New aroma therapy nothing to sniff at


The party turns into a bore so you add a little peppermint to the air-conditioning system and suddenly everyone is full of energy.

You're in the middle of an argument with the boss and he or she sprays you with a mixture of lavender, carrot and tarragon and suddenly you feel totally relaxed and agreeable.

The latest in the sensory revolution is aromatherapy. We're talking about taking the smell of victory -- or stress reduction, stimulation, or energy -- literally. We're talking about controlling human behavior by spritzing the air with peppermint or lily of the valley.

"Odors play a major role in mood altering," said Dr. Susan Schiffman, professor of medical psychology at Duke University Hospital. "Recent studies supported by the Fragrance Research Fund show that periodic administration of pleasant fragrances, peppermint and muguet during a sustained attention task improves performance. People who monitor routine tasks on video displays had improved performance when they received occasional whiffs of peppermint and muguet through oxygen masks."

"Some Japanese corporations are already using aromatherapy to make the workplace more productive and pleasant," said Jack Mausner, senior vice president for research and development at Chanel Inc. and president of the Fragrance Research Fund. "A variety of fragrances are released at various times during the day and distributed through the air-conditioning system. And so, early in the morning, workers are roused by a citrus smell and the same occurs after lunch. At midmorning and midafternoon they release a floral scent to encourage concentration, and at lunch another scent is used for relaxation."

In the United States, Karen Carson Creations, a major home fragrance manufacturer, has introduced a line of aromatherapy products for use in the home. The line includes potpourri, candles and a spray for bed linens.

The most common use of aromatherapy, however, is in salons and in connection with body massage. A masseuse will prepare a combination of oils and scents that will reduce stress, relieve cramps, reduce water retention, stimulate or calm your thinking or cure just about anything that ails you.

"I was basically a disbeliever until I tried it," said Laura DuPriest, owner of Laura DuPriest Pavilion, a full-service salon. "Aromatherapy is the triggering of brain-wave activity through the olfactory nerve. Different smells can trigger different responses from the brain. For example, a massage with camomile, sandalwood, ylang ylang, lavender and sage is good for after sports because it relaxes muscle tissue, relieves cramps and calms circulation."

"Strawberry and vanilla are relaxing scents," said Ralph Narducci, president of Laura DuPriest Pavilions. "They are most predominately used in hospitals in the States and in Europe in maternity delivery units, because they help women to relax."

Is it a placebo effect or are the results real?

"Research in the last 10 years shows that there is a change in brain-wave activity with the use of aromatherapy. The variable between people does make a lot of difference, however," Narducci said. "What is really important is the long-term effect. We know that many of these oils can be detected in the bloodstream seven to 14 hours following use, depending on the amount of fatty tissue a person has.

"Some of these therapy oils are quite powerful," Narducci said. "For that reason, the strength of the combinations sold over the counter is limited."

According to Narducci, use of aromatherapy can be traced to the ancient East, to 1500 B.C.

Egyptians used scented oils, mostly imported from China. The Romans were the first to incorporate aromatherapy into bathhouses.

"They had rooms where slaves would whip them with a sage branch," Narducci said. "Modern massage methods are more pleasant."

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