Remember Amortentia, from Harry Potter? It’s the most powerful love potion in the world and it’s entirely based on smell. The steam that emanates from Amortentia smells different to each person, according to what attracts them.
Yes, I did just use a Harry Potter reference. But, however fantastical the world of Hogwarts is, the science behind scents, and how it connects us to and evokes certain emotions is proven true based on “associative learning.” Associative learning is the way that certain events or senses connect us to past experiences, and may trigger a positive or negative feeling associated with that time or memory. The same way that Amortentia smells different to each person, certain fragrances may trigger different emotional reactions in different people. There is “no one size fits all fragrance. Our relationships to certain scents are based on the personal and cultural associations we’ve made to it in our lives,” Rachel Herz, PhD, explains.
According to a 2016 study in scientific journal Brain Sciences, “odors that evoke positive autobiographical memories have the potential to increase positive emotions, decrease negative mood states, disrupt cravings, and reduce physiological indices of stress, including systemic markers of inflammation.” Research says that 75 percent of the emotions we feel every day are affected by smell, and we are 100 times more likely to remember something we smell over something we see, hear, or touch. As soon as we smell something, our amygdala, the part of the brain where emotion and emotional memory is processed, is activated, resulting in an instant emotional response. Hippocrates even said that “Perfume is a remedy for bad moods.”
Throughout history, aromatic plants were used to remedy both physical and mental ailments. The Egyptians used Myrrh to fight anxiety while the Greeks used saffron to release tension and stimulate sleep. Patrick K. Porter, PhD, an award-winning neuroscientist, author, and creator of BrainTap®, explains the science behind why this is and what scents to select based on your current or desired mood.
Here’s which perfumes our beauty editors pick out for each emotion based on Dr. Porter’s suggestions:
If you’re feeling anxious
If you’re feeling stressed and looking to calm down, Dr. Porter recommends opting for a perfume with notes of lavender, bergamot, lemongrass, and neroli. Lavender, in particular, acts on the part of our brain that controls our emotions and memories and results in the secretion of calming and soothing hormones that help to regulate the heartbeat and blood pressure.
Jo Malone’s Amber and Lavender Cologne, which has been around for over 25 years, has notes of both lavender and bergamot and is a great unisex option to help calm and soothe.
Shop now: Jo Malone Amber and Lavender Cologne, $142
If you’re feeling sad or insecure
In need of cheering up? Dr. Porter recommends scents like cedarwood, bergamot, fennel, pine, and citrus. These scents help boost one’s confidence and self esteem. Herbalist Caity Flanagan says that the sweet notes in Bergamot have “uplifting and mood-elevating properties—promoting peace, harmony, happiness, and overall balance.”
Try Le Labo’s Bergamote 22 for a perfume that has bergamot, cedarwood, and the citrus notes of grapefruit and orange blossom.
Shop now: Le Labo’s Bergamote 22, $165
If you want to get in *the mood*
If you’re looking to feel those sensual vibes and get in the mood, Dr. Porter recommends sandalwood and ylang ylang.
Though on the pricey side, Tom Ford’s fragrances are classic and the epitome of luxury. For a splurge on a super sexy scent opt for the Santal Blush perfume with both sandalwood and ylang ylang.
Shop now: Tom Ford Santal Blush, $250
If you’re feeling tired
And if you’re needing a quick burst of focus and energy? Dr. Porter recommends frankincense and sage.
For a boost of energy, Heretic Parfum’s Smudge is the way to go. With both ingredients, it is great for clarity and motivation.
Shop now: Heretic Parfum Smudge, $65
Lastly, Dr. Herz urges each individual to work to “build one’s own personal experiences with a scent and then train your brain to associate it with an emotion,” rather than assuming that what works for one person will work for everyone. “Picking a scent that is yours is unique based on how each perfume interacts with your individual body chemistry,” says Dr. Porter. While the suggestions above may work based on the science of smell, trust your gut and go with first impressions when selecting what kind of fragrance will work best for you.
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