The science of scent and memory: why we use ingredients that are 100% free of synthetic fragrance

As human beings, we experience the physical world through our five senses. They are in a very real sense, our window into our lived realities, providing us with perspective and opening us up to the realm of possibility.


Nowhere is this more apparent than in the way that certain smells can transport us back into the furthest reaches of our psyche, to the world of memory, where we get to relive; in a few precious moments, the events that have shaped us and given us a sense of purpose and belonging. 


In our work within the natural skincare industry, we often hear stories of what people associate with the scent of our products. Everyone has a story about different botanical beauty ingredients, and we love hearing them.


Of scent and memory: the “Proust effect”


All five of our senses have the ability to conjure up memories of specific places, people and things in our past. But the power of smell has been of particular interest to the scientific community as well as in literary circles. 


Twentieth-century writer, Marcel Proust coined the term, “involuntary memory,” when he detailed an account of how the smell of Madeleines triggered a series of memories linked to his childhood. Just the hint of a smell catapulted him back into time, to his upbringing in a small, French town, surrounded by the sights and sounds of pastoral living, which he recalled with deep fondness. 


Little did he know that his literary musings would earn him a place amongst the academic community as someone who had put a name to an effect that many had experienced but none could accurately describe. The ability of smell to trigger a vivid reliving of an event of the past or a specific memory in response to sensory stimuli was thereafter referred to as the “Proust effect.”


The science of smell


Scientists have given credence to the “Proust effect,” by explaining that neuroscience provides a perfectly rational explanation for why our scent of smell is such a powerful memory booster. As Harvard professors have explained, smells are interpreted by the olfactory bulb or the part of the human brain that sends sensory information to the body’s central command system for processing. 


‘When your olfactory receptors are stimulated, they transmit impulses to your brain. This scent pathway is directly connected to the limbic system, the part of the brain that deals with emotions. That’s why our reactions to smell are rarely neutral – we usually either like or dislike a smell. Imagine throwing a stone into a pond: the initial olfactory impact will cause many ripples, reaching out to other areas of our brain through billions of neuronal connections and producing unpredictable reactions, depending on our stored experiences Says Dr. Spiezia.


Odours take a direct route to the limbic system which includes the amygdala and the hippocampus – regions where the brain stores information related to emotion and memory. The signals travelling through the olfactory bulb travel with incredible speed to the limbic system, triggering memories as they go. You could think of smells as sensory time machines – we love following where they lead.


Harnessing the beauty of organic botanicals

Our founder, Dr Spiezia is deeply invested in finding ways to harness all the best qualities of the world’s finest natural ingredients to create organic skincare that is holistically effective.  

Dr Spiezia explains: ‘According to herbal alchemical tradition, natural and organic fragrances keep the ‘soul’ of the flower, allowing it to manifest its subtle energy. It’s this energy that will interact with our physical, emotional and psychological energies, triggering our emotions and producing a cascade of new memories.’

Our small but effective team of artisans here at Inlight, works behind the scenes to ensure each product and batch feel good on the skin but also looks good, feels luxurious to the touch and captures the fragrances of the best botanical beauty ingredients. And because we’re acutely aware of how people associate smells with memories, we’re invested in using only organic skincare ingredients, with no artificial fragrances.  


“One of nature's miracles; when you are deeply immersed in it, is the ability to bring you back to your origins and strengthen the most genuine and deepest values of existence,” says Dr Spiezia.


Introducing our very own sensory experience


In an ode to the power of scent, we’ve created our very own Flower Feast Facial Steam – a sumptuous blend of organic flowers, chosen for their ability to calm, soothe and hydrate your skin and release a natural fragrance that smells of happiness, wholeness and health. 


In the blend, you’ll find lavender, chamomile, rose buds, calendula, hibiscus and cornflower. Add water to this herbal infusion and it will come to life in a symphony of smells; 100% free of synthetic fragrances and designed to leave you feeling refreshed and held within the warm embrace of mother nature. 


Because, as Dr Spiezia explains: “Of course, you don’t need to study alchemy or phyto-chemistry, but I am telling you that if you are gentle, intelligent, conscious, and careful, with the wonderful world of plants, you will receive back a lot – much more than you think.”


How to use our Flower Feast Facial Steam


  1. Infuse 1 tablespoon of the Flower Feast blend into 1 litre of boiling water. 
  2. Allow to brew for 5 minutes. 
  3. Place a towel over your head to prevent the steam from escaping and hold your face at a comfortable distance from the steaming water. 
  4. Breathe in the fragrant steam for 5 minutes to open your pores. In it, you’ll smell the woody scent of lavender, the freshness of chamomile, the powdery scent of roses, tropical hibiscus and the earthy aroma of cornflower.
  5. Pat your skin dry and enjoy revived, smooth skin. 


Tip: save the flower-infused water and use it as a skin-softening addition to a hot bath or as a rinse for your hair. 


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