Conscious Salon

Eco-friendly business ideas, new products, and issues relevant to "green-minded" salons.


Time to Stop and Smell the Roses, Lavenders, Wintergreens, Tea Trees, Cloves, Patchoulis, Tangerines, Grapeseeds, Myrrhs…

Clients leave with a positive impression of your salon when you use the subtle scents of aromatherapy.

You have appealed to your client’s sense of sight by spending a small fortune on salon furnishings and decorations. You have appealed to her sense of hearing by carefully choosing music and adjusting the volume. You have appealed to her sense of taste by offering refreshments while she waits. But have you appealed to her sense of smell? Have you made the salon air as pleasant and soothing as the rest of the atmosphere?

Enter aromatherapy. No more air fresher, aromatherapy is a sophisticated method of creating positive impressions on your clients by accessing deep centers of their brains via the use of pleasant aromas.

It sounds a little creepy, like some sort of mad scientist mind control. In reality, aromatherapy uses the sense of smell to create positive sensual associations. Think of it this way: Doesn’t the smell of a new car give you a positive feeling, and sour milk, for example, a bad one?

The sense of smell can be harnessed in the salon by using aromatherapy. It can help clients form impressions of your salon that can last a lifetime. As far as retaining clients is concerned, what more can you ask for?

Incorporating aromatherapy in beauty services is on the upswing. Aveda, a leader in the field, reported $50 million in business in 1990, double its 1988 sales. Since then, Aveda has had growth of 35% every year. In Japan, the output of fragrances and flavours exceeded 130 billion yen in 1991. In France, the practice is so widely accepted that many health insurers cover aromatherapy treatments - Essential Elements, manufacturer of aromatherapeutic body cafe products in San Francisco, Calif., defines aromatherapy as the practice of using pure essential oils — the highly concentrated extracts from plants, herbs, and flowers — in skin and health care. Aromatherapy Seminars, a source of aromatherapy education, defines it as "the skilled use of plant essences (essential oils) for physical well-being, emotional balance, and spiritual reflection."

These definitions explain what aromatherapy is. Dr Robert Henkin, director of the Georgetown Taste and Smell Clinic in Washington, D.C., explains the how. Aroma initially affects the nose and the brain Olfactory information (smells) is primarily processed in the prefrontal cortex, the temporal lobe, and the hypothalamus, .which are in the center of the brain and are associated with emotions, basic survival, and sociosexual behaviour. When this I information gets to these areas, it I triggers physio-chemical reactions that affect the rest of the body, which means the body may experience a change of temperature, thirst level, or mood. In other words, he says, certain odors trigger immediate physical and emotional responses.

There is a difference between clinical aromatherapy (which induces a physical response) and environmental aromatherapy/aromassage (which triggers an emotional response). Clinical aromatherapists claim that essential oils can do things one would expect only from modern medicine, like treating hepatitis and baldness. Medical claims such as these are dependent upon scientific substantiation, and there is none to date. On the other hand, beauty professionals who have seen the benefits from environmental fragrancing and aromassage swear by the positive results of aromatherapy in beauty services. The physio-chemical reactions caused by these types of aromatherapy simply result in altered moods. Just as pleasant music through your ears and pleasant colours through your eyes create or enhance certain feelings, pleasant smells work similarly. Carefully chosen fragrances can complement a calm, subdued decor and gentle, easy-listening music; other smells work better with a bright interior and upbeat tunes.

As a backdrop, aromatherapy may seem a useful salon atmosphere-creator. As a service offering, its potential may not seem so rosy, so to speak. Since it isn't a service you can itemize on a client's ticket, justifying the expense of adding aromatherapy might appear difficult.

It doesn't have to be, says Richard Dodd, president of International Business Consortiums, Inc., in Miami, Fla. An environment design firm, his company incorporates aroma vaporization systems in businesses to create an ambiance customers will respond favourably to, whether that means they'll stay longer and make more purchases or just have a more pleasant stay. Dodd credits "olfactory-evoked recall" as being the mechanism that performs this function. Olfactory-evoked recall, he explains, is the ability of the human mind to remember specific situations, places, or times in the past through smells that were present then. By playing on this mechanism, Dodd theorizes that environmental fragrancing will lead customers to develop an attraction to a particular place of business.

Is it working? The proof is in the profits. AromaSys, a manufacturer of environmental aromatherapy delivery systems, says business is booming. AromaSys' machine, the EPA-1000, releases an aroma with a small electrical charge According to AromaSys founder and president Mark Peltier, due to a joint venture with Aveda, his systems will be put in hundreds of Aveda Esthetiques across the nation. "You can't put a price on emotional impact, and the power of aromatherapy to make a big impact is there," says Peltier. He estimates the cost for a salon to use aromatherapy to be about a dollar per day, or just a few cents per client.

Linda Yard, spa director of The Marsh in Minneapolis, Minn., explains how she justified the expense of offering aromatherapy: "People remember the little extras, not the prices. Adding aromatherapy to our spa is similar to a fine restaurant adding lemon slices to the table water."

