Scent has a crucial role to play in our physical and emotional wellbeing. It can change the mood we’re in, in an instant, and in the world of wellness this year, fragrance and aromatherapy are getting the recognition they deserve for their ability to nurture, transform and inform the way we feel.
We all like a nice perfume, but scent is often dismissed as just that, a nicety. Disconcertingly, the Global Wellness Summit reported that “in a 2011 survey, 53% of millennials said they’d give up their sense of smell before they’d give up a tech device.”
The importance of scent
However, fragrance is having a renaissance as we recognise its sensory value. Evidence-based studies around scent’s powerful impact on our wellbeing are being released fast and furiously. Equally, the ways in which we can experience fragrance and aromatherapy are growing from traditional candles and oils to psychoactive perfumes.
“It is believed that an astonishing 75% of the emotions we generate on a daily basis are affected by smell, and, because of this, it is believed we are 100 times more likely to remember something we smell over something we see, hear or touch.” - Cassandra Cavanah and Beth McGroarty, Global Wellness Summit
Drs Linda Buck and Richard Axel are credited with discovering that there are approximately 1,000 olfactory genes in our bodies (roughly 3% of the human genome). And that the average human is able to recognise and remember around 10,000 different scents.
Healing powers of aromatherapy
In the past we have spoken about the power that aromatherapy has to influence our mood. Leading aromatherapy experts Aromatherapy Associates’ Global Director of Education, Christina Salcedas, spoke to us at length about an almost ‘lock and key process’ that happens when we’re exposed to aromatherapy oils and fragrances.
“Aromatherapy essential oils are volatile. So when they’re inhaled they’re picked up by our olfactory system via the hairs in your nose. When those molecules connect, it produces a nerve impulse which travels to the brain. The molecule breaks down and the hair that detected it is free to pick up a new molecule. Then it reaches the limbic system, the most primitive part of the brain, concerned with instincts and survival and emotions. It is linked to hypothalamus, the control centre between the endocrine and nervous system. This can activate pathways and impact a hormonal response. The change in hormonal response is what changes your mood. Eventually, this travels to the back of the brain where aroma is finally recognised.”
The result is that it can be used to make a real difference to the way we feel throughout the day. Perhaps we might use lavender to help a headache, frankincense to help with a slump in the middle of the day or ylang-ylang to boost our confidence.
Healing powers of fragrance
However, there is also increasing research into the powers of fragrance and aromatherapy as a form of medicine. Of course, the practice is really as old as time, but the science behind it and the way we use it continues to develop. That said, please remember that any health concerns should also be addressed with your doctor rather than self-prescribing.
As Cassandra Cavanah and Beth McGroarty report: “Companies like Aeroscena, based in Cleveland Clinic’s Innovations Lab, are literally redefining and relabeling aromatherapy. The company has trademarked the term “phyto-inhalants™” to describe its line of plant-based aromatherapeutics formulated to specifically treat health symptoms, such as pain, nausea and anxiety.”
So, from art installations to workplace wellness, (Rachel S. Herz, assistant professor of psychology at Brown University, writes that people who work in the presence of pleasant-smelling air set higher goals and are more likely to employ efficient work strategies), scent and aromatherapy are getting the kind of recognition that those of us dedicated to essential oils have always known that they deserve.
While we watch this space and look forward to finding increasingly innovative ways to bring more aromatherapy based wellness into our lives however, we’re still big fans of the old fashioned spa treatment approach.