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The science of essential oils and aromatherapy makes total scents

The science of essential oils and aromatherapy makes total scents

The olfactory cortex is part of the brain responsible for processing our sense of smell, and because it is part of the limbic system, it is connected to our memories and feelings. We’ve all experienced catching a whiff of a scent and being emotionally and mentally ‘transported’ to a situation from our past, or remembering a certain person. And studies have shown that scent affects brain activity and cognitive functions. But not all scents are created equally.


‘Fragrance’ is a generic name given to any chemical cocktail present in a product. There are approximately 4,000 fragrance chemicals used by the fragrance industry worldwide, but 0 of them are listed on any product label. This is because fragrance formulations are considered intellectual property so ingredient disclosure regulation does not apply. What’s more, one fragranced product can contain up to 300 chemicals, all undisclosed, unregulated.

The biggest concern though, is that “There are chemicals in fragrances that do cause [cancer and reproductive effects], we know this from animal studies,” Alexandra Scranton, director of Science and Research for Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE). Same trends are showing in men’s reproductive health, where chemicals in fragrances have been linked to an alarming global decline in sperm count. And although fragrance chemicals are tested for safety, they are not tested when in combination with other chemicals or repeated exposure throughout someone’s lifetime.


Essential oils, on the other hand, are plant extracts that retain the scent of the plant. Extraction methods vary from pressing to steaming various parts of the plant, with the result being the oil responsible for the plant’s scent, which can be potent. When applied correctly to beauty and self care products, the oil will retain its scent throughout the use of the product.

The scent from essential oils is processed through the same olfactory and limbic systems in the brain, so the psychological benefits of positive emotions or memories being triggered can be enjoyed without fear of toxicity from synthetic fragrance chemicals. Essential oils to our nose is like music to our ears, and when we find the right ‘notes’ we experience pleasure, relaxation or happiness. All of which are great for mental well-being.


More than a scent though, essential oils are linked to health benefits which vary from plant to plant - this is the centuries-old practice of aromatherapy. Whether we inhale the molecules through our nose, or absorb them by direct contact with the skin, the essential oils travel to our brain where they can make a positive impact.

Although lab studies showed promising results that aromatherapy can be effective against certain bacteria, there hasn’t been enough research done to conclusively determine how effective this is in humans.

Like any substance that enters our body, it’s important to practice caution and always do your own research into the ingredients and manufacturer to ensure you are satisfied. It is not recommended to ingest essential oils (unless they are from a reputable, trusted and certified source) or use them in home diffusers. However oil rubs and correct use in beauty products is considered safe.

So although the remedial benefits from essential oils and aromatherapy is an area that requires more research, one thing can be said for certain - they are a safe, natural and effective option for our mental well-being.

And with recent studies showing that a hot bath or sauna can have similar health benefits as exercise, there’s never been a better reason to soak in a steamy bath with a BAR OF HOPE bath bomb or soap, scented exclusively with captivating essential oil blends. Or if you’re in a rush - a BAR OF HOPE shower bomb.

Until next time, stay clean,