The scent of wellness – when perfumes are more than just pretty

Perfumes can be far more than merely ‘pretty’ – certain scents can truly impart a feeling of wellness, uplift our moods and remind us of happy memories.

Increasingly, people are turning to aromatherapy and using smell to soothe stress, add a sense of comfort or revive their spirits. But fragrances you wear have the benefit of being emotionally restorative all day.

In fact, we’re pre-conditioned to have smell preferences, and our response is based partly on our individual genetic make-up (our DNA), and partly on our life experiences. So: that crushed tomato leaf note that reminds you of a beloved grandmother and her greenhouse – or the jasmine that was growing round a door when you were poorly on holiday, and which you can now hardly stomach.

Many people use fragrance as a boost for their spirits, perhaps without realising they’re doing so, and there is even a name for the science behind this: ‘aromachology’.

 

 

It’s been scientifically proven that different aromas can impact on mood and emotions – not just personally, but affecting those around you: Bergamot is a feel-good ingredient, peppermint makes you perkier and more alert, and grapefruit – believe it or not – apparently makes others believe you’re younger than you are!

Understanding the way differing notes in a fragrance can make us feel is one reason so many of us have a ‘wardrobe’ of fragrances, rather than just one signature scent: a perfume to make us feel ready to wind down, after a hard day staring at a computer screen; a scent to give us a weekend vibe – or simply something that we spritz on for work, in the morning, which makes us feel more focused and professional, in the same way as a smart suit or a crisp white shirt.

If you love the smell of a fragrance, allow yourself the luxury of a few minutes each day: inhaling the changing aromas as they warm on your skin and focusing on the smell alone.

 

 

Spray a scent on a blotter, preferably; close your eyes and keep sniffing for several seconds, then take the blotter away, inhale deeply, and re-sniff the blotter again. Repeat this for a minute or so, and then begin writing a few words in a notebook. It doesn’t have to be a description, and it shouldn’t ‘list’ notes – try to use words that make you think of other things. For example…

If this scent were a fabric, what would it be? What colour? If you made someone an outfit from that fabric, who would they be, where would they be going?

If it were a piece of music, what instruments would be playing? Is it classical, rock music, pop, rap or jazz?

When you’re smelling a fragrance this way, attempt to get past thinking ‘I do / don’t like this’ and focus instead on the mood it’s creating, the place or person it reminds you of. Lock a happy image in your mind, and whenever you wear that fragrance – or even think of it again – the joy of that memory or daydream will be yours to relish in, forever.

It’s genuinely life-changing!

To aid your fragrant wellness explorations, we recommend trying samples of several differing scents – even ones you wouldn’t perhaps be normally drawn to. Diversifying the range of fragrances you try will actively improve your sense of smell over time – just as eating a wider range of foods expands your palate.

 

 

Grab the opportunity to try this hand-picked selection of fragrances before they sell out – some of our very favourites for their mood-boosting effects – in the Launches We Love Discovery Box. £23 (£19 for VIPs). There’s 12 fabuoulous fragrances to try, including…

Contradictions in Ilk, Virtuous: Inspired by purity, specifically monks living in cloisters in the Tuscan hills – close your eyes and you can feel yourself walking through a fresh and cleansing herb garden, the aromatic plants offering up their therapeutic benefits as you pass them by. You then reach the cool stone walls of the monastery, catching the trailing vapours of old leather and incense coming from within, as a serene stillness settles over you.

Shay & Blue, Tallulah’s Camellia: The second you spritz this fragrance, you get an immediate sense of its personality, of who Tallulah might be – a rebellious, dancing and twirling through a woodland carpeted with bluebells, with bewitching heart notes of white florals, bringing to mind sheer, floaty dresses worn with hair untamed; a girl beholden to no-one as these soft, gauzy, dreamy notes take hold. The only thing that grounds her? A warm yet strong base of woods and white tea, entirely at one with nature and somehow, through that, very grounding.

Ahhh… now isn’t that better?

Bottling the smell of happiness to help treat depression…?

Can you bottle the smell of happiness to treat depression? Scientists are currently reseraching if ‘a spray of happiness’ could be one way to help, according to an article by Alex Whiting in Horizon magazine...

Our bodies produce different scents when we feel happy or afraid. These so-called chemosignals – which are in fact odourless – are believed to trigger happiness or fear in others. It is one of the ways smell impacts people’s social interactions.

‘It’s like an emotional contagion. If I feel fear, my body odour will be smelt by people around me and they may start to feel fear themselves, unconsciously,’ said Enzo Pasquale Scilingo, a professor at the Department of Information Engineering at the University of Pisa, Italy.

Similarly, the smell of happiness can inspire a positive state in other people, says Prof. Scilingo.

‘If we had a spray of happiness … If we can find some odour which can induce a happy state – or a general positive state – I think we can help many, many people,’ Prof. Scilingo said.

He hopes scientists can produce one within a few years. This could be particularly important in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, with cases of depression rising especially among young people.

