In 2002, the hottest new perfumes were all about smelling like either cotton candy or your favorite pop star (case in point: The scent of J. Lo Glow still takes me back to my 11th birthday and Britney Spears’ Fantasy will never not remind me of my 7th grade crush). Fast forward 16 years, and in 2018, we’ve started spritzing ourselves for a very, very different reason: To feel better.
“Functional fragrance” has become a buzzy term in the beauty industry of late, referring to scents that do a whole lot more than just make us smell good. “The idea behind functional’ fragrance is that it’s actually doing something to help you,” explains Adina Grigore, founder of S.W. Basics, noting that essential oil-based scents primarily fit the bill, having replaced the synthetics we used to spritz ourselves with with to no abandon. “Fragrance, as we traditionally know it, is a compound of synthetic chemicals designed to smell a certain way. These chemicals have become controversial as-of-late because they can cause negative reactions, ranging from allergies to rashes to headaches and more.” Meanwhile EOs, which are the scenting agent in functional fragrances, are tapped frequently for their mood-altering properties, that bring on everything from sleep to mega energy.
This happens because there’s a scientifically-backed connection between scent and the brain and the body, that calms or excites the parasympathetic nervous system. So if sniffing these scents can generally have beneficial effects, it’s not a huge leap to assume that spritzing yourself with them (and thereby sniffing them all day long) does, too. “Lemon and orange are mood-boosting, peppermint and lavender are calming, and tea tree and clary sage are great for the skin,” explains Grigore, noting that the functional fragrances in her line are one-note, so you can select your scent based on the mood you want it to provoke.
According to research conducted by The Nue Co., another brand behind the functional fragrance boom, scent is one of the fastest ways to alter your emotional state because of how closely the brain and olfactory systems are linked. In a focus group, 96 percent of people felt “instantly calmer” after sniffing their scent, which was designed to help lower cortisol levels. After having the bottle at my desk for a week and inhaling it every time I felt overwhelmed, I can attest to the fact that this stuff checks out.
In addition to chilling you out and helping you to smell much better, functional fragrances don’t contain synthetic notes, which can sometimes present more ingredient question marks. “It becomes kind of a no-brainer to switch from a fake-smelling potion that gives you a headache to a roller ball that [can help make] your headache go away,” says Grigoire. “Personal care and beauty are becoming a part of our wellness, which is exactly what they should be.” Keep scrolling for the fragrances that will get to work for you.
If you’re stressed: The Nue Co describes its unisex functional fragrance ($155) as “clean, woody, spicy and smoky,” made with wellness-evoking notes like green cardamom, iris, palo santo, and cilantro. The combination of scents is intended to help chill you out, and two spritzes on your wrists or neck followed by an eight second inhale, a four second hold, and an eight second exhale should do the job.
If you need a mood boost: As Grigore mentioned, citrusy scents can help cheer you up, so S.W. Basic’s Sweet Orange ($6) is great for combatting winter (or workday) blues. In fact, the brand’s website refers to it as “sunshine in a bottle” and “chocolate cake that’s both rich and healthy.” Dab a few drops behind your ears to make your day feel like it’s been filled with rainbows and puppies.
If you need a little extra energy: In addition to inducing happiness, citrus can also put a little bit of pep in your step when coffee just doesn’t seem to be cutting it. Valeur Absolue Vitalite ($85) scent is infused with mandarin and Calabrian bergamot essential oils, magnesium and potassium, and a natural extract from the immortelle flower, which in a single sniff will make you feel ready to tackle that 4 p.m. to-do list.
If you want to chill out: Osea Vagus Nerve Oil ($48) works overtime to help make you feel good. It combines chamomile, jojoba, juniper leaf and lavender oils for a wave of calm and all-over good vibes. It’s meant to be used for a mini-massage along your vagus nerve, which stretches from your brain to your gut (fun fact! it’s the longest cranial nerve in the body!) and helps with stress, rest, and digestion.
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