Of all the five senses, our sense of smell is arguably the most taken for granted. Often, we don’t even realize that we can smell until we get a whiff of something we wish we hadn’t. According to a new study from Germany, our noses aren’t the only part of our bodies capable of smelling. Apparently, our skin has scent receptors, too. Unlike those in our noses, these don’t trigger emotion in our brains; they prompt our skin to heal itself.
Hanns Hatt and his laboratory at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany have discovered that Sandalore, a synthetic sandalwood oil often used in perfume, attaches to olfactory receptors in the skin, New Scientist reported. Normally, when you smell something with your nose, the smell receptors send a message to your brain. This can alert the brain to danger, relaxation, or the presence of a potential mate. Unlike the smell receptors in our nose, Hatt and his team found that the smell receptors in the skin triggered the skin cells to essentially repair damage. Although, according to Joel Mainland of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, “there is a big trend towards odor receptors being found elsewhere in the body doing other jobs,” the fact that these receptors aid in wound repair is quite surprising.
When the main skin cell type used in this study, called keratinocytes, was mixed with Sandalore for five days in a test tube, the cell reproduction increased by 32 percent and cell migration increased by nearly half. These are two necessary processes involved repairing damaged skin, New Scientist reported. According to Mainland, the concentration needed to achieve these repairs is much higher than that used to activate a receptor in the nose. It’s more likely that a skin cream would be used to achieve these results rather than the strong smelling oils used in aromatherapy, Mainland told New Scientist.
Although it the idea of a skin healing cream may sound exciting, the results are likely to differ depending upon the individual, due to the “genetic variation in the olfactory receptors,” Mainland explained to Medical Daily. To one individual, the oil may have a healing effect, while on others with different olfactory receptors; the results could be neutral or even toxic. Mainland added however that “concern about drugs working on one subset of people and not on another subset are very real, but cases where a drug/cream are beneficial in one case and actually toxic in another are, I would imagine, quite rare.”
Hatt suggests this study may usher in the developments of new disease treatments based on targeting scent receptors in other areas of our bodies. These could come in the form of treatments to heal wounds, repair skin damage caused by aging, and perhaps eventually drugs to treat internal organs, the researcher explained. Although this is all quite exciting, in Mainland’s opinion “we won’t have a new treatment based on this work in the next 1-2 years.” This due to the often long period time if often takes to pass safety and efficacy trials. “This is not a slam against this work in any way—it’s just the way that anything in this field works,” Mainland concluded.
Source: Hatt H, Busse D, Kudella P, et al. A Synthetic Sandalwood Odorant Induces Wound Healing Processes in Human Keratinocytes via the Olfactory Receptor OR2AT4. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 2014.