OUR SENSE OF SMELL, OFTEN NEGLECTED IN favor of the more obvious sight and more indulgent taste, is actually far more powerful than we might think. We have at least 1,000 different sensors in our noses, and, according to researchers, memories are more strongly tied to the sense of smell than to any other sense. Aromatherapy takes advantage of both of these concepts—using the power of scent to heal certain maladies, treat minor injuries, and evoke positive feelings, emotions, and energy. Even more importantly though, aromatherapy treatments can fit easily and naturally into any spa menu, and they are a great way to build on both your line of services and your bottom line.
What exactly is aromatherapy? It is the use of distilled plant volatiles—or essential oils—for healing, relaxing, and mood-altering purposes. In a spa environment, its potential is almost limitless. The concept of aromatherapy was discovered by French chemist René Maurice Gattefossé during a fortunate accident in his perfume laboratory. After burning his arm, he thrust it into the nearest cold liquid, which happened to be lavender oil. As the story goes, he experienced immediate pain relief and a faster recovery—his arm healed quickly, and he endured minimal discomfort and scarring.
Since then, scientists and spa professionals have discovered countless other uses for the powerful oils, which range from relieving stress and fatigue to treating cold and flu symptoms. "Essential oils are used extensively in our industry to help ease muscular aches and pains, improve circulation, and ease sinus congestion," says Geraldine Howard, president of Aromatherapy Associates. "Essential oils can have a positive effect on the skin, such as optimizing the cellular renewal process, enhancing blood circulation, and addressing problems such as acne, eczema, and aging skin. On an emotional level, the aromas of essential oils can have a dynamic effect. The sense of smell is the most primitive of our senses and is linked to the deepest parts of the brain, which govern basic instincts, memories, and emotions."
In the Treatment Room
Essential oils can be incorporated into treatments and your spa's environment in a variety of ways and for many different purposes. One of the simplest ways to add aromatherapy to your spa is to take advantage of its calming and relaxing properties by infusing it into the one thing included in all of your treatments—air. Consider customizing aromatherapy blends for the different areas in your spa, such as lavender oil in massage rooms to promote relaxation or lemon oil in dressing areas to uplift and reduce stress. Prima Fleur offers innovative Activa Life diffusers that are battery-operated and fan-driven, as well as more than 200 essential oils and essential oil blends for diffusion.
Keep in mind, however, that a large part of aromatherapy is unique to each individual who receives treatment. Because each client's personal memories and moods can be recalled by being exposed to different scents, he or she can be affected by aromatherapy in very different ways. The Spa At The Crescent at the Hotel Crescent Court, A Rosewood Hotel, in Dallas, capitalizes on this idea with the customized complimentary Aromatherapy Ritual. Before receiving massage or facial treatments, each client undergoes a welcome ritual using an aromatherapy blend of his or her choosing. The ritual involves slow massage strokes over the face, neck, and scalp, which, when combined with the power of aromatherapy, bring on a deep sense of relaxation and encourage clients to leave the outside world behind and be entirely present in their spa experience. Offered blends include those for revitalizing the spirit, attaining a sense of well-being, energizing the body, calming the mind, relaxing tired muscles, detoxifying the body, toning the skin, and relieving fatigue and jetlag.
Another way to incorporate aromatherapy into your menu is to follow the lead of Chicago's Kiva Day Spa and design entirely new massage treatments centered around aromatherapy products. This makes for a more dynamic menu and allows clients to further tailor their treatments to their own individual needs. The spa's Yon-Ka Aromatherapy Massage ($100, 50 minutes) uses Yon-Ka Paris's Phyto-Bain, a soothing and invigorating concentrated blend of essential oils, including cypress, horse chestnut, lavender, petitgrain, rosemary, and sage. Hot towels are soaked in Phyto-Bain and used to apply gentle compressions during the massage. The therapy works to soothe body aches and pains and helps the client feel refreshed, energized, and uplifted. For clients seeking a different result from their massage, Kiva Day Spa also offers an Aromatherapy Massage add-on ($4). For this treatment, the therapist selects a blend of essential oils from the spa's Aromatherapy Bar, creating a unique cocktail designed for the client's specific needs, and then combines the customized blend of oils with therapeutic massage techniques.
Spa Ojai at Ojai Valley Inn and Spa in Ojai, CA, also offers a specialized aromatherapy massage treatment called the Lilian Terry Massage ($170, 50 minutes). The treatment uses a combination of homeopathic remedies and essential oils to target the three most commonly stressed areas of the body—the back, shoulders, and neck. The pairing of aromatherapy and massage is a symbiotic one—massage helps the oils penetrate the skin and muscles, enhancing their healing properties, and the essential oils help clients to fully relax during the treatment. However, massage treatments are not the only services that can be enhanced with the addition of aromatherapy. Spa Ojai also offers a variety of body wraps that are designed around aromatherapy and are customizable to each client's individual needs. The Elderberry and Ginger Detoxification Wrap ($75, 20 minutes) relaxes muscles and encourages the elimination of toxins through an application of fresh elderberry, ginger, and other detoxifying essential oils. This process is followed by a wrap of warm sheets steeped in a traditional Chumash elderberry and ginger herbal solution designed to help revitalize the body. A facial and scalp massage is performed during the wrap to complete the relaxation process.
Willow Stream Spa at The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Scottsdale, AZ, has also had success with aromatherapy-based body treatments, including the Balance Body Experience ($279, 90 minutes), the Revitalizer Body Experience ($269, 90 minutes), the Ritual of Two ($599, 120 minutes) for couples, and the Arizona Aromatherapy Facial ($175, 60 minutes; $269, 90 minutes). "The aromatherapy treatments are consistently among the most popular on our menu," says Brittney Crewdson, public relations coordinator for The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.
On the Shelves
A final way to include the benefits of aromatherapy in your client's overall spa experience is to feature aromatherapy products in your retail area. The Ojai Valley Inn and Spa uses essential oil treatments as an opportunity to increase sales by encouraging clients to purchase a custom-designed blend of essential oils after their treatments so that they can continue the therapy at home. Willow Stream Spa also offers its own line of products, Willow Stream Energy Balance, specifically designed for those looking for spa relaxation at home through aromatherapy. The line features candles, body scrubs, bath crystals, body lotions, and massage and body oils with essential oils such as geranium, lavender, tangerine, and ylang-ylang, for calming, relaxing, and uplifting. Aromatherapy products allow clients to experience the relaxing and invigorating qualities of the spa between visits and, of course, encourage them to return to the spa. —Lizzie Carlson
Lizzie Carlson graduated from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. She works as a junior trader at the Chicago Board of Trade. She got her entree in to the spa industry interning for American Spa and continues to freelance today.