When asked about the sense of smell you would probably describe it as the use of your nose to perceive odors. In Aromatherapy we highly value the sense of smell because we are working with aromas. Interestingly enough, this sense uses more than just the nose. We have known for some time that the sense of smell is also tied to the brain. However, recent research has discovered that smell receptors exist outside of the head.
The NY Times reported that in the 1990s “biologists first described the inner workings of olfactory receptors — the chemical sensors in our noses. … Over the last decade or so, scientists have discovered that odor receptors are not solely confined to the nose, but found throughout body — in the liver, the heart, the kidneys and even sperm — where they play a pivotal role in a host of physiological functions.” Now scientists say that these receptors exist in our skin as well.
A German biologist was quoted as saying, “More than 15 of the olfactory receptors that exist in the nose are also found in human skin cells.” He mentioned that exposing one of these receptors to a synthetic sandalwood odor known as Sandalore sets off a cascade of molecular signals that appears to induce healing in injured tissue. Scraped skin healed faster when Sandalore was nearby prompting scientists to conjecture that it could “lead to cosmetic products for aging skin and to new treatments to promote recovery after physical trauma.”
Studies have been conducted primarily using synthetic odors, probably because they are less expensive and easier to standardize. I would imagine that the use of odiferous essential oils extracted from plants would have the added benefit of being from natural materials. We may see the introduction of beautifully scented skin products that offer novel advantages for skin health.
Dr. Hatt, one of the original scientists to study the olfactory receptors, has found them “in several other organs, including the liver, heart, lungs, colon and brain. In fact, genetic evidence suggests that nearly every organ in the body contains olfactory receptors.” He, and others, have studied these receptors and found that they may not only help with skin tissue repair, but may also inhibit the spread of cancer cells.
This is a new and exciting area of science, but in spite of “recent advances, scientists have matched just a handful of these receptors to the specific chemical compounds they detect.” Using scents to help with serious health issues may be a long way off, but I am excited at the idea of using scents in a different approach.The future may be healthier and better scented than ever.