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The Nose Knows: Could Certain Scents Keep You Healthy All Winter?

These five essential oils may help you feel your best.


You already know that a spritz of perfume can instantly make you feel more put together, but did you know that scent can also be a powerful source of natural medicine? Our olfactory system, or the complex system of nerves and glands responsible for smell, is often hit hard by illness (as we know, loss of smell is a common Covid symptom). Yet this system can also help us heal from seasonal colds and other bothers. How? When we use certain scents as potential natural remedies for illness.

The centuries-old practice of aromatherapy, or the use of scents for therapeutic benefits, can lift our mood and calm down stress. It also may be effective in easing pain, headaches, and other symptoms. The science of scents is fascinating, and if you’re not feeling well, it’s worth taking a sniff of one of these five scientifically-endorsed essential oils for health. These fragrances just might perk you up.

1. For Muscle Pain: Try Chamomile

If more time sitting and less fun outdoors has left you stiff and sore, soaking in a chamomile-scented bath (or massaging chamomile oil into sore spots) may put the spring back in your step. In a scientific review, Case Western Reserve University resesarchers noted that chamomile’s volatile oils pass easily through skin to tamp down tissue inflammation, relax tight muscles, and calm pain nerves. Try adding 10 drops of chamomile oil to shampoo or stirring it into your bath. Or mix four drops into a tablespoon of any carrier oil and massage into sore spots using slow, circular motions.

2. For Happiness: Try Bergamot

When gloomy weather leads to gloomy moods, breathing in the sweet, citrusy aroma of bergamot oil may boost cheer, say scientists at Brigham Young University. The study found that just 15 minutes of exposure to bergamot essential oil improved the subjects’ moods, leading the authors to conclude that bergamot “can be an effective adjunct treatment to improve individuals’ mental health and well-being.” How? Bergamot contains plant compounds that are believed to tamp down the body’s release of energy-sapping stress hormones. To experience the speedy mood-boost, savor a warm cup of bergamot-scented Earl Grey tea.

3. For Headaches: Try Mint

The next time a thudding headache threatens to derail your day, reach for peppermint or spearmint essential oil. The mints’ aromatic compounds (menthol and menthone) may relax spasming neck and scalp muscles and improve blood flow. According to a study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, nasal application of menthol is an effective natural tool for easing migraine symptoms. For speedy relief, mix four drops of either mint oil into a dollop of lotion and firmly massage into your neck, forehead, and temples.

4. For Brain Fog: Try Basil

Inhaling the aroma of basil (fresh or dried) may improve focus and short-term memory, suggests a study on mice published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine. Though more research needs to be done on humans, the compounds in basil may prod the nervous system to release focus-sharpening hormones. Try topping your dinner with some holy basil leaves.

5. For Winter Weariness: Try Orange

If being holed up indoors has left you feeling sluggish, breathing in the aroma of oranges may restore your sunny-day energy. Scientists reporting in the journal Molecules found that orange oil’s aromatic compounds helped some participants run faster and improved their lung function. To get the perks, nibble on a few orange slices or take slow, deep sniffs of orange essential oil.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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