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What does smell do to us?

What does smell do to us?


We don’t realize it, but we smell all day long. Fragrances are all around us. We are only used to relying on our nose and are not always aware of smells. But we do react to smell, even if we don’t consciously notice smell. So smell plays an unnoticed but very important role in our lives. When you try a new care product, what do you do first? Right, you smell it. If the smell is not pleasant, you probably will not buy the product.

Aromatherapy is in fact the conscious use of (natural) fragrance. This can be to create a certain atmosphere, but it can also be that with a certain essential oil a targeted therapeutic action is initiated. Aromatherapy, whether you like it or not, affects body and mind. Everyone knows the influence of smell. Just ask yourself and bring out a fragrance from the past. This memory almost certainly goes hand in hand with a feeling or emotion.

Memories and associations

The period from birth until one turns six is ​​the most important period to build a memory for scents. Fragrances that are now smelled are associated with images of the past from our early years. With natural scents we can consciously evoke this memory. For example, the scent of pine oil can bring back memories of holidays and walks in the forest and therefore give you a good feeling. Pine oil can create an unpleasant feeling in someone who was once lost in the forest as a child. Natural scents can therefore bring back memories and thus also give a pleasant feeling and / or a feeling of cheerfulness and joy. Thus, fresh scents such as citrus, pine and peppermint can cheer up tired people, while others will find more peace with these scents.

Fragrance is also closely linked to atmosphere. Lemon scent is often associated with clean and fresh. Dishwashing liquid is often supplemented with lemon scent for a reason. That has nothing to do with the effect of lemon, but with the feeling of cleanliness that is emphasized again and again by advertising. If it smells like lemon, many people think clean.

The limbic system

The limbic system is an old part of the brain that has to do with emotion, motivation, pleasure and (emotional) memory. It is largely related to survival. Most animals have a well-developed limbic system. This part of the brain is actually responsible for our emotional response to our environment. Here the smell is not only perceived, but actually experienced. This part of the brain used to be called olfactory brain. This also includes our emotional response to injuries, illness, danger and stress.


It is therefore easy to understand that smell, memory and emotion are so closely linked. Fragrances and smells go directly into this limbic system and thus in fact into the unconscious. We consciously use scents in aromatherapy. This is how well-known and positively appreciated scents can awaken us. It is also interesting that fears, depression, concentration disorders, autism and even dementia can be positively influenced. The strong effects on the human psyche have promoted the use of essential oil and thus aromatherapy.  

How do oils work in aroma psychotherapy?

Just like seeing, hearing, feeling and tasting, you will only experience smelling when the scent signals have reached the brain. Fragrance is then translated by all kinds of processes in the brain and other systems by the so-called olfactory (sense of smell) system. For example, a floral scent is translated into a smile around the mouth. A smell is first noticed in the nasal mucosa, which is located in the upper part of the nose, behind the bridge of the nose. This olfactory mucosa contains olfactory nerve cells, which send the odor molecules through holes in the screen bone to the brain. Above the screen bone there are bulges in the mucous membrane (cilia) where the molecules bind to so-called receptors (special recipients of certain odor molecules).



Aromatherapy and the essential oils used have a direct and indirect effect on the brain, releasing substances that can influence our emotional life and emotions. For example, the body’s own morphine-like substances are released, such as endorphins and encephalins. These chemical messengers are substances that favorably affect our well-being and help treat anxiety and depression. They are important pain suppressants. Studies have shown that certain smells have an effect on the brain waves. For example, oils of orange, rose and lavender can change the pattern of brain waves to a rhythm that leads to peace and tranquility in humans. Rosemary, basil and black pepper, however, stimulate the brain waves to active patterns and therefore have a stimulating effect.

The nose determines!

In order to have the desired effect on the psyche, it is important that the fragrance appeals to someone. A regular change of scents is also a good thing. Scents give associations with certain circumstances and events. If one evaporates a certain odor while feeling anxious, this odor will be linked to fear. Or a clearer example: if you always use a certain smell on the toilet, that smell will remain associated with it.

The perception and appreciation of scents therefore differs from person to person. And that makes the use of oils so interesting in practice!

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