People who lose their sense of smell feel like they are behind a glass wall.
By Ben Jhoty
“Close your eyes,” says Jocelyn Fullerton, founder of boutique Sydney perfumery Cult of Scent. I’m in Fullerton’s fragrance studio in her cosy bungalow in Sydney’s Lilyfield. A warm and expressive woman with bright eyes framed by heavy, chic-looking glasses, Fullerton has opened what looks like a two-litre flask containing a scent that’s just beyond my grasp. I close my eyes and breathe in. “What colour is it?” asks Fullerton. “I don’t know, light blue?” I venture. I have an image of a bathroom in a house I used to live in by the sea. “I feel like I might have bathed in it,” I say. I open my eyes. “It’s a lavender extract,” says Fullerton. The moment she says it, the smell clicks into place in my mind. I was so close.
That’s one of the first exercises we do in perfumer training, just smelling lots of ingredients and learning how to recognise them,” says Fullerton, as we sit down at a desk cabinet filled with little brown bottles of essential oils. She estimates there are over a thousand different fragrances in her studio.
As she talks my eyes wander down to her lap, where I’m a little shocked to see the lower half of a human skull. Fullerton must notice my eyes popping. “Oh, this is ‘Bodiless Fred’,” she says, holding him up. Ironically, she says, pointing at his nasal cavity, Fred had a deviated septum, so whoever the skull was moulded on probably didn’t have good smell.
With a background in aromatherapy, Fullerton is well versed in the physiological effects different fragrances can induce. She hands me a review study called The Influence of Fragrances on Human Psychophysiological Activity, detailing electroencephalographic responses to various odours. The review found fragrances significantly modulate the activities of brain waves responsible for various cognitive states. Lavender, for example, decreased working memory, while a combination of orange and lavender reduced patients’ anxiety before dental treatment. “It’s fascinating,” Fullerton says. “But it makes sense because you’re playing with your brain waves.”
While fragrances have practical applications in aromatherapy, it’s the more intrinsic ability to detect, identify and discriminate between odours that may have the most beneficial long-term effects on your health. Research is still in its infancy, but let’s just say, the scent is getting stronger.
Breaths comes in pairs except for two times in our lives – the beginning and the end.