What the Nose Knows: The Science of Smell + Essential Oils

How to Get Started + Pick The Essential Oils That Are Best For YOU.

A few days ago I came across a meme that got me thinking about the power of smell. I wish I could remember the details, but I can’t (at least not completely), which is funny because it was about our ability to remember some things & not others. 😂

It poked fun at the way our memory works — how frequently people seem to misplace their keys, while simultaneously being able to recall situations from decades ago with crystal clear clarity!

The author of the meme explained how the mere mention of a “school cafeteria” could bring forth the smell of hot school lunches, sounds of kids laughing & images of metal lunchboxes from the 80’s.

Now… since I already told you I couldn’t remember the meme exactly – which part do you think I remembered most clearly? 

If you said the school cafeteria (specifically, the smell of the cafeteria) you’d be correct.

That’s because smell is one of our strongest senses! 

And today I’m teaching you how to use this superpower to improve your health. 

The Science of Smell. 

I promise not to get too nerdy on you, but…

Did you know that up until quite recently, scientists had assumed our sense of smell was quite basic? 

Newer research, however, suggests that we can actually discern a trillion different scents!

I know what you might be thinking: 

“How can we discern a trillion different scents when we don’t even have a trillion words to describe them??” 

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that our olfactory system resides in the subconscious parts of our brains. 

In other words, we’re picking up a lot more through smell than we realize! 

One study using PET scans showed that when we smell another person, the parts of our brain associated with social processing light up. So… whether we know it or not, we’re using our sense of smell for all kinds of things.

Which begs the question, what else can we use our sense of smell for?

Improving your health! 

In fact, science has already shown us that certain smells can:

  • Improve memory
  • Reduce pain
  • Alleviate nausea
  • Improve mood
  • Increase focus, and
  • Improve digestion

So… what the heck should you start smelling in order to reap benefits like these?? 

So glad you asked!

Essential oils are the perfect way to put your sense of smell to work for you. 

What Exactly Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts. 

Imagine hundreds (or thousands) of pounds of plants, compressed into a single pound of liquid — that’s how essential oils are made! 

These incredibly potent oils can then be diluted & applied to the skin, dispersed through the air in your home, or even used to make homemade soaps & cleaning products. 

When using an essential oil on your skin, be sure to use a “carrier oil”. Carrier oils are used to dilute & “carry” the essential oil into your skin. I love using coconut oil because it contains skin-nourishing fatty acids & polyphenols, and is probably something we already have in your pantry.

Create Your Essential Oil Starter Kit.

Now that you know what essential oils are, how the heck should you get started with them to improve your health? 

Here are the steps I suggest: 

  1. Pick 5 oils from the list below, based on your personal health goals.
  2. Order your oils from a reputable source, such as Mountain Rose Herbs
  3. Order a carrier oil for dilution (avocado, almond, jojoba, argan, coconut, etc…)  
  4. Order some glass containers: roller bottles, spray bottles, etc…(I love the roller bottles!)
  5. Order a small diffuser for use in your home office or bedroom. 

You’ll notice that all the products I linked above are from Mountain Rose Herbs. I recommend them because their oils are rigorously tested for purity & quality. And, they specialize in certified organic essential oils, working directly with farms throughout the world. However, there are tons of places you can buy essential oils & supplies from – just be sure to do your research! 

NOTE: I do not get any kind of commission for recommending their products!

Okay, time to pick your oils! 

These are my personal favorites, and I’ve listed the health benefits they are most known for. 

1. Lavender 

The classic scent of lavender oil hardly needs an introduction, but it can be described as floral and softly evergreen. Lavender has been shown to promote sleep & relaxation and help people to wake up feeling refreshed. Studies have even shown it can help lower blood pressure and heart rate.  

2. Peppermint 

Peppermint oil has a fresh, minty scent. It can help reduce fatigue & enhance memory.

3. Eucalyptus 

Eucalyptus oil has a clean, woodsy, minty scent. It can help decrease congestion & headaches and improve mental clarity.  

