It may have been popular thousands of years ago – Cleopatra, the last of the ancient Egyptian queens was a famous devotee of it – but aromatherapy has only recently enjoyed a resurgence around the globe. In Thailand, aromatherapy massage in particular has become a standard offered by spas to customers seeking a reduction in their stress levels, and an improvement in their overall health.

It’s only natural

Aromatherapy is a healing art that uses pure essential oils derived from fragrant plants including rose, lavender, lemon, rosemary and eucalyptus. "An essential oil can be up to seventy times stronger than the plant it originally comes from," says Chrissie Davis, a trained aromatherapist and manager of the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit’s Spa. "The body works better with natural products, which are not held in the body the way synthetic products are."

While scientific research is so far limited, some connection between particular fragrances and improved mood has been demonstrated. Aromatherapy massage involves combining this power that fragrances can have on the brain with the therapeutic benefits of touch. "Depending on the blend of oils used, a massage can be relaxing or energizing, or it can provide strength if you’re feeling emotional and unable to cope," says Chrissie.

Khun Soon from Aromapure says that aromatherapy massage helps maintain your overall body balance. "It simply makes you feel good. And if your mental health is good, this will help your skin, your face – everything else will benefit."

How does it work?

One or more essential oils based on a customer’s needs are combined with a natural massage oil, which is then massaged into the body. Most of the oil that enters the body will do so by travelling down the body’s hair follicles, penetrating the skin and moving into the bloodstream. To a lesser extent, the oil will also pass into the bloodstream via inhalation.

The massage thus assists the entry of the oil into the body, but the massage itself is also beneficial. "Aromatherapy massage uses a distinct technique, just like there is a certain technique used for Swedish massage, remedial massage and so on," explains Chrissie. "You can have a Swedish massage using an oil blend, but that’s called an aromatic massage."

The aromatherapy technique specifically focuses on opening up the body’s lymphatic system. "Particularly if you don’t exercise every day, toxins will build up in the body," says Soon. "They will wait to be be expelled via the lymphatic system, which can sometimes become blocked. The massage will allow the toxins to be released."

Which oil is for you?

Shelley from Tamarind Springs on Ko Samui says that choosing an oil is a very individual choice. "We let our guests choose the oil based on their reaction to the aroma. I think smell is a very visceral and personal sensation, and a smell can evoke a memory or an association very powerfully. Our instincts often guide us to choose the right oil," she says. "Of course, every oil also has different properties, and that helps in the selection."

Your aromatherapist – do make sure yours is properly trained – should be able to tell you about the properties of the oils available for your massage, and together you can decide on the best choice for you.

Treat yourself once a week

The optimum frequency of massages depends on the individual and their particular needs. "I would recommend a massage at least once a week for ninety minutes," says Chrissie. "A massage has both physical and mental benefits. It relieves stress, and it relieves stress build-up."

After an aromatherapy massage, it’s best not to go into the sun for around three hours afterwards as the sun may cause some oils to react unfavourably.

/ Health & beauty