The Beauty Memo

Can the right fragrance boost your mood?

DANIELLE FOX explores the scents that can aid wellness, from enhancing brain power to making you feel more joyful


For many, a fragrance isn’t just a scent; it incites emotion. Bella Freud, fashion designer and perfumer, says, “A good fragrance should get you in the head, the heart and the hormones. And, in some cases, it should also frisk you up a bit.” A reaction like this to a fragrance isn’t just a coincidence: there is science behind why we react to certain aromas. Our olfactory response is directly linked to the emotional center of our brain, causing a flood of feelings with every spritz.

“Fragrances do affect people’s mood, behavior and even work performance in a variety of ways,” explains Rachel S Herz, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University. “But it isn’t because scents work on us like a drug; instead, we work on them through our experiences and triggered memories. In order for a fragrance to elicit any sort of response in you, you have to first learn to associate it with some event.”

Aside from stirring up poignant memories or evocative moments, certain fragrant notes also do incredible things to our minds and bodies in the present moment. “Smells can also trigger a physiological response,” says Jules Miller, founder of organic supplement brand The Nue Co, which recently launched Functional Fragrance, a de-stressing perfume that uses woody and smoky notes to help calm the nervous system. “When doing our research with the University of Geneva, I learnt that our cognitive function and olfactory systems are closely linked. So, along with perfumer Frank Voelkl [the nose behind the iconic Le Labo Santal 33], we set ourselves the task of creating an anti-stress supplement in the form of a unisex fragrance that smells great but also helps a lot of people with anxiety.”

So, from helping with clarity and focus, easing insomnia and alleviating feelings of stress to providing relief from headaches, and even activating the immune system, here are the fragrances that could work wonders on our emotional wellbeing…

Vanilla can make you happy

Vanilla may often be used as a synonym for bland, but as one of the most widely used notes in fragrances, it is anything but mundane when it comes to our happiness levels. One study found that smelling vanilla increased feelings of joy and relaxation. Try AERIN Beauty Tangier Vanille d’Or.

Lavender can alleviate anxiety

While we know lavender as the go-to scent for sleep, perhaps its most useful benefit is its ability to help treat anxiety. In a fascinating study at the University of Cardiff, research found that the fragrance effectively inhibits the receptors in the brain that induce feelings of anxiousness. Find it in Frédéric Malle Music For A While.

Cinnamon can focus your mind

Cinnamon is one of the most cosseting scents out there and is found in many spicy oriental fragrances – and now we know that it can also boost brain power. A US study showed that those who smelled cinnamon noticeably improved cognitive functions such as memory, motor response and attention span. Spritz on Serge Lutens Féminité du bois.

Jasmine may ease depression

It’s the one note at the heart of perfumery and a recent study found that not only does the smell of jasmine create a sense of alertness, it can also help with panic attacks and depressive thoughts. Researchers found that the stimulating effect of jasmine can have a direct impact on the central nervous system, helping to relieve depression and lift the mood. Try Tom Ford Jasmin Rouge.

Citrus can calm your mood

Prepping for a big meeting? Try spritzing a citrus cologne infused with lemon or mandarin to calm nerves beforehand. Lemon, in particular, is now known to help with concentration and has an emotionally energizing effect that is particularly useful when you’re feeling angry or in a low mood. Meanwhile, mandarin has been seen to reduce feelings of stress, aid digestion and curb nausea. Dab Sisley Soir de Lune Lemon, Mandarin Orange & Bergamot on pulse points.


The model featured in this story is not associated with NET-A-PORTER and does not endorse it or the products shown