far as denying membership into their aromatherapy organization if the practitioner performs these alternative and unproven methods.
One obvious problem when it comes to these therapies is the fact that most states require a practitioner to be a licensed massage therapist if they are going to rub the body of a client. At the time of this writing, there are only five states in the United States that do not require a license in massage therapy – Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Wyoming. It does not matter if you have the client’s permission or not. In states that require a massage license, no rubbing or massaging means exactly that – NO massaging or rubbing, period.
Massage therapy as defined by the Massage Therapy Licensing Program and the Texas Department of State Health Services --The manipulation of soft tissue by hand or through a mechanical or electrical apparatus for the purpose of body massage. The term includes effleurage (stroking), petrissage (kneading), tapotement (percussion), compression, vibration, friction, nerve strokes, and Swedish gymnastics.
The State of Tennessee describes massage therapy as: Massage/bodywork/somatic -The manipulation of the soft tissues of the body with the intention of positively affecting the health and well-being of the client.
Another concern I have when it comes to these therapies is the high amount of essential oils used. When you pour essential oils directly on the spine using oils that create “heat”, they are actually causing skin irritation. Just because there is a heating effect happening doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good thing. One essential oil that is commonly used in these therapy sessions is wintergreen. Wintergreen consists mainly of the chemical methyl salicylate. Methyl salicylate is believed to be readily absorbed through human skin and can result in dangerously high blood levels of salicylic acid. If swallowed, it is fatal and should never be used topically on a pregnant woman. Some who take arthritis medication are already receiving a small dose of this chemical component and rubbing it straight into the skin can create a dosage higher than expected.
It is more likely a concern for the practitioner who is performing these sessions as their hands are coming into constant contact with skin-irritating and/or toxic oils. Having your massage therapist include a few drops of wintergreen in a massage blend is one thing since most people do not treat themselves to a massage every day. However, what if you are the person performing massage or undiluted essential oil therapy using these oils? An aggressive practitioner might schedule several appointments a day, each time putting oils (such as wintergreen) into their own system by means of massaging it into their clients. Some will argue that their “therapeutic grade” oils are the exception and completely safe – because they have been taught and told this by the oil company. I could easily distill poison ivy essential oil and tell you that because I made it myself that it would not cause skin irritation – but that wouldn’t make it true. I can tell you that in the past when I have met people that perform these types of therapies, I have always noticed what terrible shape their hands are in – usually red, irritated, and sometimes cracked.
The best advice I can possibly give about these therapies is to read, read, and read. Do not simply read the literature distributed by the companies promoting it. What good would that do? Read articles, reviews (good and bad) from several sources and let your conscience be your guide.