Fragrance and Skincare.

The human being relates to the outside world by five principle senses. This means we have sensors which relate to our biological functions. Many of our bodily functions are controlled by hormones which may simply be called chemical messengers.

Emotions too may be as a result of hormonal activity. In fact emotions and feelings are, in a way, our reaction to chemicals or molecules.

Our skin is an organ that has many functions the obvious one being a barrier to the world. To keep it in good condition it needs water and oil. To assist it to replicate itself it needs a good supply of components via the bloodstream. Most molecules are too big to penetrate the skin so topical application is of limited value unless a conversion process can take place via skin bacteria which may break down for example proteins to their building blocks amino acids. 

Skin reproduction is put simply an anti ageing process. Cellular turnover decreases as we age. The process of ageing is not understood. Somehow we switch off. Skincare can do two things at a cellular level;  preserve or protect existing cells and or stimulate new ones.

Cells are like little factories and seem to possess an innate intelligence. They react as noted above to chemical messages. That means provided  a molecule which is active or contains a message can reach the bloodstream cellular health will be affected. To do this a molecule would have to be very tiny indeed and this would exclude most herbal extracts.

May natural fragrance substances such as found in essential oils are small enough to penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. This is why fragrance has to be used with knowledge. So the skilled use of fragrance can give an effective boost to the immune system as in Aromatherapy but you need to know what you are doing! 

Also when one breathes in a fragrance the molecules reach the lungs and again if the molecule is small enough it will enter the human acting as a chemical messenger. A good example is Lavender which contains molecules of the chemical called Linalyl acetate. This in turn works in the body to release a natural substance called endorphins which are our natural pain killers and relaxing agents.  These we could call happy natural substances. 

How we feel reflects on our skin and we should be in no doubt about this. So if a smell makes us feel good we actually look more radiant. A depressed person has a sallow skin lacking radiance.  So even at a supposedly superficial level the skin is affected by fragrance. That means too that even an artificial fragrance can do us good even though a molecule is too big to enter the body. 

Fragrance then works at different levels from increasing cellular turnover or cell health to the psychology of action and reaction which we can call like and dislike. Different cultures may have a learned or acquired cultural response to certain aromas from mother’s apple pie to curry. Culture may then affect our preferences. Rarely does a fragrance find universal acceptance. The most commonly accepted fragrance is Vanilla followed by Rose. These are the big time favourites.

Often with skincare fragrance becomes an afterthought yet it is fragrance that sets the style. Watch any cosmetic counter and a cream is applied to the skin and then invariably a consumer will sniff the hand or cream. The purchase decision is often made on the smell. If the smell is bland the cosmetic is considered safe, if it has a strong smell it is considered active. Fruity is perceived as not serious, childish or fun. This has to be considered by the manufacturer. For example some Elemis fragrances such as in Milk Bath contribute by its complexity a warm and welcoming smell. Monoi on the other hand has a distinctly appealing sensuous yet deeply relaxing smell.  Both are active aromas. 

Scents can of course be ‘empty’ this is especially true in aromatherapy where cheap or cut oils are used. The initial impact may be there but there is no complexity and so the senses are unsatisfied and the product rejected on the next buying opportunity. Additionally poor essential oils often lose their aroma by degradation. Somehow the senses tell us these products just don’t work they are just bath and bubble fluff so to speak. Such empty aromas are often found in bath and soap products where perfume houses use poor materials to provide fragrance which appears at first to mimic nature bur which does not have the desired effect like sleep induction.

So is it possible for smell alone to improve the skin – definitely yes. Can fragrance molecules be considered actives in their own right – definitely so.