What is it about a smell that can instantly transport you to a past place or experience with a momentary whiff of an aroma?
How does our brain process a smell and instantly conjure up emotive memories of days gone by, and can a smell do more than giving us a wistful reminder of a past event?
Your olfactory receptors are responsible for processing smells and are made up of approximately 5 to 6 million cells inside your nose, which is an impressive amount of cells to fit up anyone's nose, regardless of how big you might think your nose is.
Smelling is a complex process which triggers the frontal lobe and the limbic system into recognising what we are sniffing. The frontal lobe recognises the odour, while the limbic system is the area that triggers your emotions and brings back the feelings and experiences that you may associate with the scent.
We might not have the nasal capabilities of other animals, but our noses are still amazing, helping us to determine the taste of what we eat, danger, like things we need to stay away from, and also pheromones, indicating to us who we might like to get to know more intimately.
Despite your sense of smell declining with age, it is also thought that our physical and mental state can play a role on what our nose’s pick up, with stress and depression having an impact on smell clarity. In tests women come out on top, having a more defined sense of smell than men, which may explain a lot!
Here are 7 amazing facts about smell, so you can wow your friends with random dinner party conversation starters.
Can you smell that?
Phantosmia is the hallucination of a smell which means that people can smell things that aren’t actually there. If you’ve ever woken up to the smell of coffee when there is none brewing you may have experienced this.
This condition is usually brought on by a nasal infection, migraines, a head injury, or depression, fortunately it’s not normally a serious condition and often subsides by itself, although some people can have this condition for weeks or months.
The first perfumer was a woman
The first known perfumer and chemist was a woman called Taputti who was recorded as living in Babylonia, Mesopotamia (which we now know as modern day Iraq).
She lived around 1200 BC. Taputti made perfume from flowers, oil, myrrh, balsam and cypress and this was used in ancient Mesopotamia as a religious offering #Girlpower!
You could smell before you are born
You began picking up aromas from the outside world while you were still in the womb, taking in the scents that were around your mother. That’s why a newborn already recognises their mother’s scent over other people's as soon as they are born, helping them nose in on where their food and protection is.
When a mum-to-be eats, her baby absorbs the smell of what she has consumed.
Maybe that’s why a strong curry is recommended in the last few days of pregnancy to help bring on labour, the smell must be overpowering for the unborn baby.
The chemicals within perfumes and beauty products can also be detected in the amniotic fluids that the baby is in. All the more reason to use natural perfumes in pregnancy.
He smells so sexy
What is it about that person you have just met that is just so incredibly sexy? Your friends can’t see the attraction so why can you?
The attraction may not be down to what your bae looks like physically but because of how they smell.
But be careful ladies, you can’t always trust those phero’moans’, as your nasal attraction may well be be heightened during ovulation, meaning you're smelling ‘Sex God’, but your friend who is not ovulating is smelling ‘Sweat God’, and the distinct need for a bar of soap.
Is your smell Saint or Sinner?
In days gone by the Catholic church could detect a saint by the smell they gave off just before or after death.
The ‘odour of sanctity’ was likened to the scent of flowers, and omitting this scent on dying was a sure fire way of getting to spend an eternity in heaven.
There were additional heaven points if your stigmata wounds smelt floral too!
Deodorant was made to prolong the life of silk stockings
The first deodorant that achieved worldwide commercial success was MUM, named after the nickname of the female inventor of the product. Invented in 1888, MUM’s deodorant offered protection from stinky pits, stinky feet and had the added selling point that when applied to the feet it would make your silk stockings last longer.
Originally supplied in small tins, it wasn’t until 1952 that Helen Barnett got inspiration from the ballpoint pen to create the first MUM roll on deodorant.
Thank God for MUM!
Ever wondered why that decadent perfume you love so much costs an arm and a leg? It could be because Rose Absolute is one of the most commonly used essential oils in perfumery today and it takes over 240,000 roses to make 5mls of this exquisite essential oil.
Extracting the oil is labour intensive with workers harvesting the flowers by hand in the morning and the oils being extracted on the same day, so next time you're dousing yourself in fine perfume, spare a thought to its origin.
Your nose and sense of smell is truly miraculous, so make sure to reward it with some sweet aromas.