‘I don’t want to say having this spray will (cure) people, but I think it’s a very beautiful contribution,’ Prof. Scilingo said.

Sweat

He is coordinating a project called POTION which is researching these chemosignals. The researchers use videos to induce fear or happiness in people, and then collect their sweat to analyse which chemical compounds are released with each emotion.

‘The next step is to synthesise the odours and … investigate how they induce emotions in others,’ said Prof. Scilingo.

Eventually, fear odours and people’s responses to them could be used to help psychiatrists understand more about different aspects of phobias and depression. And happiness odours could be used to help in treatment.

‘If we can use the odour of happiness in addition to the usual treatment for phobias or depression, we (could) increase the efficacy of the therapy,’ said Prof. Scilingo.

The POTION researchers are also investigating how odours impact people’s social interactions, and sense of inclusion or exclusion from others.

Previous research has found that a person’s emotional state can influence how they respond to other people – and how others respond to them, Prof. Scilingo says. Someone feeling fear is less likely to approach or trust people, and others are likely to be wary of them. And the reverse is true for happiness – the happier someone is, the more likely they are both to trust others and to attract them, says Prof. Scilingo.

Mammals

In mammals, the sense of smell is uniquely linked to the part of the brain associated with emotions and the creation of memories, says Dr Lisa Roux, researcher at the Interdisciplinary Institute for Neuroscience in France.

Smell is important for recognition between people. A mother can recognise the smell of her child, for example, and this may be an important part of bonding, she said.

‘We humans use our sense of smell more than we think. It’s more unconscious, and a little bit taboo – we are not very comfortable with it – but there is more and more evidence that smell is important in social behaviours,’ said Dr Roux.

The first region of the brain that processes chemosignals – the olfactory bulb – is directly connected to the limbic system, which controls the ability to identify another individual, the formation of memories, and manages emotional responses.

All other senses – taste, hearing, sight and touch – are processed by other regions of the brain before being linked to the limbic system.

This may be because smell has been the most important sense for the survival of species. ‘Chemical signalling is very important, even for bacteria. It’s a very ancient modality, it’s really key,’ Dr Roux said.

‘We humans use our sense of smell more than we think. It’s more unconscious, and a little bit taboo – we are not very comfortable with it – but there is more and more evidence that smell is important in social behaviours.’ – Dr Lisa Roux, Interdisciplinary Institute for Neuroscience, France

Pleasure and pain

The sense of smell is linked to pleasure and depression, possibly because of its unique link to the limbic system.

Up to a third of people with a defective sense of smell experience symptoms of depression, according to a research paper published in 2014.

This may be partly because of their loss of sense of taste, and concerns about personal hygiene and social interactions. But it is also likely that olfactory loss affects the brain’s functioning and in particular its emotional control, authors of the paper said.

‘This might be because the olfactory system is directly linked to the limbic regions – which include the amygdala that is very important for controlling emotions,’ said Dr Roux.

Mice

Dr Roux is principal investigator of sociOlfa, a project looking at how a mouse brain processes chemosignals when it encounters a new individual, and then uses them to create memories.

‘Mice interact a lot by smelling the different body parts of other mice, and the nature of the smell will carry rich information (such as) the social status of the other individual,’ said Dr Roux.

Animals use scent to mark – and detect – territory. In experimental conditions, if two mice fight, the one that wins will mark an area with its scent using urine. The subordinate one will also release a scent but only in one spot.

‘A dominant mouse will have specific molecules to indicate they are dominant ones. And a sick animal will have signs of sickness within this odour mixture,’ she said.

Female mice use scent to select a mate – usually preferring an unfamiliar male possibly because it promotes genetic diversity, says Dr Roux.

‘For me it’s a (form of) language. It’s a way to communicate important information within a social group, important to maintain the hierarchy within the group, and it’s very important for reproduction,’ said Dr Roux.

Studying how mouse brains process chemosignals will help researchers understand general principles of how their brains form social memories, says Dr Roux.

And the results may be relevant in people too. Understanding how the mouse brain processes chemosignals during social interactions and when forming memories of an individual could help scientists identify what happens when these functions go wrong – for example, in mouse models of autism.

Eventually this could also help scientists understand what happens in people whose ability to recognise others is impaired – for example those with Alzheimer’s – or those who have difficulties with social interactions caused by autism.

The research in this article was funded by the EU. If you liked this article, please consider sharing it on social media.’

This post Bottling the smell of happiness to help treat depression was originally published on Horizon: the EU Research & Innovation magazine | European Commission.

Eau dear what can the matter be? (How to spray away the blues)

In these darker days while we stumble through that twilight zone between the dog end of winter and the strat of spring (and with that, the hope of daylight or anything nice happening ever again), our spirits may need some manual help with lifting – and luckily for us, fragrance is one of the most direct ways of doing this.

For anyone who’s had a terrible day and reached for the bottle – the perfume bottle, that is – the answer is resoundingly in the affirmative. Little wafts of a favourite scent throughout the day can be a perfumed treat for you, or worn as a fragrant shield against the world in general. And now we have some research to back up those beliefs.

