Functional fragrance: Meet the perfumes proven to boost your mood

<span class="caption">This is why certain scents boost your mood</span>
This is why certain scents boost your mood

You know that the gut functions as something of a second brain, producing mood-managing serotonin, and you’re au fait with the relaxing properties of sound baths and whale music. But what about the power of smell?

It’s no secret that a pleasant scent can inspire momentary escape and relief from the toils of everyday life. Previously, the jammy notes of a pinot noir and a whiff of a new candle would be enough to unwind you, but in a post pandemic world, you need more to break through your stress levels.

Luckily neuroscientists are on the case. Building on decades of research establishing the fragrance-emotion-memory connection, they’re digging deeper into our brain chemistry to unlock the specific note combinations behind that magical mood-elevating feeling.

Billed as 'functional fragrances' deploying these scents is said to help boost your mood by increasing positive feelings and aiding relaxation. Most recently, a functional fragrance has even been developed to help with the symptoms of menopause (more on that later).

So can you really sniff your way to inner peace? WH digs a little deeper in the research to find out...

What is functional fragrance?

Put simply, it's a scent that has been created to foster a certain type of feeling. Think calming, sensual, energised, relaxed or happy.

As for why they're cropping up now? Perfumer Veronique Gabai, who has recently launched three new functional fragrances, explains, ‘all my life, I have used natural ingredients to create perfumes connecting you to nature. During the pandemic, I felt compelled to go further, to explore the natural ingredients not just for their olfactive beauty but also for the benefits they can procure, harnessing their gentle healing powers.'

What is the science behind functional fragrance?

While in theory functional fragrances sound great, is there any research to back up their claims? The good news is yes, and it's coming in thick and fast.

A new study has revealed what yule-time celebrators long assumed - a truly stress-relieving fragrance could smell a lot like the festive season. Or, more specifically, a glug of vanilla, sweet nutty tonka bean and a spritz of ginger - the olfactory equivalent of cosy cashmere, warm hugs and sweet spiced cocoa.

Carried out by fragrance and flavours producer Symrise, the research tracked the conscious and unconscious responses of 78 Caucasian volunteers aged 20 to 66, when a scent was sprayed onto a face mask and worn for 15 days.

The findings were super interesting: participants who smelt the ‘active’ fragrance of vanilla, tonka bean and ginger, self-reported increased positive feeling. They were also more likely to choose images of ‘well-being’ over those showing stress and neutral feeling.

What’s more, this conscious effect was reflected in unconscious brain activity, with eye tracking software demonstrating that participants in the active group dwelled longer on ‘well-being’ images, compared to both a ‘neutral’ fragrance and the placebo alcohol spray.

'We know from our mood research that vanilla and tonka can aid relaxation whilst ginger helps you feel more revived,' confirms Lucy Akinyi from Givaudan's Centre of Excellence, another leading research and fragrance manufacturer. 'Stress relief is about relieving negative feelings through emotional pathways of relaxation and mindfulness. These fragrance ingredients act on these pathways to bring about a positive, possibly stress-relieving, mood,' she adds.

Elsewhere and another study has recently found that fragrances positively affect menopausal symptoms in mid-life women. In particular, mimosa has been shown to have anti-anxiety, anti-depressant and memory enhancing activities that are mediated through multiple mechanisms. It's why functional fragrance brand Abel have harnessed its powers in their latest creation, Pause.

The research doesn’t stop there. Givaudan is diving into fragrances’ influence on our other senses too. 'The use of patented AI technology has discovered a strong cross-modal relationship between colours, emotions and fragrance,' says Akinyi. Just wait for that to influence fragrance creation (and packaging) in years to come.

Until then, here are the best mood boosting scents that prove neuroscience can be found on the shop floor.

The best functional fragrances to shop

1.Veronique Gabai Aroma

Trust French fragrance legend Veronique Gabai to create three new scents that not only arouse your senses like nothing you've smelt before but positively increase your level of emotional engagement by 58 percent. Heart pushes away anxiety and fatigue and increases feelings of confidence thanks to grapefruit, lemon, citronella, and cedarwood. Body is brimming with rose, patchouli, geranium and clove leaf, which all help to balance emotions and improve sensuality. Soul (our fave), deploys cedarwood, lavender, elemi and olibanum and is incredibly calming, giving you peace of mind by re-centring your energy and calming nervousness.

2.Yves Saint Lauren Libre Le Parfum

Yves Saint Laurent’s soon-to-launch scent-sation, uses a rather futuristic headset to measure emotional reactions via brainwaves to help you choose your perfect YSL scent. Until then, Libre Le Parfum is one to consider – an amber floral that contains all three notes identified in the study.

3. Paco Rabanne Olympéa Legend

This also contains the trifactor of ginger, vanilla and tonka bean so not only does it smell like Christmas, it also helps to alleviate stress when the festive season takes its toll.

4. Byredo Vanille Antique

Once known as a nostalgic but rather sickly scent, in newer iterations, vanilla is warmer and nurturing. In fact, vanilla-based scents are often the tactile huggers of the fragrance world. This pairs sweet vanilla with black plum and woods like a comforting hug; perfect for colder days.

5. Les Infusions de Prada Infusion de Vanille

For something a bit different, this scent unusually places vanilla’s creaminess in the fragrance’s heart, so it’s toasty and invigorating in equal measure.

6. Edeniste Vanille

This neuroscience-backed fragrance brand Edeniste lives up to its name. The duo of vanilla CO2 extract and vanilla absolute is designed to be layered with the brand’s comforting Lifeboost blends.

7. Brown Girl Jane Bahia

Across the pond and the wellness and beauty brand Brown Girl Jane has also developed three “anti-stress” fragrances powered by claims of patent-pending neuroscience-proven technology. You’ll find the comfort of vanilla bean lingering in the warming floral, Bahia.

8. Dries Van Noten’s Sur Ma Peau

The tonka bean note is more often overlooked (it smells somewhat similar to vanilla and is less widely discussed) but it brings a nuttiness or tobacco aspect that can ground a fragrance. Here you'll find tonka bean and vanilla nestle below zesty citrus.

9. Commodity Milk

New to the UK, Commodity offers its 'Milk' scent in three intensities. There's 'Personal', which contains warming tonka bean and the ‘must sniff again' note of cold milk, that's reminiscent of marshmallows. 'Expressive' moves to the heart of the milk note and is much creamier thanks to accords of mahogany wood, while 'Bold' lets amber and firewood blaze a trail yet still has that signature fresh milky aroma.

10. Hermes’ Twilly D’Hermes Eau Ginger

Colder weather is known to slow down the rate of fragrance evaporation, meaning top and heart notes, where ginger is often found, may dwell slightly longer on the skin. This certainly provides a zesty freshness that can help to keep energy levels afloat when daylight dwindles.

11. Roger & Gallet Gingembre Rouge Fragrant Wellbeing Water

The energy in this hard to ignore, with its trio of ginger, ginger flower and crystallised ginger. You could even layer them over one of your existing fragrances to prolong their intensity; bonus points if your choice contains vanilla and tonka, of course.

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