There’s no denying the power of scent. Not only can it trigger the brain at any random point to instantly transport you back to a vivid childhood memory — but it can just as quickly turn a mood from revved to relaxed, and spark a myriad of feelings in between, including seasonal depression.
So, as the dreariness and gray skies of winter settle in for the next few months, take notes on exactly how and which fragrance scents can help boost your spirits until sunny days return.
The Cognitive Connection
There’s a powerful connection between cognitive function and our olfactory (sense of smell) system. “Put simply, scents can elicit certain reactions with the body, both physically and psychologically. The impact of scent on emotional state has been recorded anecdotally across cultures around the world,” says Jules Miller, Founder + CEO at The Nue Co.
Miller recently teamed up with fragrance house Firmenich to explore that idea, and following a five year study run by the University of Geneva’s Brain and Behavior Laboratory, Functional Fragrance was born. The concoction is a new-age aromatherapy of sorts that works as a topical anti-stress supplement.
“The backbone of research behind Functional Fragrance comes from the Geneva Emotion and Odor Scale (GEOS), a groundbreaking study on the power of scent on our emotions. Using neural image processing, the study mapped how specific scent groups affect our cognitive function,” Miller explains. When deconstructed, you may also see that some of your existing favorite scents may have similar mood-altering components — but first, let’s get a better understanding of how it all works.
The Brain and the Body
So what’s actually going on in the brain when we apply fragrance to our skin? According to Miller and the Firmenich research, smell is the first of our senses to be activated when we’re born, with some studies showing that we can even smell while in the womb. The link between the olfactory system and our brain causes receptors in the different parts of our brain to go off when we smell a fragrance.
These receptors are connected to our emotions, which is how scent can trigger memories and remind us of people or places, like a great vacation or laying on a freshly cut lawn. What also came up was a global connection, which showed similar results worldwide, regardless of culture or economic status.
“As adults we are less aware of the subtleties in scent—unless the odor is unpleasant. We use our
noses to identify danger (think gas, fire, smoke), and to divert away from potential risks, like glue,
bleach, paint, and bad milk,” says Miller. In addition to the basic survival mode that scent puts us in, we can also use our noses to strategically influence the release of the chemical messengers in our brain, dopamine and serotonin — these are the signals that make us feel good.
“Some common uplifting examples of this include freshly baked cookies, cut grass, flowers and citrus fruits,” says Miller. Take note of that last one, because there are plenty of fragrances with hints of lemon zest, orange or grapefruit, have the ability to completely turn around a crappy day. Other notes to help uplift are ginger, pink pepper and certain florals.
Sure you can layer on several essentials oils for their spirit-lifting, invigorating or calming therapeutic benefits, but they may not smell as good on top of each other as a traditional multi-faceted perfume. Luckily, there’s a batch of blends that do just that — even if that wasn’t the intention.
The Nue Co. Functional Fragrance
A combo of green cardamom, Iris, Palo Santo and Cilantro was designed to help you reset at times of high stress. It an anti-stress supplement delivered in the form of a unisex fragrance.
$155 at The Nue Co.
Pinrose Sun Saint Eau de Parfum
The warm and spicy cashmere musk and sandalwood may feel like a cozy winter scent, but the coconut note that hits will have you mentally basking beachside.
$65 at Sephora
Kayali Citrus | 08
Invigorating top notes of Italian Bergamot, pink grapefruit, rhubarb, blackcurrant and pink pepper are just the pick-me-ups you’ll need when you start to feel your energy or mood waning.
$118 at Kayali Fragrance
Cartier Carat Eau de Parfum
Seven different floral notes including honeysuckle, ylang-ylang and hyacinth harmonize to help balance out and lift a dull spirit.
$145 at Nordstrom
Beauty Pie Brazilian Lime, Fig Leaves & Tea
A fresh mix of lemon, lime and orange notes will perk you right up just before the cozy fig leaf and black tea settles into the dry down.
$24 with $10 membership at Beauty Pie
Laundry by Shelli Segal Downtown Kiss
Inspired by the Côte D’Azur this fresh blend of bergamot, juicy mandarin, lemon skin and cassis, that settle a green floral jasmine, waterlily fresh cut leaves — basically smells like spring in a bottle.
$55 at Amazon
Branch Basics Winter Wellness Essential Oil
If a classic essential oil is more your speed, start here. This mix was made with the winter blues in mind. Ginger will help with anxiety relief, rosemary and cinnamon will give you a cognitive boost, and peppermint will help with fatigue or a midday crash.
$19 at Branch Basics
T. Reeves Arielle Fragrance Roll-On Oil
The top layer of green and orange citrus is refreshing and revitalizing. The middle tier has fruity red floral rose notes that blend with a sweet lemon scent. And holding it all together at the base is the fresh and clean tartness of lemongrass and earthy and airy citrus.
$45 at T. Reeves