Scent is incredibly evocative. Unseen, untouchable and yet utterly pervasive: scent instantly assails us, lingers round us and etches itself into our memories. The fragrance surrounding us can bring calm and joy; or it can bring danger ….
Heaven scent: the calming effect of scent
Fragrance molecules send signals through the olfactory nerves in the nose right into the emotional part of our brain and on through the whole central nervous system. Scent therefore has a direct impact on stress and anxiety and, potentially, on our body’s ability to heal. Passing through the blood-brain barrier, these impulses have a predictable, consistent impact – which enables aromatherapists to work with the scents of essential oils to manage our emotions. For example, studies now show that lavender impacts the neurotransmitters associated with relaxation, confirming the long-held beliefs in the calming influence of lavender.
Scent not forgotten: the ability scent has to evoke memory
It is believed that scent is the first of our senses to develop in the womb. Not surprisingly, therefore, it can be the sense that draws our deepest memories. The scent of childhood foods is often used to help those living with conditions like Alzheimer’s to stimulate conversation and recollections.
In our modern world where much stimulation comes through sound and visual media, scent can help us reach our own more personal, less manufactured truths and create our own perceptions.
Scent to tell: the contribution scent makes to taste
If you’ve ever tried tucking into a meal while suffering from a blocked nose you’ll know the contribution scent makes to our appreciation of flavour. Scent communicates to us by way of warning and building expectation.
Scent with love: the role of smell in attraction
The scent of your skin is a form of communication, often operating subconsciously. We rarely notice the pheromones our skin emits within a milky substance from our apocrine glands under our arms, around our nipples and in our groin. However this scent characterises you – your unique identifier. This can be a key component to attraction – which is why synthetic versions of the pheromones are put into perfumes.
Unfortunately, perfumed products can mask our natural scent thereby potentially reducing our attractiveness. Better to work with our natural scent. If you want to enhance this, use subtle, plant-based scents from natural products that are in sync with your body. Blending-your-own perfumes allows you to create unique fragrance blends that really reflect you.
It’s no wonder scent is a critical part of any beauty product. Whatever the skincare benefits of a particular cream, lotion or balm the first thing most people will notice and comment on is the scent. Synthetic fragrances are all to commonly deployed to mask other ingredients and create strongly scented products. The scent is often the deciding factor in making a purchase decision, despite its constituents often being last on the ingredients list (ie, there in the smallest amounts).
As such a big influencer on our mood and perceptions, it’s worth considering in more detail.
The ingredients list
‘Fragrance’ can be one of the most mysterious items on an ingredients list. A host of synthetic compounds, including potential toxins and hormone disrupters, can be hidden under the term. This is especially so with commercially produced perfumes which don’t have an ingredients list, it’s considered a trade secret. You’ll have to use your nose to decide what may, or may not, do you harm. Are you able to detect the difference between a synthetic and a natural scent?
In the way many changing rooms, especially in schools, have banned the use of aerosols for fear of disrupting our airways, some offices are perfume-free zones in response to the cloying, headache inducing environments that too much artificial scent can produce.
Recent reports are now demonstrating the impact personal products are having on our air pollution. They are a serious contender when looking for a trigger for asthma, headaches, wheezing and nausea.
Typically we think of vehicles as the main pollutants in our environment, they’ve been blamed for about 75% of the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in the air. There’s new thinking on this in the US, research from the University of Colorado suggests the ratio may be closer to 50/50 vehicle/non-vehicle sources.
Although the amount of petroleum-based chemical used in fuel is a lot more than in other applications, including solvents and personal products, the way they are used changes their impact. Vehicle fuels are typically in well-contained storage and burnt for energy, they have also been subjected to tight emissions regulations; by contrast, the volatile compounds in personal care products like hair spray, air freshener, cleaners, colognes and perfumes are designed to evaporate and fill the air around you so their impact per gram is far greater (some estimate up to 1000 times greater).
As we realise the detrimental health aspects of synthetic scents, and the positive health and mood aspects of natural scents, a shift is happening.
Just as our bodies are reacting to synthetic chemicals applied to our skin, leading many to opt for more natural choices; our noses are reacting to synthetic formulations. Selecting natural scents, from powerful plants and essential oils, can bring balance, calm and health while keeping all the scope for reflecting our personality, triggering memories and creating intoxicating products.