Scents and Sensibility
Ever played that game – Would you rather? Would you rather eat dirt or grass? Would you rather be stuck in the desert or out at sea? Difficult hypotheticals with ridiculous, but really fun, premises. Inevitably the option arises – If you had to lose one of your senses, which one would you rather lose? And you know what the most common answer is? Smell. It just doesn’t seem that important compared to sight, touch, hearing and taste (and yes, we know there are actually a lot more senses than just the traditional five, but we talk about those another time). The main reason people choose their sense of smell as the least important is because they underestimate it – they truly don’t understand how wonderful, powerful and important this sense is.
Olfaction is the actual word used to describe the process of smelling and it is a type of chemoreception that has many purposes. One of the most important is the detection of hazards and pheromones and of course – food. Olfaction liaises with taste to form our sense of flavour and without it, food is a very different experience. There are specific receptors in your nasal cavity that bind with things in the air that smell (odorants) and then send signals to the olfactory bulb which liaises with parts of your brain responsible for identify things by smell, for memory and for emotion. In terms of evolution this meant that if something was good for you – the smell of it would make you happy, comfortable and hungry. If it was poisonous or dangerous – you would feel worried and uncomfortable when you smelled it.
This connection between smell and emotion is far more powerful than we realise. It is why we feel comfortable around certain people and fearful around others – their pheromones, their sweat, their breath – we unconsciously smell all of it and our brain processes how we feel about it. It’s why aromatherapy is such a powerful natural way to control your emotions – trigger certain responses and memories in the brain with a scent and you will be able to trigger a certain feeling as well.The most common way people control their scent and what they smell is through perfumes. Perfumes are a way of adding a new scent to your body, one that triggers a feeling of pleasure. The problem with these is that often, these scents are artificially created and cause disruptions to your body processes that far outweigh any feeling of pleasure they may trick your mind into creating.
Traditionally fragrances do not have to list their ingredients because of copyright protections that allow manufacturers to keep their formulas a secret. But a study done by the EPA in 1991 found that many of the highest selling fragrances contained toxic ingredients. Not unpleasant or worrying ingredients – TOXIC ingredients. They found everything from acetone, benzaldehyde, benzyl acetate, limonene, linalool and camphor, to ethanol and methylene chloride – often all together. These chemicals have been connected to central nervous disorders, kidney damage, respiratory failure, dizziness and sinus problems. Last year another study found that phthalates and endocrine disruptors, which are linked to lower IQs in children whose mothers were exposed during pregnancy – these compounds are commonly found in fragranced beauty and baby products. They also found musk ketone in many fragrances - a chemical that is suspected to be a hormone disruptor. Some of these ingredients are also considered to be ‘obesogens’, which means they can cause the body to gain weight.
These fragrances are in candles, handwashes, toothpastes, air fresheners, laundry detergents and of course – perfumes and while many of them smell pleasant, it is a false trickery of your brain. They mimic natural pleasant aromas but they don’t actually contain anything of value to your body. Your olfactory system doesn’t protect you, the way that it could if you gave it natural products to work with.
If you swap out one thing this month - make it your perfume. No matter the price of your beautiful fragrance - unless it is completely natural, it IS NOT good for you. You can exchange your perfume for a natural one made from essentials oils, or your can make your own, using natural oils in a base like jojoba oil which makes them gentler on your skin. Not only will the aromatherapeutic benefits be stronger, your body will not have to filter out any chemicals that aren’t meant to be there. Your sense of smell is an amazing gift – one it would actually be difficult to live without. Honouring that is kind to your body and those who are close to you.
PS: Here’s an example of what a perfume ingredient list should look like. Our Essential Blend Perfume contains water, essential oils, glycerine and coco glycoside (a natural coconut based emulsifier).
100% Natural: Purified H2O, *Pelargonium graveolens (geranium) essential oil, *Cananga odorata (ylang ylang) essential oil, *Pogostemon Cablin (Patchouli) Essential oil, Rosa damascena (rose maroc) essential oil, *Lavenandula angustifolia (lavender) essential oil, Glyceryl caprylate, Coco glycoside. *Certified organic ingredients