4. Sweet Orange 

Who doesn’t know the sweet, bright smell of orange? Sweet orange oil can help lift the spirits, increase energy, reduce anxiety, and possibly alleviate symptoms of PTSD.

5. Lemon 

This clean, citrus scent is the equivalent of sunshine in a bottle. Not only is it the ultimate mood booster, lemon oil can help purify & freshen the air. This is my favorite for homemade cleaners!

6. Tea Tree

Tea tree oil has a green, woodsy, medicinal scent. It has antimicrobial properties and is another great option for purifying the air in your home or office. 

7. Frankincense 

Sometimes called the king of oils, the use of frankincense dates back to biblical times. It has a sweet, warm, woodsy scent. Studies show it can help with respiratory conditions like asthma and bronchitis, and it can even help relieve pain associated with cluster headaches.  

8. Clary Sage 

Clary sage oil has an earthy, floral, fruity scent. It’s a wonderful oil for reducing stress, and it has been shown to reduce blood pressure and respiratory rate. It can also help enhance focus and memory. 

9. Jasmine 

Jasmine oil has an exotic, floral scent. It can boost your mood, and it may have aphrodisiac properties

10. Sandalwood

Sandalwood oil has a sweet, dry, woodsy scent. It has been used to help alleviate depression and improve focus.  

Putting Your Essential Oils to Use.

Once you’ve received your new oils + supplies, it’s time to put them to work!

There are so many fun ways to use essential oils, but here are five to get you started.  

1. Make some “All Purpose Cleaner”:

In a 16 oz. glass spray bottle, combine:

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 30 drops of lemon oil

2. Create a “Stress Away” Roller 

  • Remove the roller ball from the top of the bottle
  • Add 30 drops of lavender oil or another calming oil
  • Fill the rest of the bottle with your carrier oil
  • Close & shake well
  • Apply to wrists and/or back of the neck
  • Store in your desk drawer or purse 

3. Experiment with your new diffuser 

  • Try sweet orange oil when you feel stressed or anxious 
  • Try sage oil when you’re trying to focus or study 
  • Mix it up, and see how your body responds!

4. Make Some Pillow Spray 

  • Add 20 drops of lavender oil w/ distilled water in a mini spray bottle (100 ml)
  • Lightly spray your pillow before bed for relaxation & easier sleep

5. Peppermint Rub for Congestion

  • Mix 1 part peppermint oil with 3 to 6 parts carrier oil
  • Test on a small patch of skin for any possible allergic reaction 
  • If no reaction occurs, apply the diluted rub to your chest

How to Use Essential Oils Safely.

One common misconception I want to clear up is this:

Natural doesn’t necessarily mean safe! 

Whenever you’re trying something new, it’s important to do so safely. Here are some tips for using essential oils safely:

1. Never ingest essential oils. Although some essential oils can be safely ingested in small quantities, this should ONLY be done under the guidance of a knowledgeable physician. 

2. If applying directly to the skin, always dilute essential oils in a carrier oil. Because allergic reactions can occur, always test on a small patch of skin first.

3. Keep essential oils safely locked away from pets and children. 

4. Store in dark glass bottles & away from heat & light. Some essential oils are combustible. Fabrics stained with essential oil can catch fire in the dryer, and oils left in a hot car can cause car fires.

5. Some essential oils can be toxic to pets, children & sensitive individuals. Before diffusing any essential oil, make sure it’s safe to use around children and pets.  

6. Always read labels. Only purchase pure essential oils. The label should include the Latin name of the plant & the country the plant was harvested in.

Still Curious About Essential Oils?

I hope you’ve found this helpful! 

If you have questions about using essential oils, schedule a consultation with me. 

I can help you choose the best oils and blends, and we can discuss the safe use of each so that you feel confident introducing them into your home & personal-care routine. 



1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24653035/

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8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4700683/

9. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170424141354.htm

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11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35744913/

12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27117114/

13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18041606/

14. https://he01.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/jhealthres/article/view/85772

15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5241490/

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