Welcome our latest contributor to the blog, Sara Panton! Sara is the cofounder and CEO of Vitruvi - Modern Aromatherapy, as well as an avid traveler and reader. She is a prominent woman in business working to create substaintial businesses that promote new ways of living healthy with ourselves and the world, as well as an expert on scent and how it impacts our bodies. So, without further ado, let's jump into learning from her about how scent can change our lives—literally.

The most powerful sense known may also be the most under-utilized. While actions such as what we eat and how we schedule our days are mechanisms thought to change our productivity, scent has been shown to have a direct correlation to areas of the brain responsible for focus and motivation, making it a powerful behaviour and mood changing tool if used strategically.

How Does Scent Influence the Brain?
When essential oils (or any scent) are inhaled through the nose, aromatic molecules are carried through the lining of the nasal cavity via small olfactory nerves where millions of sensory neurons lie in a strip of tissue called the olfactory epithelium. The tips of these cells contain proteins called receptors that bind odor molecules. The receptors are like locks and the keys to open these locks are the odor molecules that float past.

People have about 450 different types of olfactory receptors. (For comparison, dogs have about two times as many!) Once an odor molecule binds to a receptor, it initiates an electrical signal that travels from the sensory neurons to the olfactory bulb (a structure at the base of the forebrain that relays the signal to other brain areas for additional processing).

This signal goes to an area on the piriform cortex, a collection of neurons located just behind the olfactory bulb that works to identify the smell. Smell information also goes to the thalamus, a structure that serves as a relay station for all of the sensory information coming into the brain. The thalamus is the "switchboard" of the brain and is the reason why scent often affects our mood and sparks a memory without us being aware of why.

The quick signals from the thalamus to different parts of the brain are what conjure up emotions and even specific memories, like when a whiff of cologne at a department store reminds you of an former boyfriend. This happens because the thalamus sends smell information to the hippocampus and amygdala, key brain regions involved in learning and memory. The effects of some scents such as citrus scent molecules can also travel to the pre-frontal cortex of the brain and affect wakefulness and decisiveness. The effects that certain scent molecules have on the receptors which they are places explain why we feel more energized after smelling coffee and citrus or more calm after smelling lavender.

How to Use Scents Strategically
Although the science of scent has been studied for decades by the perfume industry, there has been a lack of cause and effect related to scent design. Synthetic smells and marketing have turned the art of aroma into a business that puts more emphasis on the shape of a bottle, than the story of the molecules within it. Scents have been used traditionally around the world as a way to prepare for ceremonies, as well as to increase alertness before battles.

Neuroscience is finally catching on to the science behind leveraging the intrinsic functioning of the limbic system to influence moods and behaviors, a practice known as ‘scent association.' This phenomenon is using the same aroma repeatedly for specific tasks and activities to train the brain to associate a specific scent to a certain behavior, or cognitive state. For example, if an aroma with calming notes is used during meditation sessions regularly and then the scent is isolated away from the practice, the brain will still be able to reach the same state of cognitive relaxation, as it has been trained to associate that scent to state. This is also true for experiencing pleasure, and closeness when we smell the shirt of a loved one, or the comforting scent of our home.

Using fresh botanicals or herbs is a nice way to play with scent throughout your day. Here are some of my favorite suggestions for placing botanicals throughout your day:

  1. Use eucalyptus in a hot the shower in the morning, simply wrap a few long and thin branches around your showerhead, to release the scent via vapour of the hot water. Eucalyptus promote deep breathing and helps to open the lungs in the morning. 
  2. Rosemary has been shown to increase memory and attention span. Try keeping a small rosemary plant on your desk or a few fresh twigs of it in your desk drawer  
  3. Citrus helps you to wake up and increase alertness. Try eating an orange around 3 p.m., when most people have an energy dip in the day. After finishing the orange fruit, squeeze the peel for a quick burst of fresh orange oil.
  4. Rosewater as a evening refreshing water, try adding a small amount of food grade rose water extract to sparkling water and enjoy this very feminine drink used in Morocco by women who want to increase their feminine energy and beauty.


Scent Pairings To Try:

  • Peppermint + bergamot invigorating and increases the activity in the brain that wakes us up throughout the day when we go for a coffee.
  • Cedar + lavender have been shown to help to reduce tension and anxiety.
  • Lemon +  rosemary can enhance focus and cognitive performance.

Other great ways of  living with essential oils include: Using them for a simple and effective make-up brush cleaner DIY you can create at home. Or add complex blended essential oils to your daily beauty routine.

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