The use of essential oils to improve physical and emotional wellbeing dates back to ancient times, when they were traditionally used for hygienic, spiritual, and ritualistic purposes. Today, essential oils are popular in spas, as they help calm, balance, and rejuvenate the mind, body, and spirit. “By using essential oils in professional treatments, you not only receive the benefits of these tiny, complex, and potent oils, which contain vitamins, minerals, and hormones, but also receive a physiological, psychological, sedating, and stimulating reaction of your mind, body, and senses,” says Georgia Katritsis, west coast regional educator for Decléor Paris. Prior to incorporating essential oils in treatments, it is important for you to do your research to learn the most effective uses for each oil and take the proper precautions to ensure each client’s safety. Here’s a list of some of the most effective essential oils used in spas today:
Ashwagandha features a spicy and woodsy scent and is often used to rejuvenate skin and diminish dark circles under the eyes. “A staple of Ayurvedic medicine, this oil is prized as an adaptogen and is traditionally used to help increase the body’s resistance to stress,” says Barbara Close, founder and CEO of Naturopathica.
Known for its restorative properties, basil essential oil can help soothe and calm sore muscles and joints. It can also be used to restore mental alertness. “It has a warm, peppery scent, which is traditionally recognized for its ability to wake-up the mind,” says Close. During the summer months, guests at The Peninsula Spa at The Peninsula Beverly Hills (CA) can awaken their senses and reveal smoother skin with the Basil Mint Shiffa Scrub ($120, 45 minutes), which is a full-body treatment enriched with basil, grapefruit, hazel, and mint.
Featuring a spicy, sharp, and grassy scent, clary sage is ideal for clients with combination, oily, and blemished skin. “It purifies skin, reduces sebum secretion, and tightens pores,” says Katritsis. “More specifically, the ester present in clary sage essential oil, called linalyl acetate, reduces inflammation, balances skin, and regulates the production of natural oils in the skin, leaving it matte, clear, and healthy.”
According to Katritsis, damask rose is known as history’s most revered flower. It helps soften and soothe skin, leaving it with a radiant glow, and it helps to relieve discomfort for even the most sensitive skin types. Also, its sweet, rich, and uplifting scent makes it a popular choice among clients. The Spa at The Hotel Hershey (PA) offers the Rose Garden Hydrating Body Treatment (starting at $130, 50 minutes), which includes rich oils and creams using Bulgaria’s damask rose to help leave skin glowing, soft, and revitalized.
A few drops of eucalyptus essential oil mixed in with unscented oil, lotion, or cream can add an invigorating element to a massage. Eucalyptus can help clear respiratory issues, which makes this oil widely used in spa steam rooms. According to Fabian Lliguin, creator of Rahua, when applied topically, eucalyptus can also offer anti-inflammatory qualities. At Canyon River Spa (Bozeman, MT), guests can soothe tired muscles and revitalize the senses pre- and post-treatment inside the spa’s Eucalyptus Steam Room.
Frankincense helps to tighten and preserve the skin while also providing stress relief. “It relaxes the diaphragm, which encourages deeper breaths, and has a grounding and supportive effect by calming the mind and focusing the thoughts,” says Geraldine Howard, cofounder and president of Aromatherapy Associates. “It’s a fantastic oil to inhale before a treatment, as it really helps to put the mind in the right place.”
Ideal for use during invigorating and cleansing treatments, grapefruit essential oil helps to boost circulation and uplift the senses. “It’s also great at refreshing and stimulating, so it works well for detoxifying treatments,” says Howard. Grapefruit services are especially popular during the spring and summer months. The Ritz-Carlton Spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles, for example, offered the Grapefruit Glow Body Treatment ($145, 50 minutes; $205, 80 minutes) in the spring. The treatment involved an invigorating natural sugar scrub with orange peel and fresh grapefruit oil to gently exfoliate, soften, and refine skin and an application of orange-blossom and grapefruit body cream to tone and brighten.
When used during a massage or in a cream or lotion, hyssop oil can help heal and soothe skin and relieve anxiety. The Ho’ala Refining Clay Body Wrap ($175, 90 minutes) at The Spa at Travaasa Hana, Maui (HI), for example, includes a gentle exfoliation, a clay body wrap, and an ear and scalp massage using a variety of essential oils, including cypress, juniper, and hyssop, to help cleanse, tone, and moisturize the skin.
Immortelle, also known as helichrysum, features a sweet and earthy scent and offers soothing and regenerative benefits that make it useful when helping to heal and repair scar tissue. “Immortelle supports rapid tissue regeneration and healing,” says Nick James, founder of Body Bliss. “It is effective in helping prevent scar tissue formation after surgery or accidents, quickly heals bruises, and dampens inflammation.”
According to Close, jasmine essential oil has a sweet, exotic, and richly floral scent and is used for its soothing, uplifting, and revitalizing properties. It also helps to maintain skin’s elasticity and treat dryness. Guests at The Spa at Ballantyne at The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge (Charlotte, NC) can indulge in the Jasmine Flower Wrap ($130, 50 minutes; $170, 80 minutes), which includes warm jasmine oil combined with a soft powder of organic grains to exfoliate the skin, as well as a mask of whipped jasmine and shea butter cream to hydrate the skin.
