Personal Approach in Aromatherapy

by Anastasiia Titova

“Each human being is unique, unprecedented, unrepeatable.” – René Dubo

Every person is unique, one of a kind, it is proven by science. Our physical and emotional health depends on genetics, diet, microbiome, lifestyle and environment we live in. All those aspects are connected to each other, and that makes our system more complicated, our physical and emotional reactions different.


It starts with the genes. Scientists have discovered that the human genome is mostly the same in all people. It starts with the genes. Scientists have discovered that the human genome is mostly the same in all people. According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, there are variations across it – which accounts for about 0.001 per cent of each person’s DNA and contributes to differences in appearance and health. That proves that a human’s genome is individual in its own special way.[1]

Not only an eye color and hair texture affected by gene code. Our genes keep the information required to make proteins that have lots of  functions in the body. Almost every cell of the body contains the gene. Our muscle size and growth depend on genes, as well as response to chemical signals, like insulin and cortisol, sensory receptors.  

It is scientifically proved that genetic variation plays a big role in olfactory perception, which differs enormously between individuals.[2]

A good example is fresh coriander leaves. Some people feel only herbaceous, lemony, slightly spicy aroma. For another group of people, it smells like soap. Studies show that one of the genes encodes the receptor detecting the aldehydes that most likely making coriander soapy.[3]

At the same time, while genes make our immune system possible, make us alive, they can be affected and become unbalanced by our diet, lifestyle and environment.


It is hard to imagine, but there are trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi in our body. It is called the microbiome. The large intestine is the biggest ecosystem in the human body, and its unique in each of us. Some of the bacteria play a huge role in our daily life. They not only affect our gut health, but also the weight, heart and brain health, blood sugar, immune system.

Studies reported that the gut microbiome is very functional and complex, and imbalances have been linked with gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, type 2 diabetes, atopy.[4]

Based on researches, the microbes colonize the neonatal gut immediately following birth. And that the early human gut microbiome composition and the development may affect risk factors related to adult health conditions.[5]

Even though the gut microbiome complex and powerful, its balance can be affected by stress, diet and antibiotics.

In my practice, if someone is coming with feelings of sadness or tearfulness, I am always trying to find out the details about their digestion.

For example, irritable bowel syndrome is not affecting only the gut but also can irritate the mind, making a person anxious, depressed, annoyed and angry. In this case, it is not enough to use mood lift essential oils but to help balance digestion firstly.

Obesity is often connected to rejection, emotional trauma and chronic sadness in the end. And here we have to find out from where comes the desire to eat the feelings.

Another interesting example is the connection of constipation, acne and lack of self-confidence, which leads to sadness and fears. To make a woman shine again, we need to clean the skin, and to clean the skin we need to get rid of the toxins and improve digestion. Starting from the bottom.

Or sadness and anger can come from imbalances in the gut microbiome, which started with taking the antibiotics.


A study by researchers of the University of Zurich has shown that no two people have the same brain anatomy. It is the result of genetic factors and individual life experiences. Jäncke confirmed that the structure of people’s brains is very individual. That the functioning of the brain and its anatomy  can be affected by both genetic and non-genetic aspects.[6]


Our mental and physical health depends not only on given biological factors. Every day we eat, meet people, go to different places, breathe the air in the polluted cities or fresh one in the forest or mountains. Our lifestyle, environment, social interactions influence our body reactions to inflammation, our mental state and even affect how the genes act.

Dietary choices are another important aspect that is very connected to mental, physical conditions and our reactions. Heavy, oily food makes us in the first minutes satisfied but after feeling heavy and mentally foggy.

Studies discovered that a low-quality diet is associated with higher mortality risk.[7] Another research by Mujcic and Oswald find a strong and positive association of increased fruit consumption with increased well being and happiness.[8]

When working with a person, it is always very important to get the details about their daily life, find out if there is stress present everyday, or if they have a dream job and enjoy every moment, details about the family and every day routine. All these impacts our state and further reactions.


Dr Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization, stated that “without mental health, there can be no true physical health”. [9]

Mental health is linked to physical health and the other way around. World Mental Health Surveys From 17 Countries showed that mental disorders of all kinds are associated with an increased risk of the onset of a wide range of chronic physical conditions. [10]

It means that by paying big attention to the mental imbalances and issues it is possible to prevent chronic physical diseases.

Depression is the most common mental disorder around the world, it impacts our mood, will, our look, also affecting the immune system. It makes people weak to fight viruses and bacteria. It makes people eat their emotions, use lots of sweet and processed foods.

