Smell is the weakest sense in humans. A polar bear can smell a seal under 6 feet of pack ice over a mile away. Hogs and dogs were used to find truffles, because people cannot match their senses of smell.
Aromatherapy – The Nose Knows?
Although it is our weakest sense, our olfactory lobe sends messages to all brain regions. The sense is weak but its effect is strong. Smell fresh cut grass, and you are likely transported by the smell to another time or place.
Aromatherapy arose as an adjunct to traditional medicine. It intended to treat diseases with inhalation of odor-bearing compounds. I shun use of the word “aromatic” because it means something different in chemistry than its common usage. Knowledge of these compounds is in its infancy, and experiments with humans absent, so aromatherapy changed to a relaxation or meditation therapy technique and moved away from the treatment of illness.
Now zoom to your morning shave. You will find some interesting smells, and compounds in shaving products. The list of smells runs the gamut from avocado, to a product said to be reminiscent of Ben Franklin’s dirty britches (it actually has a root beer scent). Are we all receiving the benefits of aromatherapy through wet shaving? The short answer is no. We aren’t on the psychoanalyst’s couch free associating different scents with the times of our lives. We are actively seeking to rid our face of whiskers. By concentrating on the shave, the aroma of product is a side benefit, not the goal in itself.
By researching components of shaving creams, I was astonished to find ingredients that had a known biological activity. I have already discussed menthol, but the eucalyptus found with it in many creams merits discussion itself. Cade oil, found in L’Occitane du Provence’s cream, Chamomile found in Jack Black products, Sandalwood, and Tea Tree oil, found in Real Shaving Co. Shave2Cream are also bioactive compounds, or cosmeceuticals!
Eucalyptus oil is steam distilled from the leaves of several species from the Myrtaceae family (Myrtle). The active ingredient is called, Cineole. First identified by the French chemist François Stanislas Cloez, It is used to relieve symptoms of the flu in lozenges, it kills germs in the airways, when inhaled for bronchitis, and in asthma. Eucalyptus oil is a topical painkiller and anti inflammatory, and has a role in preventing wound infection. It was first employed by Australian aboriginal peoples, and was adopted by Dennis Considen and John White (First Fleet surgeons) who used its oil in 1788. It has a lethal dose of .05ml-.5ml per kilogram of lean body weight, which disqualifies it for internal use, as this range is too large to administer it safely as an oral agent.
Sandalwood is a common aroma for shaving creams. Its oil is steam distilled from the dried wood of Santalum genera of trees. They produce a heavy, yellow, fine grained wood, whose aroma lasts for years, in contrast to the other aromatic woods like cedar. The oil has religious significance in Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian faiths. The oil is composed of 90% sesquiterpene alcohols and 50% of those are Beta Santalol. Used in Ayurvedic medicines for many illnesses, Smelling the oil increases pulse rate, systolic blood pressure, and skin conductivity. In the lab sandalwood interferes with tumor formation. Beta Santalol (and its synthetic analogue Sandalore) both bind to olfactory receptors in skin to promote healing. What? Olfactory receptors in the skin? It seems that researchers in Germany’s Ruhr University Bochum have isolated olfactory receptors in skin, kidney, reproductive, and other cells. These receptors are healing related. We clearly have a lot to learn.
Chamomile is an ingredient in Jack Black’s Every Man Jack shaving cream. It is derived from the Asteraceae family of plants, and has long been known as a mildly sedating, and a stomachic (a medicine that can tone the stomach, improving function and appetite). A percentage of hay fever sufferers may be allergic to this plant as ragweed and Russian thistle are related species. Its direct effects on skin remain unclear.
Tea Tree Oil, from the Melaleuca tree is an ingredient of Real Shave Co. cream (Real Shave Co. is the in house cream for Creighton in the UK). The honey from the flowers of this tree has been used for healing stubborn wounds for years. It is an FDA approved medicine you could eat from the tube, (if you were strong enough to squeeze the thick honey out). The oil of the tree is known to be a treatment for lice, acne, fungal nail infections, and earache. Unlike the honey from the tree’s flowers, the oil can only be applied topically, as it is toxic if eaten. Tea Tree Oil kills the feared methicillin resistant staphylococcus germ (MRSA) on contact. It was also used as a topical antiseptic.
Cade oil is an ingredient of the L’Occitane de Provence creams. Cade oil distilled from the vapor of the boiled wood of the Juniper plant. Gin is flavored with the extract of the Juniper berry, while Cade is an extract of the plants fibrous parts. It kills bacteria in the lab and appears to have anti-inflammatory effects on lab animals. No human research is available. It has been used on chronic skin conditions and lice infestations. it is composed of many terpenes (aromatic resins) like pinene, cadinene, cadinol; and phenols (similar to alcohol but more acidic). It also contains guaiac, and creosol. Since Cade oil is the product of slow oxidation of the woody parts of the Prickly Juniper, it is toxic, and can be absorbed through the skin so only professionally manufactured products are safe to use topically. Creosol can cause a chemical burn, so it must be diluted to be a safe additive to shaving cream. Straight application of pure Cade oil might cause cancer due to the chemicals generated from the burning process in the oil.
These cream components benefit the skin, stimulate the olfactory lobe of the brain, and increase the overall shave experience. Perhaps wet shavers are blazing the trail of terpene chemistry one J hook at a time, all in the cause of the tonsorial splendor we call the BBS/DFS (and you thought you were simply shaving?).
By Larry Isaacs, MD