Offering antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory benefits, kanuka oil helps relieve muscle pain, inflammation, and swelling, making it useful during sports massage.
The familiar sweet fragrance makes it a popular choice among spa professionals and spa-goers. It relaxes the mind and body and helps reduce anxiety and stress, according to Lliguin. “A good quality lavender will calm and soothe those who are jittery or tense and uplift those who are brought low by chronic mood disorders and chronic pain in the body,” says James. “It eases all kinds of emotional upset, from shock to anger, at the same time as promoting healing and regeneration.”
Known to help relieve anxiety and tension, mimosa essential oil features a rich, warm, and woodsy scent. At The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay Spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay (CA), the Ocean Mist Stone Ritual (starting at $245, 75 minutes), begins with a mimosa sugar scrub that leaves skin soft and supple, followed by an application of mimosa oil to help relieve tension and soothe aching muscles.
Neem oil can help provide relief to red and irritated skin, lighten scars, remove bacteria and clear acne, and soothe and moisturize dry skin. It also helps promote a healthier scalp, and it can even be beneficial to relieving dandruff and increasing hair growth. At The Spa at the Vail Vitality Center at Vail Mountain Lodge (CO), the Scalp and Reflexology ($210, 75 minutes) service includes a warm neem oil massage to balance the scalp and relieve tension.
The sweet and fresh citrus scent of orange essential oil helps energize the mind and body. When used in spa treatments, orange oil can soothe the mind and relieve stress, as well as help stimulate blood circulation and collagen production. It is also recommended for use during pedicures to help eliminate calluses.
Featuring a fresh, floral, and sweet scent, petitgrain is often included in skincare products and treatments because of its balancing and regenerating properties. “It’s really wonderful at helping to relax the body while also refreshing the mind,” says Howard.
Also known as niaouli, this essential oil provides benefits that are very similar to tea tree oil. It is a healing and stimulating oil that can help clear the mind, aid in concentration, and help treat oily and acne-prone skin.
A woodsy, perennial herb with fragrant evergreen needle-like leaves, rosemary is valued in aromatherapy for its ability to boost alertness, clarity, and concentration, according to Close. “Massaged into the feet and legs, rosemary will tone and strengthen the vascular tissue,” says James. “It also stimulates circulation and helps ease muscular and joint discomfort.” The Rosemary and Mint Body Scrub (starting at $120, 50 minutes) at The Spa at Salish Lodge (Snoqualmie, WA) includes a soothing exfoliation with a shea butter salt scrub blended with essential oils of rosemary and mint to gently buff away dry skin, followed by a rosemary-mint shea butter rub.
A popular woodsy scent among male spa-goers, sandalwood helps calm and relax the mind. In addition to frequent use during meditation, it’s also great for scalp and foot massages.
Beneficial in treating acne, thyme provides a natural way to help clear clogged pores without the irritating side effects of ingredients like benzoyl peroxide.
Also known as nettle leaf extract, this anti-inflammatory can help combat hair loss, making hair stronger and shinier when used on a regular basis. It also helps treat acne and eczema and eases muscle aches. At the Spa at Sanderling (Duck, NC), guests can ease tension with the Pine Island Journey ($160, 80 minutes), which features a pine nettle scrub and invigorating massage infused with the potent scents of the deep woods.
According to James, vetiver is one of the most effective oils used in aromatherapy, as its earthy, smoky, and deeply grounding scent helps to quiet the mind and promote relaxation. “It soothes sore joints, is regenerative to damaged and tired skin, and supports healthy immune function,” he says.
Wintergreen’s cool, minty fragrance has a warming effect to help relieve muscle aches and pain, perfect for après-ski services, such as the Alpine Thermal Wrap ($235, 75 minutes) available at Allegria Spa at Park Hyatt Beaver Creek (CO). The treatment, involving a warm wrap, also helps ease muscle tension, aches, and stress with hot stones and a full-body massage using an arnica and juniper wintergreen body butter.
Styrax benzoin, or simply benzoin, helps heal cuts and soothe inflammation of rough, cracked, or irritated skin, as well as skin conditions like eczema.
Ylang ylang helps to relax and awaken the body, which makes it ideal for nervous or emotionally drained clients. “A massage with ylang ylang is a great first step toward recovering equilibrium,” says James. “Its additional benefits range from regulating the heart rhythm to revitalizing and balancing oil production in the skin.” Eurasia Spa at Scottsdale Resort & Athletic Club (AZ) offers the Yin Aromatherapy Massage ($115, 50 minutes; $165, 80 minutes), which combines pure essential oils of ylang ylang and lavender with the healing benefits of massage to help calm the mind and body.
Also known as true geranium, zdravets is helpful for itchy skin and can clear pigmented spots and blemishes on the face. It can also be used to help diminish the appearance of wrinkles and refresh the eye area.