In short, smells are the most powerful trigger of emotions and memories. And it now seems they are also vital for health and wellness.
by Elsa Kruger
What happens when I smell my Cacharel Anais Anais? I remember the scent of my mother when I was home for the university holidays. A whole nostalgic picture of our house, the kitchen, the family around the dining-room table, and the lush garden and large lawn opens up in front of me, more than 40 years later.
Suddenly it doesn’t sound so soppy to say, ‘Take time to smell the roses’. Your emotional and physical wellbeing depends on it, according to science. In short, smells are the most powerful trigger of emotions and memories. And it now seems they are also vital for health and wellness.
There’s now a better understanding of how our sense of smell impacts our well-being and how important it is not to underestimate its value, write Cassandra Cavanah and Beth McGroarty in an article, ‘MediScent: Fragrance gets a Wellness Makeover’, in the annual Global Wellness Trends report that will be presented at a summit in Hong Kong this October.
Millennials want everything, and everyone has to be able to multitask, and when it comes to perfume, it must do more than just make us smell good. For this conference, this is one of the most important wellness trends identified for 2019.
If you have to choose one of your senses to give up, which one would it be? Many people consider smell to be the least important of their five senses – in a survey, more than half the millennials said they would rather give up their sense of smell than one of their tech toys.
Big mistake. Until recently it was the most underrated of the five senses, but the tide has turned and it is now considered the most important, says Joanne de Luca of Sputnik Futures, a New York company that specialises in anticipating consumer trends.
Worldwide there are novel, noteworthy findings being made about the impact of smell on our brains and our well-being. New aromas are being discovered and formulations created to use the power of smell – in everything from candles to bath oils and psychoactive perfumes that can stimulate, soothe and even transform you (and the people around you).
And believe it or not: Research indicates that doing a wine tasting makes the brain work harder than a maths problem! The chance is also 100 times greater that you will remember something you smell over something you see, hear or touch.
Scientists at the Rockefeller University in New York say it is likely that people can distinguish up to a trillion smells. This after the 2004 Nobel prize winners Drs Linda Buck and Richard Axel discovered that there are about 1 000 olfactory genes in our bodies (roughly three percent of the human genome). On average each olfactory receptor cell can recognize and remember about 10 000 different scents.
When you smell something, it goes up in the nose, through the amygdala (the part of the brain where emotions are processed) and hippocampus (which is linked to memory) until it lands in the thalamus (which processes sensory signals). It means that every single scent that you smell moves first through the emotional and memory systems of the brain before you register it.
First, strongest sense
The sense of smell is the first of the senses to develop – by the end of the first trimester, babies can smell what their pregnant mom is eating and it can influence their future food preferences. Smell is almost the most important of the senses that newborns use to orient themselves to their surroundings, much like most mammals.
A flood of studies have shown that no other sense can influence and transport us the way scent can. Neurobiologists at the University of Toronto in Canada have confirmed that the connection between the hippocampus and the olfactory nucleus in the brain is the mechanism that enables us to recall sensory experiences and connect with the part of the brain where it is stored. This, they believe, could lead to new discoveries for ways in which conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s can be treated. Declining sense of smell is in fact one of the first symptoms of the latter.
The power of smell to heal has become a research field with unlimited potential, especially for mental health.
The new understanding of how important smell is goes hand in hand with global wellness trends, the desire to ‘unplug’ from daily stress and to reconnect with the world around you, as people search for a more authentic, mindful existence.
This goes along with the shift in perfume directions: Yes, those classic golden oldies will probably always be with us, but just like with Uber there are disruptors in the industry, with a move towards unusual, surprising and even shocking fragrances (and names) like Etat Libre d’Orange (Jasmin et Cigarette; Fat Electrician) and Tom Ford’s Fucking Fabulous.
Aromatherapy: less esoteric, more health
A massage with aromatherapy oils is without doubt the pinnacle of sensory pleasure. But these days it’s about more than pampering – researchers include the power of smell in health and healing.Many people still attach a ‘New Age’ label to aromatherapy, even though it is an ancient practice. But the technology and continued research and neuroscience findings make what is old new again and more useful than ever, and thanks to new formulations and more sustainable ingredients everyone from doctors to sceptics is looking at so-called clinical aromatherapy with new eyes. Scent can stifle pain, improve sleep, ease morning sickness and relieve anxiety. Some sources estimate the market in aromatic oils will be worth around $20 billion by 2024 as more people return to natural solutions rather than medication.
Breaths comes in pairs except for two times in our lives – the beginning and the end.