On the other hand, a weakened immune system may also cause depression. When people getting ill all the time, it is hard to stay positive.

Every day depending on our lifestyle, diet, environment and physical state, we are experiencing different emotions, and each of us reacts to various stressors in its own way. A positive mood promotes creativity, gives us energy, stimulates, affects our immune system, doing us stronger and healthier.


Odor memory – another interesting process happening in our life. There are two different types of odor memory.

The first one is striking when we are just able to recognize and remember the scent because we smelled it before. It is a similar process of hearing the sound and knowing that it is your personal phone ringing.

The second type of odor memory is odor-evoked memory. It is very personal and individual. It is the process when after feeling a particular aroma, the autobiographical memories are calling up.

Odor-evoked memory arises when the scent triggers the recollection of some significant episodes from the past. This kind of memories has few characteristics which differentiate them from other kinds.

Odor-evoked memories bring us much more vibrant and more strong images than memories triggered by sound or picture. They make us feel “going back in time”. According to Herz and tests provided, odors are the best cues to memory.[11]  

Cheerful and sweet memories have a great potential in mood-lifting.That is why odors have been used as a therapeutic technique to work with various mental conditions and physical ones because they are very connective.

In another study, ninety-three older adults met with one of three different cue types: odour, picture, and word. Results showed that autobiographical memories triggered by smells were older than memories associated with the picture or word cue. Most of the odor-evoked memories took a person back in time to his first decade of life. The memories associated with word or picture arose from early adulthood. Odor-evoked memories felt much more potent and sensual.[12]

An interesting experiment of Masaoka, Sugiyama, Katayama, Kashiwagi and Homma showed that when men and women (age from 29 to 50 years old) were given to smell a self-selected odor that evoked some memories odor and two other fragrances, with a pleasant scent (rose) and a neutral aroma (chamomile) that did not have any meaningful personal recollections. The result showed that the autobiographical memory odor promoted deeper, slower and relaxed breathing than the other two odors.[13]

Recent research was done examining the reaction of the inflammation process on odor-evoked memory. Matsunaga et al. discovered that while a person experienced pleasant autobiographical memories, the inflammatory cytokine interleukin 2 (IL-2) levels decreased. The studies showed that positive and warm feelings connected to odor-evoked may help in treating the inflammation process.[14]

In another research diving deeper into the relationship between odor-evoked memory, brain and immune system, Matsunaga and colleagues asked healthy males and females to smell an odour that reminds them of some nostalgic moments in their lives. The scientist wanted to see the brain responses and concentration of cytokines in plasma using positron emission tomography recordings.

During the test, a team stated that peripheral pro-inflammatory cytokines decreased right after autobiographical memory evoked.[15]

The odors which are associating with positive emotions can be highly therapeutically effective. The aroma of lavender can be sedative and very relaxing only if that scent is connected with some pleasant calming feelings. If the lavender aroma is associating with negative memories, the result could be the opposite.

It is exciting how the same odor can bring pleasure and warmth to one person and ring a warning bell to another one, how they are connected to our emotions. Very individual.

As we see, any odor connected to autobiographical memories has a significant potential to lift our mood, forget the negative emotions, decrease inflammation, boost our immune system. Some specific odor-evoked memories brought by particular aromas can work with self-confidence, motivation and inspiration. It all depends on ours individual reactions.

It is always an exciting journey to observe how people react to the same essential oil blend and how their minds pick up completely different notes and associations. Even though two people have known each other for a long time or live together, their reaction may differ.


People tend to have their own scent-preferences, which depending on memory, associations, lifestyle, diet and even character of the person, I would say.

But even though it is often a highly personal matter, it is possible to make some generalizations.

Vanilla became a popular ingredient in perfume, being that one of the aromas which are perceived as pleasant universally. And I totally agree with that. During the day, I have many people come and go, smelling the oil blends. There is always one or two which are neutral and not pleasant to one person and in the opposite way to another. But I have one blend where vanilla is present, and I can say that men and women of all ages and all nationalities love this aroma roller.

What is that about vanilla? At first, pleasant associations with childhood, sweet treats, grandmother-baked treats, ice cream, innocent pleasures. Second, the aroma is quite warm, milky and soft. Third, there is a connection between purity and simplicity. Graphic designers use the term “plain vanilla”, which means something untouched, unedited, original. Fourth, the aroma of vanilla is very relaxing.

After years of practice and observing people, when someone walks in, most of the time, I can guess what preferable aroma by the overall look of the person.

