Thursday, January 11, 2007


Aromas stimulate many reactions which a recent Los Angeles Times newspaper article about the subject written by Judy Foreman caused me to think about. I recall the days before so many items were commercially available for pleasuring or distressing our sense of smell. I do remember a time when the "next big thing" in movies was purported to be experiencing the actual smells associated with the movie being seen. I never had that movie smell experience, can't even recall what they called it. All I can think of is "Smellavision" but somehow I don't quite think that's it!

During the mid-sixties, in my younger days, I found myself unexpectedly involved in a discussion of smells, odors and aromas. I remember accompanying to lunch with his friend, the host at the time of the local TV audience participation talk show with which I was associated. Probably now, not many would remember this actor turned mid-west talk show host whose professional name was Dean Miller. He made a few Hollywood movies in the 1950s and early '60s. He was probably best known as a character in a successful TV sitcom series December Bride which aired for several years. The show also propelled names like Harry Morgan (TV's "Mash",) Lyle Talbot ("Carol Burnett Show",) Fred De Cordova ("Tonight Show with Johnny Carson) and others along their television career path. When Dean Miller, departed our local TV show scene, he purchased an Ohio radio station, then later became a TV newsman in Detroit for a number of years. His picture can be seen seventh row, third photo from the left.

What I remember most about that lunch was the intense discussion with which Miller and his friend were engaged. They were exchanging ideas about how they could create a saleable item of some sort which would circulate an aroma through a person's home. If they could come up with a reasonably priced product, then they had to find a way to get it manufactured, possibly by setting up a company to do so. Marketing, of course, would be the next step. At one point my input was solicited, which was a mistake on their part, since I lacked enthusiasm for the whole idea. This was because I experienced sensitivity to some smells, so I had long since avoided incense, other odiferous items, many perfumes, and told them I would not be buying their product, if they ever came up with one. Little did I know their idea was prime for getting in on the ground floor of what has become a burgeoning industry.

Now, when I go to even my neighborhood market there are more products infused with a choice of aromas than I can name, from deodorants, dispensers simply plugged in to light sockets, to cleaning substances, candles and more. To this day I generally avoid aromas via fresheners, aromatic candles or other in my home, preferring odorless products. Most perfumes don't seem to bother me, but I use only certain ones, lightly, and never when I work, lest I encounter some poor soul in the process of recovering their health who might have an unwelcome reaction to aromas.

Some years ago I recall standing in an outdoor line at Universal Studios behind a woman whose perfume had the most over-powering aroma to which I had ever been subjected. I've been exposed to towns with the odors of paper mills, meat rendering plants, countrysides with stockyards, plain ole manure-filled barnyards or chicken coops, and out houses, but none affected me like this. I didn't find the actual aroma objectionable like some of those I just named, but whatever created the aroma of this woman's perfume caused the inside of my head to feel as though it had been set on fire -- an allergic reaction, I guess. I don't know if the composition of her perfume was from natural sources or aritifical chemical ones, but that fact then was of little matter to me. I just wanted relief.

This all came to mind when I read Judy Foreman's Los Angeles Times article "The spell of smells." The subtitle of her article is "A pleasant scent may lift your mood, but there's little science behind aromatherapy" which is defined as "the use of plant oils to improve well-being." Seems there continues to be a group of proponents for the use of aromatherapy. Ms. Foreman reports there's very little data as to the effectiveness of aromatherapy, but some researchers at Ohio State University, with federal funding for a study, are analyzing data on the subject. Three different research study groups have been exposed to lavender, supposed to be a relaxant, or lemon which is supposed to be stimulating or uplifting, or just odorless distilled water. I think it will be interesting to learn what their research reveals.

Other research on which Ms Foreman reports includes "Dr. Charles J. Wysocki, a behavioral neuroscientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia...has spent more than 30 years studying smell." He reportedly found the benefits to be weak, if at all, for the results cited in some claims for lowering blood pressure, with "pleasant odors such as rose, jasmine and lavender."

Other aromas have been the focus of researchers for effectiveness in alleviating various medical conditions i.e. anxiety reduction, pain relief with hospice patients and cancer patients receiving radiation. The results indicated benefits were questionable or not much more than other treatments, or even "not beneficial."

Wysocki is quoted as saying "It's very difficult to demonstrate positive effects" from odors...but, in contrast, easy to demonstrate mood swings in the negative direction." Ms Foreman summarizes his view that "Reactions to odors are also highly conditioned" so we each may have quite a different perception based on our circumstances and experience when we first encountered the odor. Other researchers, she reports, have concluded "expectations also play a huge role in reaction to scents" -- if people expect to feel better, they may.

Foreman also wonders, following a lavender oil massage, to what do you attribute feeling better? "Is it the massage? The oil being absorbed into the skin? The scent of the oil? The attention? All of the above?" I agree with her "take." She suggests, "Enjoy a nice, warm, scented bath if you want to relax. But don't count on the expensive bath oil to help anyone but the company that sold it to you."

That's also what I think about most products being sold to supposedly preserve an aging individual's youthful appearance. All who seek to be perpetually young-looking would be well-advised to examine research carefully and beware, the marketers are zeroing in on your emotions and your pocketbook.


  1. What an interesting posst! I react negatively to lots of smells. One of the smells that drives me crazy in public places like the underground is the smell of baked goods. No doubt they are there to make you instantly crave and rush and buy cookies or pastries, but I find it very annoying. I also react pretty badly at people who wear scent with verbena or anything very strong. I have been offered perfumes and usually spray some for a couple of days and then forget about them. Not my thing

  2. A very interesting post. I can remember the show December Bride and most of the people you named with it, but I have no memory of Dean Miller, even after I saw his photo.

    Most aromas don't bother me, but some women put on so much perfume that the smell of it sickens me, even though in smaller applications, it might be fine. It used to be particularly bad in elevators, I recall.

    Aromatherapy is one of those "disciplines" I have questioned for years. There is no question in my mind that the addition of essential oils to a massage makes the experience better and more pleasant, but I doubt the healing power touted by some can be attributed to the oil. Better the laying on of hands and the attention paid to the person is the answer to feeling better.

  3. Claude: reminds me, when I was readying our home for sale I followed advice and heated cinammon and sugar in the oven just before the real estate agents came to tour -- m-m-m good aroma!

    Kenju: I never saw "Dec. Bride" so can't comment on his role. His TV talk show hosting stint was short-lived on that pgm seen over 3-state area, which is probably why there's no mention of it in his biography.

  4. I, too, have difficulty with some perfumes. I need to remind my mother occasionally not to apply certain perfumes just before she gets into the car with me.

    I've also shifted to liquid detergents because some of the fixatives and scents in granular detergents make me sneeze.

    I have a small crockpot that is used for simmering potpourri. I use it in the winter with cinnamon sticks. I can see why that scent would help to sell a house! *G*


  5. Jorad
    I too used the cinnamon stick and orange peel and a tad of vanilla to freshen the smell when we sold our house. Once we looked at a house for sale and the real estate agent(a guy) was baking cookies to give away but also for the homey smell.

    Interesting post.

  6. Good reminder to me today especially with it so wintery outside. I use aroma therapy and have a little soapstone dish that I can put a candle under and some drops of oils known to illicit this or that-- depending on what this or that is. I don't like any perfumed lotions for my skin and go out of my way to buy unscented in anything. If I want to add perfume, I want to choose it. I have walked out of stores that had too much fragrance that I suppose was intended to inspire buying something, but in me only inspired escape.