Have you ever caught a whiff of something that takes you back to a specific time and place? Maybe it was your grandmother’s perfume on the collar of a passing stranger or the smell of fermenting grapes that put you back among the barrels of that little Tuscan winery you visited on your honeymoon. Maybe you’ve had the far less pleasant experience of a certain food smell reminding you of the time you got violently ill after eating at a roadside market stall in Phuket. Either way you’re not alone: smell has the ability to trigger emotions and memory, making it one of our most powerful senses. So how does it work? And how can you make it work for you?
The science of scent
If you were ever in doubt that smell is an important human ability, consider that 5% of your DNA is devoted to olfaction. You also have around 450 different types of olfactory receptors, each of which can be activated by a number of different odour molecules. In return, each odour molecule can activate a range of different receptors, leaving you with the ability to detect and differentiate a huge array of smells (at least one trillion, according to a landmark 2014 study).
After an odour molecule binds to one of your receptors, it sends a signal to a part of your brain called the olfactory bulb, which has direct connections to both the amygdala and hippocampus. If you ever took a psychology subject, you would know that these two parts of the brain are largely responsible for emotion and memory. This connection explains why a whiff of freshly cut grass can leave you nursing both a feeling of happiness and a memory of childhood afternoons in your back yard, playing with your siblings as your dad went around with the mower.
Harnessing the power of scent
While pleasant associations like this are wonderful, the majority of them happen by chance; a happy by-product of going about your day to day life. While you could frequent the places and befriend the people who give off these memory and mood-enhancing odours, there’s a much better way to bring these walk-by experiences into your everyday: invest in fragrances.
Depending on your preferences, this investment can be in the form of perfumes, diffusers or candles. To work out which is the best option for you, ask yourself whether you want the smell on your body or in a room. If it’s the latter, do you want the fragrance to be ever-present or do you want the ability to switch it on and off? If it’s the second option, candles are your best choice.
Which scent does what?
Once you’ve decided which form your investment will take, it’s helpful to know which scents have which effects. While everything we’ve included below is backed up by research, remember that your own personal preferences will moderate your enjoyment - and therefore the associated impacts - of each fragrance. In other words, if you don’t like vanilla, don’t buy it, regardless of what it might do for your love life.
A number of studies have shown lavender increases drowsiness, boosts relaxation and is helpful in treating insomnia. If you struggle to get to sleep at night, try putting a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow just before you lie down. If lavender’s not your thing, the smell of fresh sheets has also proven effective, with a recent poll by the National Sleep Foundation finding 75% of people feel they have a more comfortable night’s sleep on sheets with a fresh scent. Rather than washing your bed linen every other day, try lighting one of our scented candles about an hour before bedtime. The clean crisp smell and a comfy memory foam mattress will have you snoozing away in no time.
Citrus scents are well-known for their ability to reduce anxiety, stress and tension and there’s also some research that shows they have the ability to brighten your mood. If you want to reduce tension around the home or office without purchasing a stress ball, try lighting one of our Blood Orange and Grapefruit candles.
Coffee and peppermint are your friends in this department. While a whiff of peppermint can give your energy levels a boost, the smell of coffee can quite literally wake you up. Breathe deeply next time you go past your corner café or add a coffee scented candle to your bedside table.
Gardenia oil is frequently used in aromatherapy to treat headaches caused by sinuses, anxiety and tension, making it a great alternative to paracetamol. Light a candle for a more gradual effect or mix some essential oil with warm water and inhale for quick relief.