If it is a skinny woman with light hair and skin, wearing grey/blue pastel colour palette clothes, she most probably will choose fresh notes. A woman with a short hairstyle, slightly boyish, or a tall girl with dark eyes and long dark straight hair will prefer woody scents. Women with big eyes, long eyelashes, feminine with curvy bodies, make-up will select spicy and sweet notes. Cheerful, curly hair and shiny eyes, women will choose citrusy aromas. But those are only my personal guesses, more as a shape of the portrait.

WHY WE ARE SO TEND TO NATURAL AROMAS (including essential oils)?

The term Biophilia was introduced by the Harvard naturalist Dr Edward O in his book “Biophilia hypothesis”. It says that humans tend and seek connections with Nature and all other living forms of life. The term was born from the Greek words for “life” and “love”. Dr Edward called it “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”.

And I believe that is why more and more people seek natural aromas. When a person smells a natural essential oil, you can always see the reaction on his/her face. The breath and moves are becoming slower.

In recent years, with its popular sustainable approach, biophilic design in architecture becoming increasingly wanted. It is believed that when a person is surrounded by greens, his emotional and physical state can improve. But we should remember that we all are different same as our reactions.

A study showed that the restorative effect varies depending on our connection to the Nature. [16]

Natural biophilic images and scents bring our memories up and make our emotions rise. But compared to images, for example, humans processed odours very fast and very different. That is why smelling Kaempferia galanga L. (Galangal) essential oil reminds someone of Asian food and makes it mouthwatering. Mentha spicata L. (spearmint) essential oil might evoke thoughts about chewing gum (remember Spearmint?). The aroma of Pelargonium graveolens (Geranium) essential oil for some people will remind them about some lovely blooming flowers or maybe a garden and for some (especially from Eastern Europe) – grandmother’s house full of medications and stress.

I had a colleague a few years ago, and for a long time, she was asking me to take out Pelargonium graveolens from all the products. We were discussing it every day. And she was assuring me that there is nothing personal, that she loves Geranium as a plant, but customers for sure are not going to like this scent in oil blends. We kept the ingredients, and I observed my colleague slowly trying to work on this individual reaction. Years passed, and now when she orders some personal blend, she is always asking to add Pelargonium graveolens essential oil.

When designing an aromatherapy blend and desired responses, it is essential to consider who will use it, when and where. We also need to take into consideration the current emotional state and all aspects of the person’s life.


Like all other natural aromas, the essential oils do not provide the same level of benefit for all users. As we understood, it depends on different aspects of our life and the past memories associated with a particular scent, leading us to individual response. Pre-blended oils can have the benefit but never more effective as individually prescribed ones.

A personal approach to aromatherapy is a mix of science and art. You need to collect the ingredients by their properties, be a doctor and psychologist to choose the right ones for the client and artist using its intuition, and mix the ingredients in a beautiful blend.

One of the first individual prescription practice advocates was French aromatherapist, Marguerite Maury. She came up with this technique in the 1950s. Being a biochemist specializing in holistic aromatherapy, and was the first to practice massage therapy with the application of essential oils. She was choosing the oils according to her clients emotional and physical needs. She believed that Holistic aromatherapy blends are not “one scent fits all”, but instead they are mixed according to individuals needs and all the aspects of his life.

In her book “Aromatheraupetic blending”, Jennifer Peace Rhind writes that an Individual Prescription can only be formulated after a thorough case history has been taken and realistic short-term aims, as well as appropriate and achievable longer-term goals have been established. We can generalize about the likely effects of specific essential oils, and indeed some research supports the concept that particular aromas could be prescribed to elicit precise and reproducible effects. However, as aromatherapists, we must remain cognizant of the philosophy that essential oil blends can have synergistic or additive potential, and if they are prepared specifically for an individual, this therapeutic potential may be further enhanced.[17]

As multiple systems that form our body are all interconnected, as all of them perform differently regarding our lifestyle, diet, anatomy and etc., and all of this has an impact on our emotional state and our reactions, the personal approach and prescription will always be more effective than a ready-to-go, standard solution.


This article was originally published in Aromatika Magazine, a leading international aromatherapy publication. To learn more visit

About the Author

Anastasiia Titova was born in Belarus. Currently, she lives in Bali. She is a certified aromatherapist (Level 1 and 2) thru the School for Aromatic Studies and co-owner of a Moscow-Bali brand called OILAND, specializing in personal skincare, aromatherapy and natural perfumes. The roots of her willingness to learn aromatherapy and faith in the medicinal plants’ power came from her herbalist grandfather. Her aromatic journey started in 2012 after enrolling in an aromatherapy face-lift massage course. After completing the course, she spent six years discovering, research and formulating. She got to know her skin, behavior, body and mind reactions. She believes that we are all unique not only by our look, she decided to go deeper. Anastasiia keeps on observing, practicing and studying every day.  To see more of Anastasiia’s work visit


[1] NIGMS Home – National Institute of General Medical Sciences, 2017

[2] Keller, A., Zhuang, H., Chi, Q., Vosshall, L. B., & Matsunami, H. (2007). Genetic variation in a human odorant receptor alters odour perception. Nature, 449(7161), 468–472.

