Aromachology, Skin & Spirit

Aromachology, Skin & Spirit

There are new emerging understandings about human functioning that acknowledges we are an interconnected system with little separation between mind, body and spirit: our emotions, for instance, interact with our body and vice-versa. In the ancient eastern philosophies, the internal is mirrored in the external, so for example, the skin is the external component of the internal lungs and is affected by grief and sadness or the inability or unwillingness to let go. In a more modern and western approach, Aromachology, is the scientifically documented study of olfactory effects in humans, and examines how the inhalation of aromatic chemicals can influence mood, physiology and behaviour (Herz, 2009: which stands in contrast to aromatherapy which is not generally scientifically supported. Aromachology attempts to examine how different aromas trigger specific responses in neurotransmitters, hormones, and activation of brain areas associated with emotion and memory to uncover the potential therapeutic applications of scent in areas such as stress reduction, mood enhancement and cognitive performance such as memory and problem solving.

 Parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems (automatic nervous system: ANS) are essential functioning systems of the body that help regulate our physical condition without our direct and conscious intervention. These systems link our brains to our internal organs, glandular, nervous and our physiological functioning such as breathing and heart rate. External factors such as stressful events (and how we perceive these stresses etc.) have an impact on how we operate physically and psychologically. Essentially, those sensory functions that are able to bypass our conscious awareness such as the limbic or “smell brain’, can be easily affected by factors such as natural pleasant aromas and these can have significant impacts on our day-to-day physical and emotional functioning. It has been reported that three quarters (75%) of human emotions are created through smell and are strongly linked to desires, memories and instincts ( which is why smells can trigger strong emotional reactions. In one study, to highlight this connection, menthol was found to lower (ANS controlled) heart rate and skin conductance (effectively how moist the skin is) and these effects were linked to how pleasant the odour of menthol was perceived: the greater the pleasantness the greater the beneficial effects.

In essence, our outward or exterior body health is as affected as much by external factors such as environmental factors (weather, pollution, etc.) as are our internal emotional functioning. We breath in positive scents which relaxes the mind and spirit which also has important physiological impacts on the body (via the sense of smell and lungs) and we are therefore restored both mentally and physically. Importantly, we, as a species, have spent many hundreds of thousands of years living and evolving symbiotically with our natural surroundings and we have a particular need to be near nature, in its many forms (including natural scents and aromas), in order to remain psychologically and physically healthy (Wilson, 1984). One study has shown that peoples olfactory encounter with ‘earthy’ British woodlands had a positive impact on physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and general wellbeing ( When the broad environmental conditions in which we live are optimal for health (physically and psychologically) AND there is equal attention to our personal health (internal and external) we are able to have ideal conditions to maintain our health and longevity.  

Written by Dr Joe Hinds (MSc, PG Dip, DPhil) on behalf of Menteath

Author of Ecotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice 

Buy Book here

In this thought-provoking book, Jordan and Hinds provide a comprehensive exploration of this emerging area of practice. Divided into three parts, the book offers a unique examination of a range of theoretical perspectives, unpacks the latest research and provides a wealth of illuminating practice examples, with a number of chapters dedicated to authors' own first-hand experiences of the positive psychological effects of having contact with nature.

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Wilson, Edward O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-07442-4.

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