Human skin has been shown to contain a specific olfactory receptor that is activated by the odor of sandalwood and produces a chain of reactions that promotes the healing of wounds. Dr. Hanns Hatt from Ruhr University Bochum in Bochum, Germany and colleagues from Germany and Britain are the first to show a defined response of one of the many olfactory receptors found in human skin. The research was reported in the July 7, 2014, edition of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
The human nose contains 350 different types of smell receptors. The same receptors with the same structure have been found in multiple organs of the human body. The exact function of the olfactory receptors that exist in organs other than the nose has been a mystery.
The researchers found an olfactory receptor called olfactory receptor, family 2, subfamily AT, member 4 (OR2AT4) in the outermost layer of the human skin. OR2AT4 was found to become active when exposed to synthetic sandalwood scent. Sandalwood scent is a common component of incense.
Activation of the OR2AT4 receptor by sandalwood scent produces a cascade of chemical events that caused the migration of more skin cells to the surface of the skin. This reaction is similar to the body’s normal reaction to wounds and is considered to have the potential for improved wound healing and cosmetic surgery. The researches plan a more extensive examination of olfactory receptors in human skin that may have cosmetic or therapeutic potential.
This research is the first demonstration of a cellular effect produced by a smell that is not produced in the nose. Aromatherapy has been hailed as a curative for physical, emotional, and mental diseases but no physical evidence that supports this claim has been available until now. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this discovery is that the skin is the organ through which aroma therapy has been proven to have a clinically significant effect instead of the nose.