essential oil bottles on a piece of paper with chemical drawings

Will Essential Oils Work If You Can't Smell

Yes. Essential oils can work even if you don’t have a sense of smell. Whether you use them by inhaling them or applying them on the skin, in both cases there is increasing scientific evidence that certain chemicals in the essential oils can have a physiological effect that can support you. 

But because we’re so used to smelling essential oils it’s not obvious, so let me explain.  


Essential Oils Are Chemicals.

All matter, including us, is made of chemicals and essential oils are no exception. Essential oils are highly concentrated substances and, depending on the essential oil, their composition could have anywhere from 50 to 300+ chemical components. Rose essential oil (Rosa damascena), for example, is one of the most complex. 

Common chemical components you might read about include linalol, found, for example, in bergamot, lavender and geranium essential oils. These components have shown to have calming and antibacterial properties. And there’s the chemical component 1,8 cineole which is found in eucalyptus, spike lavender and rosemary essential oils. It has shown to have antiviral and pain relieving properties.  

The chemical components produce a direct response on the body. The response can be anything from antibacterial, antiviral, pain relieving, calming and anti-inflammatory, to name just a few. Scientific evidence shows that we can rely on a given physical response from a specific chemical component time and time again. So, it doesn’t matter what your prior experience is with the scent, this is a chemical reaction. You don’t have to have smelled the essential oil in the past (using scent memory) to benefit from it.  


How Do Essential Oils Work?

Essential oils work on both a psychological and physiological level.  As far as we know today, people who can’t smell don’t have any psychological effects. But they do have physiological effects. So that means your body will react to the essential oil chemical components, but it won’t react in the mind. 


Using Essential Oils When You Can’t Smell

If we take the example of someone wanting help with a nagging cold, they have two approaches available: 


  1. The inhalation approach: using a personal inhaler or a room diffuser to inhale a blend of supportive essential oils such as Ravintsara (Cinnamomun camphora ct. 1,8 cineole), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) and Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia). 

As you inhale, the essential oil molecules travel through the nose and engage the body in two ways: one way is with the brain, which interacts with the cerebral cortex (thinking, logic) and the limbic system (emotion, memory). The other way is through the lungs.

As of today, we can’t be sure of the psychological response of these essential oils on the mind, but we do have scientific evidence that there is a physical response in the body, in this case the lungs. The essential oil components enter the lungs and then the blood stream producing measurable actions on the body including antiviral, antimicrobial and decongestive actions which help address the nagging cold. Note that inhalation is a quick response mechanism. 


2. The skin approach: using a carrier oil like jojoba wax or coconut oil, for example, you can add the same essential oils (above)  and make a massage oil blend, or a salve to apply on skin.

When applied on skin, you can smell the aroma of the essential oils as they enter the nose (see inhalation mechanism above) which, again, won’t produce a psychological response if you can’t smell. But because the essential oils enter the body through the skin, there is a physical response that doesn’t require you to be able to smell. It takes slightly longer for essential oils to enter the body through the skin than through the lungs. Skin application is a slow-release mechanism. This is great when you want the essential oils to support you over a longer period of time, say at night while you’re trying to sleep.   


So, don’t be deterred from using essential oils if you can’t smell their aroma. They provide wonderful natural, physical support for all kinds of issues. 

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