What used to be simply a lavender essential oil to induce sleep a few years ago, is now an anti-anxiety solution. And what used to be a luxurious fragrance is now made functional with the addition of specific aromas and compounds that are clinically proven to enhance brain function and mental well-being.
There is an ongoing trend that our generation is now seeking deeper meaning and mindfulness in every aspect of life, which translates to consumers now looking for products that serve more than one function. And when it comes to fragrance, it has to do more than simply make us smell good, which the Global Wellness Summit identified as one of the biggest wellness trends of 2019.
Why Does Scent Matter?
In 2004, Drs. Linda Buck and Richard Axel won a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for their discovery that our olfactory system is comprised of more than 1,000 olfactory genes in our body and the estimation that humans can recognize and remember about 10,000 different smells. Spurred on by these findings, today biologists and scientists have researched smell further, and now even estimate that humans can actually distinguish more than one trillion smells.
That being said, 53 percent of millennials said they would give up their sense of smell before their tech device — but more and more evidence-based studies are finding a connection between aromas and a sense of well-being. And more importantly, that our sense of smell is one of the most important senses.
Scent is the most powerful trigger of emotion and memory.
What Is Scent’s Connection to Wellness and Mental Health?
Neurologists have identified a strong connection between smell and memory. There is a strong neural pathway between the brain’s anterior olfactory nucleus (AON) and the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that is responsible for making new memories — which explains, to some degree, why loss of the sense of smell is one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
When we smell something, the scent travels up the nose, through to the amygdala (which is responsible for a lot of our emotions), and the hippocampus, before arriving in the thalamus (which processes sensory signals). That means that everything we smell passes by the emotion and memory parts of the brain before we can even smell it.
“Research shows that of all the senses, scent is the most powerful trigger of emotion and memory, and that people are 100 times more likely to remember something they smell over something they hear, touch or see,” says Jaime Bettencourt, senior vice president of account management and business development at Mood Media, an international in-store media solutions company that studies creating emotional connections between brands and consumers. This knowledge has led to a resurgence of scent and fragrance upon the wellness world.
How Has Research in The Power of Scent Redefining Aromatherapy?
The concept of aromatherapy to treat diseases is an age-old practice, but it has been made new again thanks to huge breakthroughs in technology, new neuroscience studies and cleaner, better ingredients. Companies like Cleveland-based Aeroscena are redefining aromatherapy — whose market for years seemed to be dominated by multi-level companies such as Young Living and DōTerra. Aeroscena has trademarked its line of plant-based therapeutic oils “phyto-inhalants,” which are formulated by medical professionals to treat health problems such as pain, anxiety and nausea. The company’s founder, Mark Kohoot, says they are breaking through the folklore surrounding aromatherapy and backing it up with scientific studies that finally provide evidence that ingredients like Lavandula augustifolia can indeed treat insomnia and reduce anxiety, and that inhaling rose or orange essential oils can in fact increase feelings of comfort and relaxation in people.
“We see that aromatherapy can add a lot of oomph to lots of medical procedures and other health and wellness initiatives,” says Kohoot. “So, we said if we found a company and use good science and create our own literature and do our own clinical trials, then we’re building a lighthouse brand that can design things for the healthcare field, by using proven facts.” The brand’s essential oils are even developed in conjunction with healthcare experts and are used in hospitals and other clinical environments.
View this post on Instagram
@thenue_co — Functional Fragrance. My favorite product by The Nue! Think calming aromatherapy roller but in a spray, way more complicated in scent mix and long lasting. I actually think it is indeed very relaxing and I use it as pillow spray too. Green cardamom, iris, palo santo and cilantro. Let me try to describe it, i liked this game from the previous post: it smells like a private garden somewhere in Portofino with comfortable hammock and a good science fiction book. $44 — 4/5. I don’t know why i’m not giving it a 5, i’m greedy! 🙂 #gelcream_perfume PLEASE DON’T BUY UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY AND REMEMBER WE ALL ARE DIFFERENT AND WHAT I LIKE MAY NOT SUIT YOU SO MAKE SURE IT’S REFUNDABLE
A post shared by Gelcream (@gelcream) on
The Arrival of Functional Fragrances
Other elements in the business of scent are functional scents and fragrances, which is a buzzy term that describes scents that “biohack” our brains and bodies to perform better. Research has shown that fragrances have significant measurable effects on mood, particularly eight major factors: irritation, stress, depression, apathy, happiness, sensuality, relaxation and stimulation. Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology found that the scent of coffee alone may help people focus and perform better. A Japanese company found that diffusing a lemon scent increased its employees’ productivity by 54 percent (according to research at the Ohio State University, smelling lemon raises levels of norepinephrine, a brain chemical linked to easier decision-making and increased motivation). Basically, fragrance is emotional. And we should not be surprised if aroma starts being used everywhere, even in the workplace, to promote productivity.
Fragrance brands are also getting behind the trend, and The Nue Co., a U.K. natural supplement company, is in the avant-garde of the functional fragrance boom; it created the first anti-stress supplement worn as a unisex fragrance. The fragrance, fittingly named “Functional Fragrance,” was developed using research into the connection between cognitive function and the olfactory system and how it affects emotional states. “The impact of scent on our emotional state has been recorded anecdotally across cultures around the world,” says Jules Miller, founder of The Nue Co. “With Functional Fragrance, we took that concept, but applied a scientific lens by working with data from the University of Geneva’s Brain & Behavior Laboratory. The perfumer, Frank Voelkl, then used this research to inform which notes to use. We were left with a scent to relieve you at times of high stress, help you stay calm, and recenter. I spray it on my neck and wrists, breathe in for four, hold for eight, and breathe out for four.” According to research conducted by The Nue Co., 96 percent of subjects felt calmer after smelling the scent.
Additionally, Swiss company Valeur Absolue is now infusing its fragrances with ingredients designed to soothe, relax and evoke emotion through its collection of seven unique, conceptual fragrances infused with Areumat perpetua, which is linked to the body’s release of endorphins. When it comes to the rest of its line, its Harmonie line fuses ingredients like neroli, vanilla and Earl Gray tea to soothe and calm.
All in all, Kohoot attributes the boom in the scent wellness market to a shift in the mindset of consumers, who are now known to turn into preventative, consumable measures to treat illnesses, unhappiness, discomfort, etc. In fact, the essential oil market is expected to reach $15 billion in 2026. “People are tired of pills and heavy-duty medicine,” he says. “People were disconnected from nature before and now we’re looking to natural solutions. However, people know that when they smell something, it can make them feel good, so there’s this kind of intuitive feeling around aromatherapy as well.”
We only recommend products we have independently researched, tested, and loved. If you purchase a product found through our links, Sunday Edit may earn an affiliate commission.