Sunday, May 31, 2015

Smell and Emotion

Recently at a market, a woman smelled all of my soaps in a typical fashion but paused when she got to my Oatmeal, Milk & Honey bar. To me, and many others, this soap smells a bit like an oatmeal cookie with slight almond notes. This woman, I'd guess around 60, was transported to somewhere far away for a few seconds. When her mind returned to the present, she said that smell, for whatever reason, reminded her deeply of her times in a Catholic school as a young girl. The psychologist in me wanted to reply with, "Tell me more about that," but I realized it was a weekend and I wasn't at that job. So instead I decided on, "Did your Catholic school bake a lot of oatmeal cookies?"

Smell is often overlooked as an important sense. If you'd have to lose one as an adult, well, smell seems to pose the lease impact on daily living. This decision makes sense. However, without smell the evocation of strong emotions and memories linked with certain smells, will obviously no longer happen. Eating foods will  be abysmal as well. Functionality is intact as to not create major dfficulties in getting through the day but the question then becomes, what happens to the extras?

The olfactory bulbs in our brain are right next to our limbic system. Of all the senses, smell has the closest and fastest access to this part of our brain. Why is this important? The limbic system is the place where we store many memories and emotions. Because of this, scent can create a warm, comforting emotion within milliseconds, or it can be quite repelling.

"The linkup between nose and brain likewise holds considerable interest. The olfactory bulbs extend some of their axons directly into the limbic system of the brain, the celebrated seat of emotions, sexuality and drive. Odor information thus goes from nose to bulbs to limbic system, a much more direct route than that traversed by visual and auditory input. Olfaction may be an ancient sense, perhaps the hoariest of them all; but its wiring to the brain is sweet and pithy."

The scents we use in our soaps and bath products are largely plant based. Fresh air, foliage, flowers, citruses, these are generally scents that evoke euphoric feelings in all of us. Our soaps are scented lightly so that they aren't overpowering. I have been known to get a headache if someone in the room is wearing too much perfume. With that in mind, our scents are light, refreshing, and comforting.

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