A simple waft of a soothing scent can stir something deep inside the human soul and evoke an intoxicating blur of nostalgia, emotion, and comfort. Any fragrance enthusiast knows the power of a great scent, the romance of the olfactory experience. It’s far more than smelling good for others; it’s an act of self-care. And yet fragrance’s effect on mood is actually pretty unromantic—it’s downright scientific fact.
“By far, smell is our strongest sense and affects mood and behavior more than any other human sensorial experience,” explains Brianna Arps, founder of luxury fragrance brand, MOODEAUX. “Scientists say this is because the olfactory bulb is connected to the limbic system, which includes parts of the brain that control emotion and memory.”
On a more granular level, the relationship between smell and emotion is embedded within our olfactory memory and limbic systems, explains holistic healer Maura Farragher. Scents take a direct route to parts of the brain responsible for emotions and memory, creating a link between our mental well-being and what we smell.
According to Alexandra Monet, a perfumer at world-renowned fragrance and taste company, Firmenich, the scent-emotion link is so deep that it can contribute to controlling mood and behavior as well as sparking memories (both consciously and subconsciously). For example, fragrances that cue nostalgia tend to be especially coveted in times of uncertainty, Monet explains, as nostalgia enhances our well-being and, in a way, reconnects us with parts of ourselves and those we love.
How does fragrance have an effect on mood?
A good fragrance is more than just pleasing to the nose. It’s composed of notes that directly target our emotions. Some scents, like lavender, evoke a sense of peace and calmness, whereas others, like wild orange, are known to boost mood.
In recent years, a growing number of fragrance brands have turned to “functional fragrances,” an attempt to connect emotionally and enhance wearers’ moods by manipulating the powerful olfactory-emotional connection. This logic is nothing new.
“Fragrance is medicine,” shares Janine Mahon, MD, doctor of Chinese medicine. “Fragrance contains the essence of the plant and can activate the mind and body in powerful ways. When using a plant’s essential oil you access elements inaccessible through other plant preparations.”
Do scent preferences (and the effects scents have on mood) change from season to season?
In the same way that we don’t wear the same clothes in the summer season versus the winter, scent preferences and that olfactory-emotion connection change based on weather and temperature.
“In summer we need less. We generally want lighter, fresher scents because we are out and about, wearing less clothing, eating less food,” shares Rosie Jane Johnston, founder of By/Rosie Jane. “During the winter we stay inside more, we’re eating calorie-rich foods, and nesting, so cozy, heavier scents fit in better.”
We turned to scent as a means of refuge and escape at the height of the pandemic; we arguably do the same every winter, gravitating toward scents that are warm and comforting, more sensual. It’s a phenomenon that’s increasingly defining our use of fragrance in everyday life.
“I really foresee fragrance consumption evolving into a more direct medium for self-care through self-expression,” Arps shares. “Rather than wearing our favorite scents just to feel something, those who indulge—especially Millennials and Gen Zs—will reach for fragrance to ‘accessorize’ their feelings instead.”
11 Best Mood-Boosting Perfumes That Uplift and Inspire Connection
“We see an important role of woodsy [scents] in feelings of calm and relaxation for both American men and women,” shares Monet. In particular, the combination of comforting woods and creamy musk scents is highly associated with relaxation—and PHLUR’s Somebody Wood is just that. The unisex fragrance features key notes of sandalwood, amber, and musk for an undeniably cozy, warm, slightly sexy scent.
Research shows that citrus aromas reduce oxidative stress and inflammatory responses, which can lead to a boost in mood—especially during those colder winter months when many experience the “winter blues.” With a careful blend of neroli, grapefruit, bergamot, moss, orange flower, and Earl Grey tea, Windows Down from HENRY ROSE instantaneously uplifts spirits with a fresh, zesty shot of energy. The fragrance has notes of citrus throughout but features a light, floral finish that makes it perfect for everyday use.
Taunt, with its notes of bergamot, vanilla, and amber, is categorically sexy. While the vanilla and amber evoke a warm, flirtatious aura, bergamot adds a mood-brightening sense of energy. The result is a sweet, yet balanced, scent that’s equal parts soft and romantic.
Echoing the sentiments we found in our research, Farragher points toward citrus scents for its boosting mood, energizing, and uplifting benefits. And Le Labo’s Bergamote 22 utilizes those cheer-y benefits to its full advantage. The eau de parfum combines citrus notes like bergamot, grapefruit, and orange blossom, with deeper, sweeter scents like cedarwood, amber, and musk, as well as a hint of the delicate floral petitgrain, for a fresh, sensual scent that’s both spicy and clean at once.
“Vanilla is an amazing mood booster. It’s cozy, safe, promotes happiness, and reduces stress and anxiety,” Johnston explains. And her newest eau de parfum, Dulce, is just that. The sweet, comforting scent is like being wrapped in a warm, cozy sweater, thanks to a blend of two kinds of vanilla, chocolate, and Hinoki wood. It’s gourmand and sweet without feeling artificial or overwhelming.
“In winter, we may find ourselves gravitating towards scents that ground us,” Dr. Mahone explains. “Ones that remind us of our connection to the earth, like cedarwood, juniper, and nutmeg.” Indeed, those rich, earthy woods promote a sense of serenity, balance, and a connection with the natural world (which can be especially helpful during those brutal winter months). Après perfectly strikes that balance, thanks to a keen blend of juniper berries and cedarwood, which ground the scent in a crisp whiff of evergreens, and a touch of bourbon, vanilla, and praline, which adds the slightest hint of rich spices and sweetness. The result is an addictive and compelling fragrance that’s cozy and ever-so-slightly sexy.
When designing MOODEAUX’s debut fragrance, Arps wanted it to smell like “a hug in a bottle. A mix of citrus-floral-woodsy accords grounded in sheer warmth. The kind that wraps your senses in a cozy embrace—whenever you need one most, especially during the winter.” To do this, Worthy cleverly combines different scent styles in a way that instills confidence in the wearer. And, because the fragrance adapts with the body’s natural pheromones, it smells slightly different on everyone, making it a truly unique experience.
Tribeca is a slightly floral, sweet perfume that smells deeply luxurious and powder-y. Notes of cacao absolute, green hazelnut, cedarwood ambroxan, moss, caramel, and jasmine sambac absolute evoke the edgy, cool-girl vibes of Tribeca perfectly. That last note is of particular importance: Dr. Mahone notes that jasmine speaks to our emotions, giving wearers a boost of confidence and sense of allure.
Sintra is a perfectly balanced spicy floral scent that’s somehow simultaneously crisp, fresh, warm, and deeply rich. Top notes of bergamot oil, Italian lemon, and aquaflora play with euphoric base notes like orris, vetiver, sandalwood and musk. The result blends the uplifting qualities of citruses with the grounding nature of those muskier, earthy notes for a surprisingly human aromatic delight.
There’s something undeniable alluring about an earthy, sweet blend—the resulting warmness is intoxicating and sexy. Sweet Ash nails this combination on the head with notes of juniper, bergamot, fir balsam, white moss, patchouli, tonka, and vanilla bean. The fragrance is wildly inviting and warm, perfect for when that winter dread starts to set in.
Mojave Ghost is a woody, aromatic scent with a touch of fresh and floral notes that are subtle yet distinct. The scent is, in a word, complex. There’s the nostalgic notes of chantilly musk and cedarwood, sweet florals like ambrette, violet, and magnolia, the slight citrus of amber, and the almost pear-like Jamaican nesberry. It’s a fragrance that makes wearers feel as sexy as they smell (which is, to be clear, very sexy).
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