Smell is one of our most powerful senses. The scent of vanilla sparks feelings of comfort, associated since childhood with freshly baked cookies. That’s because your olfactory system is directly wired to the limbic center, the emotional “heartland” of the brain. A whiff of perfume may either remind you of something positive – say, April in Provence – or recall the unwanted memory of an ex or toxic co-worker who used to wear that brand.
As we get older, especially after age 70, our sense of smell tends to diminish. Some reasons are physiological but disease, smoking, and exposure to harmful particles in the air also play a role. Losing your sense of smell not only lessens pleasures such as eating, it can be dangerous — if, for example, you can’t smell smoke from a fire or a build-up of natural gas.
By the way, “old people smell” is a real thing, and has nothing to do with cleanliness. That grassy or greasy odor, called nonenal, is a natural result of the aging process, resulting from deterioration of the skin’s antioxidant defenses. Both men and women begin producing nonenal around age 40 and hormonal changes such as menopause can make it worse. Since it isn’t water soluble, nonenal stays on the skin no matter how hard you scrub. The good news? You can reduce odor by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting plenty of rest, avoiding stress, not smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation.
What NOT to do? Overdoing perfume to compensate, especially if you can’t tell how much is too much!
Certain scents are known to improve your sleep, boost your mood, relieve stress and make you smarter.
LAVENDER: Cooperation and Relaxation. A bath or shower with lavender-scented gel can send you off to dreamland. A lavender room spray may “encourage” meetings to run more smoothly. (I’ve tried this, and it may be coincidence but it worked!)
LEMON: Brain boosting. Got a big presentation? A UK study found that cognitive performance and mood improved when wearing participants rubbed lemon balm on the inside of their wrists.
ORANGE: Stress, Anxiety, Digestion. Citrus aromas are often useful for curbing stress and anxiety, as well as helping with nausea and digestion. Massage therapists and acupuncturists at the Mayo Clinic augment therapies with mandarin essential oil. Could work for you, too!
ROSE: Anxiety. From calming the nervous system to improving mental strength, inhaling a rose scent produces an anti-anxiety effect similar to diazepam.
SANDALWOOD: De-Stressing. Recent studies have confirmed that this traditional meditative aid and natural sedative also reduces anxiety.
VANILLA: Mood Improvement. There’s a reason we find it so soothing. Scientists have found that this warm, sweet scent activates the limbic system in our brains, conjuring restful emotions and relieving stress and anxiety.
JASMINE: Sleep. This scent increases brain waves associated with deep sleep. That can mean a more restful night and greater alertness the following day.
GRAPEFRUIT – The Multi-Tasker Studies have shown the women wearing a grapefruit scent were perceived to be much younger than their chronological age. Other evidence suggests that the aroma can help curb depression and enhance memory. And researchers at Osaka University in Japan found that sniffing grapefruit reduces food cravings and boosts metabolism. Maybe that’s why that “grapefruit diet” has been so popular!
A few tips about candles
Do you love scented candles, but hate the way they sink down in the middle or leave dark marks on your container or wall? There’s a simple explanation: If the wick gets too long, the flame produces black smoke and the glass your candle’s in can overheat.
Here’s how to get the most from your expensive candles:
- BURN IT EVENLY: The first time you light your candle, let it burn for two hours to ensure that the top is entirely melted and then put it out. Any hardened wax around the sides will tunnel downwards the next time you light it.
- TRIM THE WICK: Use a wick trimmer to keep the wick short – only a few millimeters in length.
- CENTER THE WICK: When you put out the candle (and while the wax is still liquid) re-center the wick. This will prevent it from blackening the container the next time you light it.
- FIX TUNNELING: If a tunnel begins to form, burn the candle for 30 minutes until the edges are soft, then put it out. Allow the wax to cool a bit; then gently push it down with your finger. Re-light and allow the candle to burn for one to two hours to level the wax.