Aromatherapy is gaining sweet smell of success

August 16, 1993|By Lydia Martin | Lydia Martin,Knight-Ridder News Service

If this page were scented, it might be scented with essence of tangerine, said to bring cheer and light to the ordinary and mundane.

Or maybe marjoram, touted for its ability to ease irritability, worry and tension.

Or ylang-ylang, supposed to help inspire one's appreciation for beauty.

Whatever the essence, we would want you to be feeling good right now. Sort of warm all over. Comfortable. Content. And compelled to continue reading.

You can't get aromatherapy from your newspaper. Yet.

But you can get it from your hair stylist, masseuse, chiropractor, doctor and New Age healer. You can get it flying overseas on some airlines and just minding your own business in some hotel lobbies, hospitals and stores.

Aromatherapy dates back practically to the beginning of time, but it's the latest in beauty, health and soul care. This belief in the power of scent is undergoing a modern renaissance, with scientists, doctors, businesses, beauty experts and spiritualists now paying close attention to the olfactory.

A scent can affect behavior, alter moods, drive sexuality, whet the appetite, invoke contentment, spark vitality and produce serenity, believers say.

"It really does work," says Victoria Edwards, founding president of the American Aromatherapy Association, based in California. "Smell is very powerfully connected to the brain and to memory. Our first memory of a certain scent is the one we hold forever. If as a little girl you had a really pleasant day surrounded by lilacs, every time you smell lilacs you will feel good. If you got a spanking that day, you'll probably have a negative reaction to it."

We have always known the power of the olfactory, but for the most part, we have taken it for granted, ignored it, treated it like a stepchild while we favored our other senses.

"Helen Keller called it the fallen angel of the senses. It just wasn't quite nice to talk about how things smelled," says Annette Green, vice president of the Olfactory Research Fund in New York, established by the perfume industry's Fragrance Foundation to promote research in smell.

Of course, we are trailing behind the Japanese in this endeavor.

In corporate Japan, it has been common for more than a decade for scents to be pumped through air-conditioning units to increase productivity or improve concentration. You can even get an alarm clock that sprays eye-opening fragrances into your bedroom when it's time to get up.

Workers in Japan may be treated to a shot of lemon in the morning to wake them, a stream of rose at lunch to soothe them, a blast of tree-trunk oil in late afternoon to perk them up again.

Richard Dodd of Miami is among the U.S. pioneers in what is known as environmental fragrancing. Some call it Muzak for the nose.

Mr. Dodd's Coconut Grove environmental design firm, International Business Consortiums, gave a local Marriott's lobby custom fragrance last year.

The Marriott treats guests -- via air-conditioning -- to a stress-relieving blend of jasmine, orange blossom, lavender, lemon and peppermint. The setup cost the hotel $12,000, plus $20 a day for refills.

"People have always believed in setting a mood with interior design," Mr. Dodd said.

"You think about the space, the color, the furnishings, the plants, even the music," he added. "But the olfactory is the last of the senses we have thought about from the design standpoint.

"Victoria's Secret does it," he noted. "If you even walk by, you have to notice the distinct potpourri aroma. It creates a very noticeable and pleasurable environment."

Ms. Edwards, of the Aromatherapy Association, who teaches the art of aromatherapy to followers from around the country, says she has developed fragrances for West Coast hospitals, hotels and retail stores.

"I recently did a New Age bookstore," Ms. Edwards said. "The owners wanted people to relax and feel good in the store so they would stay longer and spend more money. We made a blend of eucalyptus, spearmint, lavender, geranium and other things."

We are in the middle of a science-driven olfactory revolution, said Ms. Green, of the Olfactory Research Fund. The evidence includes the following:

* The fund is sponsoring work by Gisela Epple, a scientist at the Montell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia who is looking into the effects of fragrance on stress in children. Her theory is that certain scents children associate with security can reduce their anxiety in stressful situations.

* At Bowling Green State University, psychologist Pete Badia is studying the effects of fragrance on sleep and dreams.

* At the University of Minnesota, psychology professor Mark Snyder is studying the role of odors in social situations -- based on the idea that you can't have a relationship with somebody whose smell you don't like.

* Researchers at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York have found that diffusing the essence of vanilla in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines relieves anxiety for patients.

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