Have you ever walked along the beach and inhaled the fresh, clean, salty air and felt re-energised? What about certain perfumes or colognes that suddenly stir up nostalgia? Scents grab our attention and can to impact our moods in a very powerful way. Our olfactory centre (responsible for smell) is directly linked to the emotional and memory centres in our brain, all within the limbic system (responsible for emotions, memory and stimulation). Let’s see how closely linked they really are.

The sense of scent

Our sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than any of our other senses and recognition of smell is immediate. Smelling a particular scent can trigger specific memories or moods as a result of associative learning. Remember when we were little, the school nurse would have used rubbing alcohol on our arms before jabbing us with a needle - forever scarred, we’re likely to associate the smell of rubbing alcohol with pain, fear or anxiousness! On a lighter note, the smell of freshly baked cookies could remind us of happy times, or of the person who baked them.

The nose knows

Scents are also highly emotive and can directly influence mood. A number of studies show that the scents we like make us feel good, whereas those we don’t have a negative effect. Positive moods are linked to an increase in productivity, performance and the tendency to help others. One study showed that people who worked in the presence of a pleasant, plant scents reported higher self-efficacy, set higher goals and employed more efficient work strategies than the others. They were also calmer, more alert and in better moods than those in an odour-free environment.

The fragrance of love

Smell is extremely important when it comes to attraction between two people. Research shows that our body odour can help us subconsciously choose our partners. Kissing is thought by some scientists to have developed from sniffing; that first kiss being a primal behaviour during which we smell and taste our partner to decide if they are a match. Eskimo kisses, anyone?

Wake up and smell the coffee

Even businesses have woken up to the true power of scent, or ‘Environmental fragrancing’ and its effect on the customer experience. Hotels are crafting signature scents, cars are sprayed with extra ‘new car smell’ and bakeries and coffee shops natural fragrance will entice us into their shops. Retailers have even used ‘scent marketing’ tactics to encourage us to stay in the store for longer, increasing the chances of our buying something!

Do we fall for it? Whether we’re aware of it or not, our sense of smell is affecting the way we view brands and our purchasing decisions.


This is also a popular use of essential oils – to help us relax, provide mental clarity, to help cope with emotional conflicts and to re-energise us. Looking for a specific kick? Click through the images to see what works for what you need:

Stop and smell the roses

Try to incorporate different smells into your life in different ways – it can be as simple as drinking a cup of mint tea at work, burning a scented candle, soaking in an oil bath or spritzing the air with something delicious.