So how do you get started with this fragrant business? You might start at the library. There are quite a few books on aromatherapy. Valerie Ann Worwood’s The Complete Book of Essential Oils Aromatherapy addresses environmental fragrancing, aromassage, and clinical aromatherapy. Worwood has included lots of "recipes" for creating stimulating, relaxing, and energizing massage oils, lotions, and moisturizers. Aveda recommends a book written by its founder, Horst Rechelbacher, called Rejuvenation A Wellness Guide for Men and Women, as well as The Complete Aromatherapy Handbook, by Susanne Fischer-Rizzi. A little homework will give you a better understanding of what you need to know to add aromatherapy to your salon, as well as sources of equipment and supplies. Aromatherapy Seminars is also a bountiful source of information on the subject. It offers books, videos, home-study courses, and seminars around the country on blending oils, fitness, and general aromatherapy.

After learning a bit about the art and science of using aromas, getting your hands on the products is the next order of business. Whether you plan to use environmental fragrancing or aromassage, there are basically two things you will need: oils/aromas and a delivery system.

To enhance your salons "environmental design" with fragrancing, there are a number of ways you can go. The easiest and most effective method of scenting a room or workplace is with an electronic vaporization system. The small metal unit can fit on a tabletop or counter (it's smaller than a breadbox) and weighs just under 10 pounds. It runs on regular electrical current, so you can plug it into any standard wall socket. On the front of the unit is a receptacle for the aroma cartridges, which look like big test tubes. The company that makes them says the cartridges are as simple to change as a compact disc or cassette tape. The unit also features a rheostat ("volume knob") to control the aroma level. An electronic vaporization system is said by its manufacturer to be the most cost-effective way to deliver aromas.

Other methods of delivery include light bulb diffusers and essential oil candles. A light bulb diffuser is an attachment for a table lamp made of either a nonflammable material or metal that heats the oil and releases it as a vapor into the room. Or you can simply scatter a few drops of oil directly on a light bulb. The bulb releases the scent when you turn the lamp on. Essential oil candles are either made with the oil blended into the wax, or you can make your own by lighting a candle and letting it burn a bit until there is a small puddle of melted wax at the base of the wick, to which you add a couple of drops of oil. Aromatherapists say that heat vaporization is less efficient than electronic vaporization because you can waste oil burning it, it is nearly impossible to achieve uniform fragrancing in a larger room, and certain facets of the aroma are lost when burned. However, your cost with these two methods is quite a bit less than with the electronic system.

To create a more personal and longer-lasting aromatic bond with your clients, you may consider aromassage. This is something you can incorporate very easily and inexpensively into services you already perform

Do you use lotions during natural nail manicures or pedicures? You can scent your own lotions or oils with just a few drops of an essential oil. You can give unscented lotion whatever fragrance you want. (Worwood’s book has a chapter on creating your own perfumes, with recipes that imitate some of the more popular and expensive designer fragrances.) Amby Longhofer, owner of Aveda Esthetique at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles, Calif., offers mini-facials and stress-reducing scalp massages that rely on essential oils as active ingredients.

With aromatherapy you can really personalize your service. Each client has different needs, and you can select from different oils to individualize a client service. At Linda Yards spa, clients respond to a questionnaire about their feelings, challenges, and hobbies. The beauty therapist then selects two or three oils and asks the client to select the most pleasant. If it is a toss-up between a couple of oils, you might be able to blend them (this is where your aromatherapy education will tell you how much of each oil to mix).

A lot of your decisions about customizing oils, lotions, and creams will probably be made on the basis of what you may already know about some of your regular clients. For example, do you have a client who may be nervous about an upcoming job interview? Maybe after her nail service on the day of her interview you might try a lavender or sandalwood hand lotion. The oil in the lotion will linger for several hours, and she will receive the therapeutic benefits while she's on her interview. She will feel more pampered and relaxed before her interview, and will appreciate your attentiveness to her special situation.

Some client situations you need to be especially aware of are those in which a client has shown a sensitivity to certain products. Although essential oils are not allergens, according to Julia Fischer, aromatherapist and consultant at the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy in San Rafael, Calif., you could cause a skin irritation if you use too much oil. Proper dilution with the carrier oil will solve the problem.

When you are promoting aromatherapy as part of your service, avoid making any medical claims and promise nothing more than that aromas are good or beneficial in a general sense. Claiming medicinal effects could land you in unnecessary trouble.

Other than educating yourself about the different oils and acquiring the proper equipment, there is little else you need to get started. There is no certification or licensing that is required to practice aromatherapy, although you can get certification through either Tisserand Aromatherapy or Aromatherapy Seminars. Bear in mind that these certifications are granted by the educators, but are not as yet recognized by federal, state, or local governments. They do, however, substantiate that you have completed courses or a lecture series and are educated in the art and science of aromatherapy.

So now you can get started. You may find aromatherapy a fascinating field and feel that you can't get enough information about it. "Smell is the least understood sense," says Dr. Lauralee Sherwood, author of Fundamentals of Physiology. Dr. Henkin says that the nose and its functions are sorely neglected areas of study. But with aromatherapy, you will find enough information to keep you busy for a while at least, especially if you put your nose to the grindstone.

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