The use of aromas as a prelude to romance is nothing new. It is thought that perfume has existed for more than 5000 years, and the acknowledgment of the role that aromas, both natural and formulated, play in our connection to one another is still being recorded in ways that are poetic, scientific and sometimes simply entertaining.
In a recent episode of Greys Anatomy, a new mother speaks of wrapping her baby in her shirt when she cannot be at home to calm her. The doctor, with whom she is in an amorous embrace, nods, acknowledging that it is her scent that brings comfort even when she is not present. At the end of the episode she repeats the ritual in pursuit of a different result and leaves her shirt behind in the bed where they just made love. This is a perfect example of the compelling nature of aromas and their irresistible effect on human beings.
It has been well-documented that certain smells can trigger behavioral changes. If you have ever applied a few drops of the essential oil of lavender to your pillowcase to help you sleep, you may have noticed that the aromas calming effect either helped you fall asleep, or helped you to remain asleep throughout the night. Some hard evidence on why this charming remedy works can be found in numerous studies that document lavender oils ability to boost the production of beta-endorphins, the feel-good neuro-chemicals produced by the body that impart a sense of mild euphoria. While their effects cannot override a shot of espresso, lavender seems to be able to whisper a subtle message to the brain to relax and, more often than not, the brain forwards that message to the body.
In addition to helping them sleep, many people look to the power of aromas for some assistance in the romance department. We all know what scents we like; but, somewhere in the regions of our brain where conscious recognition of pleasing aroma occurs, lay the frontier of fragrance called pheromones. The word pheromone comes from the Greek word phero which means "to bear." It was first used in the 1950s by insect researchers to define the chemical messages transmitted among members of a species that would influence their behavior. Anyone who has observed a trail of ants has seen pheromones in action; but, the most widely documented pheromone phenom for humans is menstrual synchrony. In fact, most of the women I know have been a part of that seemingly odd occurrence where all the females living or working in close quarters eventually cycle together, and research has confirmed that pheromones are the mitigating factor.
It is said that our sense of smell is the most primitive, and perhaps the most sophisticated and misunderstood of our senses. Aromas unquestionably have the ability to take the most direct path to our moods. The mucus membranes of our olfactory system are the only place in the human body where the central nervous system is directly exposed and can come in contact with, the environment. When an olfactory receptor cell is stimulated, an impulse travels along the olfactory nerve to the limbic portion of the brain where emotional memory, (i.e., happiness, hunger, sexual response) is stored. Before we even become consciously aware of an aroma, our subconscious mind has already received and reacted to it.
This phenomenon is the foundation on which a portion of the practice of aromatherapy is built. Aromatherapy is the holistic therapeutic modality in which essential oils, either through direct (contact with the skin), or indirect (inhalation) application, are used to promote well-being. While aromatherapy can be an undisputed remedy for some practical healthrelated issues (Tea Tree oil has been proven to be an effective anti-fungal agent for treating, among other things, athletes foot.) aromachology is that specific branch of aromatherapy that focuses on the use of airborne aromas and the emotional and physiological response we have to them.
To date, the identification of a human pheromone that can definitively sway courtship behavior and the selection of sexual partners has not been achieved in a way that stands up to scientific scrutiny. And it doesnt take a scientist to be skeptical of the effects of experimenting with substances from other species. In other words, the same essence that can guarantee hot, monkey, love-making (if you are a monkey) may force you to sip your martini all alone in a well-ventilated corner of the Monkey Bar.
So, if Love Potion #9 still does not exist, what is the best aromatic strategy for seduction? Well, that depends. In a paper published in the Oxford Journal of Behavioral Ecology, scientists noted that how we smell, how others respond to that smell and how we respond to others may be inherently linked to an internal genetic match-making system. The researchers found that humans and other vertebrates consistently preferred the smell of partners who had a MHC (major histocompatibility complex) that was different from their own. This exhibited preference would translate to the production of offspring possessing a genetic profile that would be characterized with a hearty and responsive immune system thus, ensuring their survival.
The other interesting aspect of this study was the data collected in surveys that asked participants to rank their personal preference for aromas when selecting fragrance for their own use. Respondents showed a marked preference for aromas that enhanced the characteristics of their own naturally-occurring body odors which, researchers noted, would essentially amplify the broadcasting signal of their unique genetic profile. If aromas were always selected in this manner, the resulting fragrance would not necessarily attract the mate of our desires, but it would increase the likelihood of attracting an ideal genetic match for breeding. It would seem from these experiments that ones ideal personal perfume would then need to be formulated much as perfumes were hundreds of years ago, on an individual basis. Of course, to capture the heart of a specific partner, his or her personal preferences would need to guide the formulation instead.
If there is already an established attraction between partners, and you like the way a particular perfume smells on your skin, chances are that he will, too. It also is worth asking him to smell an aroma and the nuances it takes on when it marries with your own body chemistry. That aromatic transformation from brand perfume to signature scent is what I whimsically refer to in my aromatherapy classes as the individuessence of a fragrance. It is the synergy of many factors including chemical constituents, body temperature, pH and environmental factors which will determine if any given fragrance blossoms, or sours, on the surface of your skin.
So, selecting the fragrance that will spark romance is, by nature, a process of experimentation, trial and error and on-the-spot opinion polls. But even though we always knew that the marketing promises touted by the perfume industry were a fantasy, we will still occasionally ask ourselves, and perhaps even each other: What fragrance will captivate and seduce the object of my desires? The simplest answer to the question is: your favorite fragrance.
A few tips on wearing fragrance:
- Dry skin will not sustain a fragrance application as long as oily skin so,apply a light layer of unscented oil or oil-based body lotion before applying fragrance to the skin.
- Apply, but do not rub, perfume on pulse points such as the wrist, inner elbows, breastbone (sternum) and sides of the neck.
- Do not put on perfume if you're sunbathing. Certain chemicals commonly found in perfumes can cause severe hyperpigmentation when exposed to UV rays.
- If your skin does not tolerate fragrance well, you can try applying fragrance to your clothes instead. Good quality perfumes will not stain your clothes but may ruin costume jewelry (the alcohol content can strip a layer off your pearls as well).