Shout Out to Vicks VapoRub

One of the exercises I do in classes is giving attendees scent strips with various essential oils.  I don’t tell them which oil is on the scent strip.  Students are encouraged to smell the fragrance and share their immediate thoughts.  The purpose is not for them to try and discern what the scent is, but rather to illustrate how fragrance affects the mind.  Without preconceptions to influence them, people are forced to draw their own conclusions.  The impressions I’m looking for are visceral.  They are memories, feelings, visions of shape, color, texture, people and places.  I want people to engage their emotional brain, and be open to a true experience of the scent.

The results are always fascinating.  When given the opportunity, even those new to fragrant pursuits describe scent with sharply detailed and lush imagery.  Deserts at sunset, a summer night with no stars, sleeping in a meadow surrounded by roses, memories of home, memories of loved ones living and dead.  It’s all very interesting and deeply personal.

And then we have Vicks VapoRub.  In every class there will always be one or two people who associate any given scent with Vicks VapoRub.  It is by far the most common association I hear.  This makes perfect sense if we happen to be smelling Eucalyptus, or oils rich in menthol and camphor.  But Vicks seems to make an appearance even when we smell floral and resinous oils.  It’s bizarre.  And also kind of cool.  Do we have an olfactory collective consciousness?  Certainly we must, but I think it’s mostly for food smells.  Bread baking, a steak on the grill, coffee shops.  Scents we know and cherish.  Scents that are not just about good food, but also love and comfort.  And I think this is also the case with Vicks.  We aren’t carrying memories of that medicinal, camphoraceous fragrance for it’s own sake.  We carry it because it reminds us of being the object of care and affection.  For that I think Vicks deserves a little nod of appreciation.

Do you have any favorite scent memories or odd fragrance associations?



  1. What’s up Christina?

    Like many in my generation, I am a sho nuff Vicks baby. I still use Vicks to this day. And yes, when I’m wrapped up in 2 blankets with Vicks on my chest and neck, the aroma floats me back to a state of relaxation. I fall into deep sleep knowing that by morning all will be well again.

    The other scent that’s ingrained in my psyche is Florida Water. My mother would use it every spring when we (everyone got involved) did Spring Cleaning. It’s another ritual I have held onto that grounds me in preparation for lift off. ; )


    • Hi Kazi,
      Thanks for your comments. Yes it’s interesting that you can fall asleep to the fragrance of Vicks when the ingredients are actually stimulating.
      My earliest scent memory is the smell of tomatoes in my grandmother’s garden. The green woody stalks, moist earth and the ripe fruit. I had to be about 3-4 years old.


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