These products supposedly create a sense of well-being in the user through ingredients that act on the brain’s neurotransmitters. The reporter mentioned several mainstream products that contained pheromones and synthetic chemicals to create “happiness”.
When I offered to connect her with an aromatherapist or a cosmetic formulator who works with natural ingredients, say, essential oils (said to affect mood), she declined. But I figured there was no reason why I couldn’t cover the story from a natural perspective for HBP.
Contacting Andrea Butje, LMT, Clinical Aromatherapist and instructor at Aromahead Institute, seemed like a good place to start. Aromatherapy, a practice dating back thousands of years, is the use of therapeutic oils extracted from natural plants and thought to promote overall well-being, but for this article, I’m most concerned with how aromatherapy can be used for mood enhancement. Here are the questions I asked Andrea.
Can you explain the benefits of aromatherapy? What sorts of things can it help?
The primary benefit of aromatherapy is that it can be used to support a variety of health and emotional concerns without the use of synthetic chemicals. It’s a well-researched, natural option for skin care, mood support, healing and a wide variety of other issues.
The average shopper may not be aware that true aromatherapy is the use of pure essential oils. Because there’s no regulation around using the word aromatherapy in marketing, anyone can create a synthetic fragrance product and call it aromatherapy. Real aromatherapy uses essential oils distilled or extracted from plants and unaltered in any way.
Can mood be positively affected by scent?
Human emotions, or moods, arise from a part of the brain called the limbic system. Originally, the limbic system was referred to as the rhinencephalon – meaning “nose brain.” The term rhinencephalon reflected the enormous impact that smell had on the functioning of this part of the brain.
All of our senses impact the limbic system. Any of the senses can have a positive or negative effect on our mood. For example, our sense of vision can have a positive impact. When we observe a person who is happy and smiling, this observation can lift our spirits. When we smell rotting food, we are repelled. When we smell tasty food cooking, we feel ourselves getting hungry and happy as we anticipate eating a satisfying meal.
All of these sensations – hunger, anticipation, happiness and eagerness – arise from the interplay of different parts of the brain’s limbic system. By paying attention to what scents lift our mood, we can consciously impact our mood by smelling certain scents.
Is there scientific study backing this up?
The science behind scent and mood comes from the basic anatomy of the brain, and from decades of research.
From a purely anatomical perspective, we know that the nerves from our nose that are receiving the scent connect directly to the limbic system. In fact, the nerve connections between the smelling apparatus of our nose to the limbic system are faster than those for sight and sound.
Scientifically speaking, the sense of smell is called olfaction. The smelling (olfactory) apparatus is located high in our nose. It is called the olfactory membrane. This little area contains millions of nerve cell receptors that analyze the air we inhale for odor. The olfactory membrane of humans is only about 0.8 inches square, yet contains 10-20 million olfactory receptors. It is able to identify between 2000-4000 different chemical stimuli (molecules).
Scientific research on scent and it’s effect on behavior is what originally led scientists to name the limbic system the rhinencephalon, “nose brain”. A great deal of that research is used by the perfume and personal care industries to devise hundreds of products that consumers buy all the time.
The 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to the team that finally uncovered the mechanics of identifying scent.
http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2004/press.html (Interesting science)
Essential oils have been studied extensively for decades, particularly in Europe. Oils are analyzed using a process called Gas Chromotography/Mass Spectrometry, a test that identifies all the chemical components of an oil. Many of those individual components have been researched in clinical studies.
How do scents work on the brain to change mood?
The limbic center holds our instinctive behaviors, drives, and automatic emotional responses. The limbic system also plays an important role in memory and learning. The key to understanding how scents affect the brain is to remember that the information gathered in the nose from the olfactory bulb goes directly to the emotional center – the limbic system.
Because of this direct neurological connection between scent and the limbic system, we can use aromatic products to impact our moods and emotions as well as our ability to learn, remember and recall. The limbic system facilitates memory storage and retrieval. Long-term memories can be evoked via the limbic system. This response can be noted when a certain smell may bring you instantly back to your childhood and your mood is deeply impacted.
Can EOs used in skin care and other beauty products be as effective in enhancing mood or does it need to be the straight oils?
It is very effective to blend essential oils in beauty products – often lotions or organic oils – for application on the body.
Can anyone blend their own mood enhancing oil blends or do they have to come from someone who’s trained in how to do it?
If safe dilution guidelines are followed, anyone can begin blending. It does take a reasonable amount of education to blend therapeutically, especially for emotional concerns. While some blending approaches are based in the chemistry of essential oils and require education, we can also blend using methods related to plant parts, plant families and our intuition. That being said, inhaling an essential oil you love or applying that lavender lotion after your shower can bring such pleasure. Sometimes it really is that simple.
Are there oils associated with “happiness”?
Many essential oils are emotionally uplifting. We love using citrus oils in particular to create a feeling of spring and sunshine and health. During the winter months, these oils can be especially helpful. We add them to our sponge for cleaning, in a diffuser for uplifting and to our liquid soap.
Lavender is a calming oil, but may also conjure a feeling of happiness through relaxation of the senses. Stronger florals like Ylang Ylang or Rose have heady, sensual aromas that can create an entirely different feeling of happiness.
Pure essential oils contain an incredible range of aromas from plants. When you love an aroma, we would call that happiness!
This interview was from The Healthy Beauty Project. To learn more from Andrea, visit her blog. And to ask a network of natural beauty enthusiasts about their experiences with aromatherapy, visit our beauty social network, www.healthybeautysocial.com
At the Aromatic Institute along with its product line Aroma Pharmica, the possibilities are boundless as over 125 pure essential oils are synergistic blends to create nature's most powerful medicine. Stop by, peruse the store and leave empowered by plants and their healing gifts. Use the coupon "thanks" for 20% off your purchase. That's our way of says thanks for caring about your health and happiness.
Until next time,