 

When you take a deep breath and inhale aroma molecules, they’re detected by the olfactory receptors in your nose and immediately stimulate some of the deepest, oldest parts of the brain – in ways that we’re only just starting to understand.

‘This process produces nerve impulses which travel to the limbic system, the part of the brain which is most concerned with survival, instincts and emotions. It’s thought by scientists the activity of the nerve signal passing through this region causes mood change by altering brain chemistry,’ says Christina Salcedas, of Aromatherapy Associates London. Our ability to smell ‘…is a window into parts of the brain related to core functions, like pleasure, emotion, and memory,’ agrees Jayant Pinto, MD, author of the study and an otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon at University of Chicago Medicine.

 

 

‘Pleasant ambient odors have also been found to enhance vigilance during a tedious task and improve performance on anagram and word completion tests’ reports scientificamerican.com, going on to explain that, conversely, ‘…the presence of a malodor reduced participants subjective judgments and lowered their tolerance for frustration. Participants in these studies also reported concordant mood changes. Thus,’ they conclude, ‘the observed behavioral responses are due to the effect that the ambient odors has on peoples mood’

 

 

Scent alters mood, mood increases creativity and productivity: it’s a win-win. But what exactly should you spritz to give yourself an olfactory boost for the spirit? I don’t necessarily want to reach for bottles of perfume I normally associate with winter – you know, those fragrances that seduce you into a state of langorously scented stulification, with rich, velvety florals swathed in spices and cosseted in cashmere. No, it’s time to be gently jolted a little, to kick-start your senses when your spirits are low, or whenever you just need a dose of extra sunshine in your life…

 

Still going strong since 1792, I’ve heard some wise French grandmothers advised leaving this in the fridge and splashing your breasts with it every morning, to tone and invigorate. Lemon, orange, dewy fresh rose and sandalwood oil combine with some sort of alchemy to take the heat out of a situation and ease the onset of a headache – particularly useful for those of us constantly tied to our computers. Did you know this is the only scent that Holly Golightly wears in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? In the mailbox of her apartment, she keeps her everyday essentials – a mirror, lipstick, and bottle of 4711. Quite right, too.

4711 Eau de Cologne Cool Stick £5.99 for 20ml
Buy it at Boots

A revolutionary fragrance and body treatment that was first launched in 1987, the invigorating aroma was unisex way before the word became trendy, and offers uplifting essences along with the promise of moisturising, firming and toning. Containing essential oils of lemon, patchouli, petit grain, ginseng and white tea, it leaves you feeling like you’ve just bounced out of a spa treatment (while avoiding awkward small-talk and the need to pre-wax your lady garden).

Clarins Eau Dynamisante £50 for 200ml Eau de Cologne
Buy it at clarins.co.uk


Abandon all thoughts of “grenade” in the sense of pulling a pin and hot-footing it in the opposite direction, for pomme grenade in French is what we know as “pomegranate”. An exotic melange of intensely fruity notes for a feeling of exuberant light-heartedness. Orange gets zesty with the mango-like davana, hypnotic neroli flowers fall like confetti on a base of vanilla – a scent now proven to calm startle reflexes and is being used to help patients undergo stressful sessions of chemotherapy in some hospitals. Spritz, breathe and dream, exotically.

Weleda Jardin de Vie Grenade £21.95 for 50ml eau naturelle parfumeé
Buy it at weleda.co.uk

Whisking you to the light-filled royal courtyards of Seville, bitter orange, sun-drenched bergamot and mandarin giggle into neroli and the cardamom-flecked, florist-shop freshness of galbanum; while ylang ylang is (unusually) found in the base, making for a giddily joyous landing. Wrapping cedar with flirty floral tendrils, the musky trail of sunshine-infused happiness surrounds you like a much-needed hug.

Molton Brown Orange & Bergamot £39 for 50ml eau de toilette
Buy it at moltonbrown.co.uk

If you’re anything like me, you spend half your life searching for plug points to charge up whatever electronics you’re lugging around – if only our own batteries were boosted so simply. Consecutive days of not enough sleep and hectic lifestyles can really take it out of you, as can eating your own body-weight in dairy products, I have discovered. Book me in for a barrel-load, then, of crisply revivifying grapefruit, lemon & rosemary to help refresh and re-energise.

Neom Energy Burst £49 for 50ml eau de toilette
Buy it at neomorganics.com

Sparkling fresh, this citrus scent with a rich floral heart is ‘perfect for spritzing any time your spirits need a boost,’ as they put it. It’s that sudden throwback to summer memories, a snapshot of yourself laughing while dancing in a garden, the fizz of Champagne bubbles still on your lips, a warm breeze swirling rose petals at your feet. Spray whenever you need reminding that better days will come again.

Liz Earle Botanical Essence No.1 £54 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at uk.lizearle.com

Written by Suzy Nightingale