[3] Eriksson, Nicholas & Wu, Shirley & Do, Chuong & Kiefer, Amy & Tung, Joyce & Mountain, Joanna & Hinds, David & Francke, Uta. (2012). A genetic variant near olfactory receptor genes influences cilantro preference. Flavour. 1. 10.1186/2044-7248-1-22

[4] Bull, M. J., & Plummer, N. T. (2014). Part 1: The Human Gut Microbiome in Health and Disease. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 13(6), 17–22

[5] Milani, C., Duranti, S., Bottacini, F., Casey, E., Turroni, F., Mahony, J., Belzer, C., Delgado Palacio, S., Arboleya Montes, S., Mancabelli, L., Lugli, G. A., Rodriguez, J. M., Bode, L., de Vos, W., Gueimonde, M., Margolles, A., van Sinderen, D., & Ventura, M. (2017). The First Microbial Colonizers of the Human Gut: Composition, Activities, and Health Implications of the Infant Gut Microbiota. Microbiology and molecular biology reviews: MMBR, 81(4), e00036-17.

[6] Valizadeh, S., Liem, F., Mérillat, S. et al. (2018). Identification of individual subjects on the basis of their brain anatomical features. Sci Rep 8, 5611.

[7] Haveman-Nies, A., de Groot, L. C., & van Staveren, W. A. (2003). Dietary quality, lifestyle factors and healthy ageing in Europe: the SENECA study. Age and Ageing, 32(4), 427–434.

[8] Mujcic, R., & J Oswald, A. (2016). Evolution of Well-Being and Happiness After Increases in Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables. American journal of public health, 106(8), 1504–1510.

[9] Brock, Chisholm. (‎1951)‎. Outline for a study group on World Health and the survival of the human race: material drawn from articles and speeches. World Health Organization. Last Accessed: 29 March, 202

[10] Scott, K. M., Lim, C., Al-Hamzawi, A., Alonso, J., Bruffaerts, R., Caldas-de-Almeida, J. M., Florescu, S., de Girolamo, G., Hu, C., de Jonge, P., Kawakami, N., Medina-Mora, M. E., Moskalewicz, J., Navarro-Mateu, F., O’Neill, S., Piazza, M., Posada-Villa, J., Torres, Y., & Kessler, R. C. (2016). Association of Mental Disorders With Subsequent Chronic Physical Conditions: World Mental Health Surveys From 17 Countries. JAMA Psychiatry, 73(2), 150–158.

[11] Herz R. S. (1998). Are odors the best cues to memory? A cross-modal comparison of associative memory stimuli. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 855, 670–674.

[12] Willander, J., & Larsson, M. (2006). Smell your way back to childhood: Autobiographical odor memory. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 13(2), 240–244.

[13] Masaoka Y, Sugiyama H, Katayama A, Kashiwagi M, Homma I. (2012). Slow Breathing and Emotions Associated with Odor-Induced Autobiographical Memories, Chemical Senses, Volume 37, Issue 4, Pages 379–388,

[14] Matsunaga, M., Isowa, T., Yamakawa, K., Kawanishi, Y., Tsuboi, H., Kaneko, H., Sadato, N., Oshida, A., Katayama, A., Kashiwagi, M., & Ohira, H. (2011). Psychological and physiological responses to odor-evoked autobiographic memory. Neuroendocrinology Letters, 32(6), 774–780

[15] Matsunaga, M., Bai, Y., Yamakawa, K., Toyama, A., Kashiwagi, M., Fukuda, K., Oshida, A., Sanada, K., Fukuyama, S., Shinoda, J., Yamada, J., Sadato, N., & Ohira, H. (2013). Brain-immune interaction accompanying odor-evoked autobiographic memory. PloS one, 8(8), e72523.

[16] Berto, R., Barbiero, G., Barbiero, P., & Senes, G. (2018). An Individual’s Connection to Nature Can Affect Perceived Restorativeness of Natural Environments. Some Observations about Biophilia. Behavioral Sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 8(3), 34.

[17] Rhind, JP. (2016). Aromatherapeutic blending. Singing Dragon. London, England. p. 30