By: Kathi Kemper, MD, MPH, FAAP
Aromas hit the nose and go directly to the most primitive parts of the brain, affecting our emotions and nervous system before our higher cortex is even aware of them. Familiar smells such as morning coffee, pumpkin pie baking, grandmother's lavender-scented pillowcases – these are all comforting and reassuring. Retail stores use aroma to entice shoppers to feel comfortable and shop longer. Harsh smells of hospital disinfectants can conjure up fear. The perfume industry invests millions of dollars designing new combinations of alluring fragrances.
Essential oils for aromatherapy
Many massage therapists include essential oils in their massage lotions to combine the benefits of aromatherapy and massage. Hospitals, hospices and clinics around the world are starting to use aromas to help patients feel more relaxed, cheerful, and at ease. The essential oils of lavender, clary sage, neroli, and chamomile are relaxing, reducing agitation and stress and promoting calm. The plant oils from citrus, pine, eucalyptus, cedar, and mint promote alertness, focus, and a feeling of being refreshed.
Be careful with essential oils of plants, though. Even though they are natural, they are strong and some people develop skin irritation if the pure, undiluted oils are applied directly to the skin.
Natural and chemical fragrances & scents
Be aware as you shop for home cleaning products, laundry cleaning products, soaps, personal hygiene products and air fresheners. Some of these products contain natural fragrances from the essential oils of plants, while others are based on new-to-nature chemical imposters that can trigger nasty reactions.
For people who are extremely sensitive to chemical odors, chemical smells trigger headaches, depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, fatigue, and a variety of other unpleasant symptoms. The medical name for this is multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS); people with MCS can experience full-blown panic attacks, confusion, or deep depression when confronted with chemicals to which they are sensitive.
Whenever possible, use natural cleaners such as vinegar and baking soda, citrus oils, geranium, rose or lavender.
About Dr. Kemper
Kathi Kemper, MD, MPH, FAAP is a professor of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. She is member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Section on Integrative Medicine and is the author of Mental Health, Naturally: The Family Guide to Holistic Care for a Healthy Mind and Body, published by the AAP. She is also Editor-in-Chief of the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.