The term “olfactory” may bring the nose to mind, but skin cells also have olfactory receptors. Your skin can’t technically smell, but when those receptors are exposed to sandalwood — a scent in perfumes, incense and other items — changes in cell activity promote wound healing.

Research published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that people have about 350 olfactory receptors in their noses but these receptors also are present in sperm, the prostate, kidneys and intestines.

The study showed that when those skin receptors were near the scent of synthetic sandalwood, they became active and prompted cell proliferation and migration.

Exposing these extraordinary receptors, called OR2AT4, to sandalwood may be the key to healing many diseases including cancer, study author Dr. Hanns Hatt said.

“I feel a mission to convince my colleagues, and especially clinicians, that this huge family of olfactory receptors plays an important role in cell physiology,” said Hatt, of Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany.

The study opens up all kinds of questions. For instance, do men have more of these skin receptors because they’re found in sperm and the prostate, two places women won’t have them? Will simply sitting next to the aroma of sandalwood heal simple wounds and skin cuts more rapidly? Should sandalwood be included in products and drugs to help wounds heal?

Sandalwood, from the genus Santalum, comes from the Indian peninsula, Indonesia and Australia and its oil comes from the fragrant heartwood of older trees. It’s used in Hindu ceremonies, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and has wide applications for digestive complaints, coughs, throat irritations, anxiety and depression.

Not surprisingly, it’s also been used in skin care to soothe dry, chapped skin and as a rash and acne treatment.

Sandalwood is considered beneficial for meditation, for calming and focusing the mind, and is used as incense in temples.

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