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 can 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 technical 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 odorants in the air and then send signals to the olfactory bulb, which liaises with the parts of your brain responsible for identifying 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 it makes us feel. This connection is why aromatherapy is such a powerful 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 is that too often these scents are artificially created and can cause disruptions to our 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.
In 2017, another study found that phthalates, an ingredient also commonly found in fragranced beauty and baby products, are endocrine disruptors and can be linked to lower IQs in children whose mothers were exposed during pregnancy. Musk ketone, a chemical suspected to be a hormone disruptor, was also found in many fragrances. Some of these ingredients are also considered to be ‘obesogens’, which means they can cause the body to gain weight.
You can find these ingredients in candles, hand washes, 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 for 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're starting to make the change to natural products, trying swapping our your perfume. No matter the price of your beautiful fragrance - unless it is completely natural, it is simply not good for you.
You can exchange your perfume for a natural one made from essentials oils, or try making your own using natural oils in a base like Jojoba Oil. This base oil is crucial, as it will make the essential oils 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 it 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 Monarch Natural Perfume contains water, essential oils, glycerine and coco glycoside (a natural coconut based emulsifier).
100% Natural: Energised H20, Lavandula augustifolia [bulgarian lavender] Oil, Cananga odorata (ylang ylang) essential oil, Pelargonium Capitatum Leaf [Geranium] Oil, Pogostemon Cablin (Patchouli) Essential oil, Rosa damascena [Rose absolute] Oil, Australian sea salt, Decyl Glucoside