We perceive the world through our senses and, correspondingly, the things we see, touch, smell, taste or hear can profoundly affect us.
Some senses such as smell are linked to memories. Smells are handled by the olfactory bulb, the structure in the front of the brain that sends information to the other areas of the body’s central command for further processing. Odours take a direct route to the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions related to emotion and memory. The olfactory signals very quickly get to the limbic system. With this in mind, it is unsurprising that what we smell can invoke comfort, trigger emotions (both good or bad), calm or relax, depending on what we associate with that smell.
As sayings such as, “trust your nose” or “it doesn’t pass the smell test” go – what you smell could direct or affect you more than you realise!
Given the power of scent, it comes as no great surprise that scents have been used to set a mood or bring healing since time immemorial. Essential oils have been used for several thousands of years around the world but only recently have their wide-ranging effects been studied by western scientists. Smelling certain essential oils can have an immediate calming effect on the brain. This is because the scent molecules from the oil travel through the olfactory nerves and to the amygdala the part of the brain involved with experiencing emotions. Research shows that with the right scent, a person’s mood can be altered, creating a sensation of relaxation in the brain.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of essential oils with their corresponding use:
- Best overall for stress: Lavender
- Best for reducing tension: Lemongrass
- Best for anxiety: Chamomile
- Best for pain relief: Eucalyptus
- Best for relaxation: Ylang-ylang
- Best for alertness: Peppermint
- Best for boosting your mood: Jasmine
- Best for depression: Damask rose
- Best for aromatherapy: Bergamot
- Best for postmenopausal women: Neroli
Before embarking on using these, it would be advisable to do your own independent research or to speak to a medical professional. However, here are some general pointers for use:
- Do not ingest
Please do not drink the oil, use capsules with the oil, or ingest it in other ways. Only very specific oils can be ingested and it is best not to experiment with this. If you are applying it to your skin, it would be advisable to use a carrier oil such as sweet almond oil or coconut oil to dilute the essential oils.
Avoid using essential oils on or near irritated skin, wounds, rashes, or on top skin which has symptoms of conditions like psoriasis or eczema.
2. Keep away from pets and children
Some essential oils can be poisonous to pets and should be kept out of reach from children at all times.
3. Seek medical advice
It is not recommended to use essential oils on infants, children, pregnant people, older adults, or those with serious health conditions without doctor recommendations.
4. Check for allergies
We recommend doing the patch test before using any essential oils to see if your skin negatively reacts to the oils. This is when you apply a highly diluted amount of a product on a small area of your skin and monitor your skin’s reaction between 48 and 72 hours. A 1:30 ratio is recommended when performing your first patch test.
An even safer route than topic use, however, is using a diffuser or smelling the oils from the bottle.