A large body of scientific evidence now points to the fact that Health, Well-being, and Beauty can be determined not only by genetic inheritance (DNA), but also by everyday choices, the way we decide to look after ourselves and relate to others. Each of our cells is a clear reflection of our self-care. It is the result of the lifestyles we ourselves choose and of all the information from the environment (the epigenome) that can modify the behaviour of our cells.
The environment is not just a physical place but everything we perceive through our five senses and more: what we eat, what we breathe, what we look at, what we listen to, what we smell, what we remember…. It is called the Epigenetics of Life.
Of the five senses, smell is the least scientifically explored. Everything we know about it has been discovered in the last 50 years. Two American scientists, Linda Buck and Richard Axel, researched the genes of olfactory receptors and some fundamental mechanisms of the olfactory code, i.e., how odorous molecules and receptors in the nose generate the olfactory message that we interpret as smell. They were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2004 for their discoveries.
But there are still few published scientific studies on the sense of smell (about 5,000 publications), especially compared to those on visual perception (155,000 publications) or auditory perception (84,000 publications). This is probably due to cultural prejudices which, throughout history, have relegated the sense of smell to a sense of secondary importance, because it is more archaic, animalistic, linked to our ancestral side, to primordial periods in which human beings, not being technologically evolved, needed a sensory guide for survival.
Recent scientific research has also demonstrated the close link between the skin and the olfactory system.
According to the study conducted by a group of researchers from the Bochum Ruhr-University and the University of Munster, Germany, and published in 2014 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, the skin possesses certain olfactory receptors capable of picking up certain odorous molecules. So far, the investigation has identified the receptor that stimulated by the aroma of sandalwood activates skin cell repair and wound healing.
This discovery has started to put the sense of smell at the centre of interest of scientists and researchers in medicine, technology, and cosmetics, opening new horizons for the application of scientific aromatherapy.
Today, we can demonstrate that the fragrance of a shampoo, mask, face cream, hand cream or lipstick plays an important role in the multi-sensory and evocative experience we have with ourselves and others through cosmetics and is decisive at the time of purchase.
Cosmetics must not only be functional, but they must also be able to arouse emotions, stimulate all five senses and create a subjective and personal ritual of well-being.
The peculiarity of the olfactory system lies in the fact that it is directly connected to certain areas of the cerebral cortex which are part of the limbic system. This is a part of the amygdala, connected to the hypothalamus which is involved in emotional responses, in the control of the heartbeat and the area connected to the hippocampus and involved in memory and the processing of experiences. This relationship is so relevant that the olfactory system has developed in such a way that odours enter the head almost directly.
The olfactory memory has a deep connection with the perceptual context, as it can record both odours and the sensory context in which they were perceived.
The condition in which an odour evokes memories of the past and generates a positive déjà vu is called the ‘Proust syndrome’, referring to the episode described in the first volume, ‘Swann’s Way’, of the great writer Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’, in which the protagonist, Swann, perceives the smell of Petites Madeleines offered to him by his mother and magically travels back in time to his childhood memories of visiting his Aunt Leonia on Sundays, who offered him a slice of Madeleine dipped in tea.
Smells can trigger involuntary recall of memories and related emotions even in states of deep unconsciousness. One of the important frontier applications in medicine is related to exercises of the olfactory sphere on Alzheimer’s patients to give them better living conditions by bringing back memories from the past. It is as if an Ariadne’s thread existed in the labyrinth of drifting minds, and that this thread was perfumed.
The olfactory memory is a more precise and reliable long-term memory than the conscious one. It is a mnemonic support that conditions learning processes and is capable of stimulating all the other senses: it has been found that memorising a list of words in an environment suffused with a certain odour facilitates the mnemonic act and the evocation of those same words every time that same odour reappears in our nostrils.
The adult nose contains around 10 million olfactory receptors that allow the brain to recognise more than a thousand billion odours. This was demonstrated in an experiment coordinated by Andreas Keller of the Rockefeller University in New York, whose results were published in the journal Science.
Incredible! And the most amazing thing is that olfactory perception is trainable and can improve over time. A fact that makes us reflect on the importance of olfactory education in the lives of our children and young people through the design of olfactory stimulating environments.
The main principle of our idea of future Beauty is Wellness in a Network Wellness perspective, for which an increasingly accurate integration of knowledge is necessary.
At the centre of every study and reflection is always Man, complex Man, who must be sought out in a complex journey starting from himself, who must be supported in that complex journey that is life. We must then try to be an active part of life, from the cell to the cosmos and vice versa.