By Audrey Tan

After a rough couple of years, consumers are looking to get more wellbeing benefits from their shopping. From functional foods to nurture a healthy body to fragrances that can boost spirits and encourage better mental health.

But how does smell sneak into our brains to manipulate our emotions? Is it really true that perfume can affect our moods? Let’s dig deeper to find out.

A Brief History Of The Use Of Fragrances 

Smell is the most profound of all the senses and has been used to alter moods since antiquity. Because of its ethereal, mystical qualities, fragrance was revered in ancient times and was used when worshipping the gods. 

The ancient Egyptians were one of the first civilisations to use fragrances for pleasure. They understood that scents can help maintain a harmonious balance between body and soul. Their daily rituals included using incense, perfumed lotions for massage, and bath oils. 

The Impact Of Smell On Our Psyche

Thousands of years later, we’ve now figured out that the reason is purely a matter of physiology. Smells can directly affect our psycho-emotional balance. The limbic system, also known as the olfactory system or our “emotional brain”, controls our sense of smell and processing mood, feelings, and memories. 

Unlike our other senses, olfactory information is processed in the limbic system, influencing our psyche and affecting our behaviour. The power of association when it comes to our sense of smell is incredibly potent indeed, which is why certain scents can elicit strong emotions and evocations, transporting us back to a different feeling, place and time. 

Aromachology: The Link Between Smell And Behaviour

Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils to treat illnesses, while aromachology investigates the relationship between aromas and an individual’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, as well as their surrounding environment. Several studies have proven that perfume fragrance can directly influence human behaviour and mood. 

The ability of fragrance molecules to permeate the blood-brain barrier and interact with the central nervous system receptors has been found to significantly impact brain function when inhaled. Further studies have also shown that olfactory stimulation by smells can affect physiological parameters in the body, such as pupil dilation, blood pressure, pulse rate, muscle tension, and brain activity. 

The Use Of Smells Today

Thanks to these studies, fragrance developers have a new avenue to explore. Perfumers now have access to a broader range of wellness inducing or mood-enhancing ingredients to include in their compositions. Spritzing on specific scents can influence our thoughts, feelings, and actions, affecting our moods and influencing how we feel. 

Particular aromas can stimulate the synapses and trigger the release of hormones that control our biological functions, giving them the ability to uplift and energise, soothe and relax, calm anxious minds, or even inspire sexual moods. 

Perfume consists of various aromatic elements that together form an olfactory message that is recognised and interpreted by the brain. Although not everyone responds in the same manner, aromachology has shown that some smells do cause predictable reactions in people. Our noses can recognise the whole olfactory palette, but certain scents are more likely to influence our emotions than others. 

For instance, by installing odour diffusers in open areas, employers in Japan use this science to motivate their employees to work more efficiently. Citrus scents like lemon and orange are used in the morning to boost energy, vigour, and creativity, while Jasmine and cinnamon are used in the afternoon to aid concentration.

The beauty industry, armed with this knowledge, has developed a variety of odoriferous products that can either be rubbed into the skin or released as a perfume that can help us feel good. Distinct aromas can communicate with the brain and send a message to the body, encouraging stimulation, facilitating calmness, or fostering reassurance. 

The fact that fragrance is not a drug makes it an appealing “cure”, as we have a tendency to look for quick fixes to problems that we can administer ourselves. For example, a nice-smelling perfume that can be purchased at the mall without the need for a doctor’s appointment is an attractive and easy alternative to help one cope with symptoms of anxiety or depression. 

Nevertheless, it is essential to keep in mind that fragrance is not a form of medication, nor is it a solution. Aromachology and personal wellbeing are closely linked, but the relationship is more about encouraging happy feelings than it is about treating the cause of issues such as anxiety or stress. Pleasant odours can really influence our mood and behaviour in a positive sense, but there is also a risk of overpromising what it can do to our mental wellbeing. Still, maybe there is something in the old saying that encourages us to “stop and smell the flowers sometimes”, as it seems that the power of our sense of smell is nothing to be sniffed at!