Friday, August 17, 2012

The Science of Scent


When making body care products, soaps, or cosmetics, we all understand that it's very important what scent we use to fragrance the product.  Have you ever wondered why scent is so influential?  Just take a look at the big bath & body stores who market their products for their scent and look along, not necessarily for the benefit of the produdcts themselves.  Scent is the most powerful sense our body uses.  Research has shown that scents can evoke more emotions that images or words.  Fragrances can even trigger emotions that influence conscious thought!


When your nose smells a scent your brain registers the odour in the olfactory bulb, which is in the brain and linked to memory and feeling.  It communicates with the emotional processor and the associative learning center when it registers a fragrance.  When you smell a fragrance for the first time your brain will register not only the smell, but the emotions you feel, the event at hand, and the people or items around you.  Each time you smell that scent in the future, your brain will link to the first time you smelled that scent as well as the emotional state you were in.  This triggers subconscious memories and relations to that smell, which then alter your mood and your perception of things around you.   
   
Wait, what?  Scent can alter your perception?  It's true, scent actually has the shortest path to your brain so your reaction to a fragrance will change your mood and emotional state subconsciously before you even realize it! 

In fact, science is suggesting that scents have a drastic influence on mood, social interaction, and productivity.  In Tokyo some of the major companies will release scent into their offices to evoke certain behaviours; ie. energizing citrus in the morning, calming florals at mid-day, and a minty pick-me-up in the late afternoon.  It is said that the Tokyo stock exchange vents peppermint through the ducts to promote mental alertness and enhance memory retention.   Here are some examples of fragrances and their effects on our psyche:

  • Natural plant odours have a tendency to increase calmness, create a more alert state of mind and a better overall mood
  • Citruses generally uplift and stimulate the mind.  This is because they are more volatile, meaning their molecules evaporate quickly after our nose smells them.  Our brain can sense this quick movement and it produces stimulating results
  • Floral smells generally promote happiness and a positive demeanor.  One study showed that florals have a tendency to promote social interaction
  • Pine is said to be energizing while at the same time releases tension and evokes a connection to nature that is frequently overlooked in daily life.
  • Mint is used to enhance memory and increase alertness.
  • Lavender is universally used for its calming and relaxation properties.
  • Cinnamon is said to fight exhaustion and fatigue while calming down your nervous system and increasing awareness.
  • If you're feeling like you're in a funk, it might help to mow your lawn.  The scent of cut grass may trigger reassuring childhood memories.
  • Vanilla is used widely for its calming, soothing properties.  Studies have shown that people who smell vanilla will have a more pleasant mood and positive perspective. 

The seasons also have an effect on our scent choices; in spring and summer time we are definitely more inclined to choose citruses, such as lemongrass, and clean florals, like our Butterfly Orchid.  In the fall we will gravitate towards cozy scents like Pumpkin Spice, and in winter we tend to choose peppermint andCranberry Fig.  Seasonal scents do make a difference! 



Scent and Colour

A component of scent that we might not be aware of is the relationship it has to colour.  Because the brain brings up images when you smell something, it is important to visualize what the scent looks like.  When test subjects were given a fragrance to smell and a colour was shown at the same time, the test subject was more likely to recognize the scent if the colour was related to it.  For example, if they were given a cherry fragrance they were more likely to guess what it was if they were shown the colour red.  When they identified the fragrance correctly they were more likely to rate its pleasantness higher.  When they were given a confusing combination (ie. strawberry with a green colour) they were less likely to recognize it and deem it a pleasant scent.  This is very important to the cosmetics industry, especially soapmaking.  Creative colour combinations are useful for adding a simulating visual aspect, but when the colour has no relation to the scent it may be off-putting to many people and reduce sales for that item.  In this competitive market you have to be creative and set yourself apart, but the visual aspect of your products should still make logical sense with the fragrance.

How to Incorporate Scent into Everyday Life



A big part of aromatherapy is the ability that scent has to change a person's mood or state of mind. Although essential oils do have therapeutic value, emotions and thoughts are still triggered by fragrance oils as well.   A couple popular ways to enjoy scents are:

  • Use them in a diffuser.  Different fragrances placed around the home at different times of the day can enhance your day to day life significantly.  Try diffusing lavender around bedtime or cinnamon when you're doing late-night work at home.
  • In body care products. Next time you make or purchase soap, lotion, or candles, keep in mind what effect that fragrance will have on you and your customers.  
  • In perfume sprays.  Mix two parts Polysorbate 20 with one part fragrance, stir well, then add it to water and package into a bottle with mister.  You can keep travel sized fragrances for the office, a friend's house, or in the car.   
Although every person is different and will perceive fragrances in their own way, it's valuable to know what potential effect your fragrance could have on the consumer, or even on yourself!  So next time you're formulating a new product keep in mind the huge effect the fragrance will have!

Sincerely,

The Voyageur Team




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