Scents and sensibility

Posted by Teresa Foo seet Wei on

Babies start to develop sense of smell at around 10 weeks old in the mother's womb and that is quite an amazing development. As babies grow from toddler to teens, teenager to adulthood, the development of smell can be quite profound.

We learnt that some scents smell better than others and sometimes just by looking at the object, we can visualise how it will smell. Have you also noticed that our body scent changes with our mood? We can even detect if someone smells angry or dangerous (source). 

So how does scents affect us in our daily lives?

We know what to expect when a festive holiday is about to begin as our brains have grown to accustom scents during the season and make associations with it. We will expect to smell lots of mandarin oranges, pineapple tarts, Nian gao (glutinous rice cakes), Ang bao (smell of money!) and not forgetting new sets of clothes and accessories. We can also smell rain before it happens (chemical compounds of smell travel fast). 

We feel happy when we smell something that is familiar like our mother's cooking, our favourite cup of coffee or tea, our favourite flowers, perfume and even people we love. Why we avoid smells or odours that turn us off may be due to a few reasons. It could be the scent/odour is naturally awful or it could be the scent/odour was present in the event of an incident or situation that has caused us unhappiness and our brain has registered it permanently in the hardware. 

What is the difference between natural and synthetic scents?

Natural scents are derived from plants or animals (such as musks). The chemical compounds found in natural scents are complex and never the same. Take a batch of Lavender flowers grown two years ago and the current year, and both will smell somewhat the same (with regular noses) but well-trained noses will be able to detect the slight nuances in the scent of the flowers. A lab analysis will also display that the chemical compounds found in the two batches will differ. This is because the health of the Lavender flowers, conditions of water, soil, air, etc all have an effect on the growth of the plants.

Synthetic scents on the other hand are chemically created (mostly from petroleum) or may have started from naturals but have been chemically modified in a lab to recreate a natural scent such as musks, food and even human body odour. Some synthetic scents or fragrances contain phthalates such as Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate that is listed as a "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" by the National Toxicology Program (source). Phthalates can be found in the wall papers, flooring, household cleaning agents and even children's chewing toys. Ongoing tests are being carried out to determine how toxic phthalates can have on our lives. 

Can you be addicted to scents?

There may not be a conclusive study to show how we are addicted to scents but everyone does like to smell good scents. Do you feel uneasy or out of sorts if you have forgotten to spray your favourite perfume before you leave your home? Does that make you self-conscious that you may smell awful? Most often, it can be our mind playing tricks. Indeed some people may have particularly stronger body odour than others and that can be resolved with proper hygiene and also healthier food choices. The food that we consume does affect how our body emits odour (source). 

Sometimes getting to work in the morning can be quite stressful to me as I am constantly bombarded with bodies heavily scented in perfumes which can give me headaches. Have you felt that way too?

I have been on a 'scent detox' every now and then where I do not wear any perfume or use unscented body products. I do not diffuse essential oils, burn candles at home, at the studio or in the car. When I free my nose from all the onslaughts of smells whether the source is synthetic or natural, I feel that my nose is able to work better. I can smell better and able to detect what is natural or synthetic. Maybe you should give it a try and go body, home, office and car-scent free. I would love to hear about your experiences. 

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