Can aromatherapy work with no sense of smell?

So, you probably know that essential oils can bring about healing responses – that’s why we use them! These can be ‘emotional’ ones, due to our sense of smell linking with the part of the brain that is responsible for emotions. They can also help to promote physical healing. In addition to this, essential oils can also trigger ‘unexpected’ healing responses.

A new aromatherapy client I treated recently experienced a very interesting and unusual healing response – and it was a great learning curve for me. “I have no sense of smell,” she said, when I explained the treatment. I wondered – how effective aromatherapy could be in this instance, given that it works strongly with this particular sense?

Aromatherapy consultation with no sense of smell

Whilst many people perceive aromatherapy to be more about the ‘massage’ – often thinking of it as just a ‘massage with smelly oils’ - we aromatherapists understand that it works predominantly with the olfactory system – otherwise known as your sense of smell! So how might it work without this important aspect?

Well, we decided, let’s persevere! We undertook the usual detailed consultation to try and understand more about this client’s healing needs. With aromatherapy, they say you usually like the smell of the oils your body needs to help heal itself, so, after establishing three objectives a client wants help with, I usually do a selective ‘smell test’ to determine which essential oils the client is drawn to most. This particular client couldn’t smell many of them at all - to begin with…

The journey of smells

Week one was interesting - she only managed to smell one or two essential oils (it was actually a surprise to her that she could smell any) – and, interestingly, they were mostly top to middle notes and not base notes. What does this say about what her body needs, I wondered? One of her objectives was to feel ‘uplifted,’ so could she only smell the top and middle note ‘uplifting’ oils that her body required? Would the essential oils even make a difference if she couldn’t smell them? I had so many questions due to that crucial ‘sense of smell’ being missing.

Well, the aromatherapy oils did have an effect – of course, they do absorb into the blood stream so they still have a chemical effect on the body – but this is thought-provoking given that aromatherapy is so closely connected to the olfactory system. What was more fascinating was that the range of oils she could smell was improving; as the weeks went on, the client was not only getting benefits, which included feeling more relaxed and less anxious, her skin feeling more balanced, sleeping better and her digestion improving, but her sense of smell was developing too.

Unexpected responses: A new, intuitive sense, in eight weeks!

By the end of this eight-week treatment journey, the client could smell ALL of the essential oils. This was not what we had expected – we just wanted to see how the oils could still support someone without a sense of smell. However, not only had they helped her body and mind to heal but - perhaps most importantly - the client felt that aromatherapy had “opened up her nose to a whole new world.” She had thought she had no sense of smell prior to treatment but by the end of a course of therapy she could smell all the aromatherapy oils, and other things too! The oils had stimulated something in the olfactory system.

She was also drawn to the oils she needed - one week liking something and the next not liking it because she no longer needed it. One week she adored Geranium, the next she hated it (and one week she couldn't smell it despite craving it the week before). I realised that this not only shows just how clever, intuitive and sensitive the body is to know what it wants, but also quite how effective essential oils can be. Her new found, highly sensitive, sense of smell had also learned to support the body in selecting what she needed! This also reinforces that aromatherapy is not just about the physical 'massage' (despite this still helping in the absence of her sense of smell) as people often think - but that your sense of smell is a crucial part of the process too.

The moral of the story? The next time someone thinks they can’t benefit from aromatherapy because they don’t have a sense of smell, don’t assume that it won’t help them - who knows what unexpected effects it might have! This client was so happy, believing aromatherapy to be wonderful, and is now a firm advocate of the powerful benefits of essential oils; and what a great example to highlight how effectively essential oils - and, indeed, the power of Mother Nature - can be.

Practical blending advice

From this experience, I would NOT encourage anyone who thinks they have ‘no sense of smell’ to try and smell ALL the essential oils at once. Whilst tempting, this might overload and confuse the olfactory system, which may already be stressed or overloaded with chemicals that are impairing it in the first place. Instead, ‘smell test’ a maximum of 4-6 essential oils in one session, and try to work using a blend of the 3 most suitable oils for the person’s objectives on that day. If they can smell any and like them, choose those over others as they are possibly able to smell them because their bodies need them and they are drawn to them! Don’t worry if they can’t smell any – they can still have an effect.

This also highlights the importance of great aftercare as well as consultation. For therapists, advise your client on how to use essential oils safely at home – perhaps just one a week to help educate their sense of smell. You might well “open up their noses”, making them more sensitive to the smells their bodies need too! This applies with every client, not just those who can’t smell.

Nicole Barton
Consultant Aromatherapist

Disclaimer & Safety Advice

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