Could pleasant or unpleasant smells improve or worsen the condition of your skin?
Researchers at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany focused on how skin cells respond to different aromas and scents to monitor how they affect the reaction of the skin cells, what they found was very interesting and sparks a debate as to what possible effects scents in our environment might have on the condition of our skin.
There are nose receptors in our skin
There are more than 350 types of olfactory receptors in the nose, tuned to different scents. About 150 are also found in internal tissues such as those of the heart, liver and gut. Due to this recent research article we now know that there are olfactory receptors in the skin also hence we can now assume that odor can effect the behavior of our skin cells (Busse et al, 2014, "A Synthetic Sandalwood Odorant Induces Wound-Healing Processes in Human Keratinocytes via the Olfactory Receptor OR2AT4" Journal of Investigative Dermatology, august 7th)
As the outermost barrier of the body, the skin is exposed to multiple environmental factors, including temperature, humidity, mechanical stress, and chemical stimuli such as odors that are often used in everyday cosmetic. Keratinocytes, the major cell type of the skin surface layer, express a variety of different sensory receptors that enable them to react to various environmental stimuli and process information in the skin
The researchers tested natural sandalwood oil and seven structurally related sandalwood odorants for significant effect on olfactory receptors in skin cells. Sandalwood oil is a herb and perhaps best known in the west as a sweet, warm, rich and woody essential oil used as is for a body fragrance, and as an ingredient in fragrant products such as incense, perfumes, aftershaves and other cosmetics. Strangely the researchers found that two synthetic odorants Sandalor and Brahmanol at very high dose had a beneficial effect and found no effect from the natural oil. The concentrations of Sandalore used were a thousand times higher than those needed to activate a receptor in the nose, im thinking that it would never be possible to get the natural essential oil into similar concentrations in quantities eligible for this test, and therefore it may explain that fact that it showed no effect in this experiment
My opinion is that nature will always be best when it comes to medicinal effect. The remarkable aspect about this research for me is that odor can actually have an effect on receptors in skin cells that have the ability to detect scents and therefore initiates an effect in response, for example a healing effect as seen here, but maybe also an adverse effect? So as natural herbal oils have a healing effect on the skin and other body cells, could it also be possible for toxic chemical aromas in our environment to have an adverse or negative effect on the cells in our body?
Smells Could Be Toxic To Your Skin?
Receptors that detect smell in the nose are found in other organs of the body including the gut, liver and the skin. As it is established that odor and scents can induce healing via these receptors we can also assume that odor and scents may induce toxicity via these receptors, sentiments cautioned by the lead researchers in this study
Hatt and Mainland both caution that these olfactory receptors are very finely tuned and there is genetic variability in human receptors, so your receptor might be a bit different from your neighbour's. It leaves open the question of whether receptors might differ so much between individuals that the synthetic sandalwood that benefits one person might be neutral or even toxic to another.
There is a boom in cosmetics and air fresheners that contain natural aromas due to the healing effects of aromatherapy, but because it is expensive to produce natural essential oils on the scale that the cosmetic industry require them there focus turns to synthetic chemicals that mimic natural aromas. For example In the past years, the development of synthetic sandalwood molecules has led to a series of substitutes that are often used in cosmetics, deodorants, and perfumes, because the essential sandalwood oil obtained from the East Asian sandalwood tree (Santalum album L.) is quite rare and is therefore an expensive substance. Thus industry seeks to develop new commercially available products and cheaper and "biocompatible" surrogates. But these will never have the healing effects of the natural herbal oils, they will always contain side effects in my opinion.
Take home message
The truth of the matter is that the majority of cosmetics and air fresheners (like the very popular yankee candles) contain toxic chemicals that in time are likely to damage our organs and also the condition of our skin. You should always strive to use natural herbal medicines and essential oils for fragrance and cosmetics and therefore you will reap the healing effects and wont have to worry about the toxic side effects