Can Fragrance Actually Help Your Mental Health?


Beauty has long been a form of escapism. Whether it’s reading magazines to find out which products celebrities love, watching your favorite content creator do a “Get Ready With Me,” or playing with your favorite makeup just for fun, the transformative effects of being creative with beauty products are unparalleled. Still, there’s one sector of the beauty industry that has proven to have an impact on mental wellbeing but doesn’t get the shine that it truly deserves: perfume.

“Fragrance can play a surprisingly positive role in our wellness routines,” says Tasha Bailey, a psychotherapist and the author of “Real Talk: Lessons From Therapy On Healing & Self-Love.” “It can give us something called glimmers, which are micro-moments that regulate our nervous system and help us feel safe.”

It’s true: fragrance has long played a role in many people’s wellness routines, and with the rise of social media, people are becoming more vocal about how perfume and other aromatics influence their well-being. Ahead, Bailey explains how fragrance can be a part of someone’s mental health routine and one TikToker shares how she used the product in her own wellness routine.

Experts Featured In This Article

Nicte Mejia, MD, MPH, FAAN, is associate professor of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Tasha Bailey is a psychotherapist and the author of “Real Talk: Lessons From Therapy On Healing & Self-Love.”

Bella Hadid is a supermodel and the founder of Orebella.

Chelbi Williams is a content creator.

Can Fragrance Affect Mental Health?

Some studies have suggested that certain fragrance notes impact mood. A 2005 article in the behavioral science journal Chemical Senses found that fragrance notes like clementine and vanilla have uplifting effects, with subjects reporting increased feelings of happiness and relaxation, respectively, immediately after smelling the fragrance. It makes sense, then, why those are two of the most popular scent profiles discussed on TikTok today – especially given that content creators often talk about the role that perfume plays in their lives.

Additionally, research does suggest that fragrance can help with certain mental health disorders like depression. “What we smell is perceived by a part of the brain called the olfactory bulb,” associate professor of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Nicte Mejia, MD, MPH, FAAN, says. “It connects to other parts of the nervous system that have to do with emotions . . . as such, research has shown that being exposed to a familiar smell may help people with depression recall certain things about themselves (these are called autobiographical memories), which is helpful in their treatment.

The Science Behind Fragrance Affecting Mood

You may still be wondering how exactly the fragrance and mental-wellness connection works. Let us explain. One of the biggest links between fragrance and mood – and therefore emotional well-being – is memory. In one article published in the journal Brain Sciences, researcher Rachel S. Herz explains exactly how the two are linked. “The primary olfactory cortex includes the amygdala, which processes emotional experience and emotional memory,” the article states. “[It also includes] the hippocampus, which is involved in associative learning. Thus, the mere act of smelling activates the amygdala-hippocampal complex.” In short, scent is processed through the same areas that generate emotion and organize memory. When a scent is “familiar,” it can be like unlocking a door with a specific memory associated with the first time (or period) that you smelled it. Your brain is briefly remembering your surroundings from that exact moment.

Leveraging the mind-fragrance connection is relatively simple – it’s easy to incorporate positive emotion-provoking scents into your own life, “Get into the routine of filling your living space with fragrances that feel good to you,” Bailey says. “This could be through diffusers, incense, or candles.” She also recommends items like oils, perfume, and herbal teas that will allow you to relax on particularly hectic days without much heavy lifting on your end.

How Fragrance Has Affected One Woman’s Mental Health

“The winter uglies are absolutely brutal this year,” content creator Chelbi Williams said in a TikTok video posted in early March, colloquially referring to what is commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The condition, which is a type of depression that occurs during certain seasons of the year, can present in people differently, but many on the app talk about a downward shift in their moods during the colder, darker winter months.

In the video, Williams goes on to discuss a few of her favorite fragrances that help her cope with seasonal depression. Many of them have fruity, citrus profiles – which falls right in line with the types of scents that research suggests offer a stimulating and more uplifting effect on the mood. “I find that citrus scents can make me feel more energized and focused,” Williams tells PS. “If I want to relax and wind down for the evening, I prefer amber and musky scents.”

Supermodel Bella Hadid also has an affinity for the wellness benefits of fragrance, which led to her starting an entire brand around the concept, aptly called Orebella. “Being able to wake up in the morning and have something that’s consistent for me and makes me feel different and unique allows me to go out into the world and represent myself through smell,” Hadid previously told PS. “I really love connecting with people and if fragrance can be the topic of conversation that provides that connection I want to continue championing that emotion.”

Just like Hadid, fragrance is an entire way of life for Williams and she infuses it with her wellness routine regularly. “Fragrance will always go hand in hand with wellness for me,” she says. “I feel encouraged to take care of myself when I enjoy my routine, and I enjoy my routine when it smells good. I toss a body mist in my gym bag so I can freshen up after a workout. I moisturize my skin more when my moisturizer smells like a fresh rose and so on. These little details help me to make my necessary tasks more luxurious and enjoyable.”

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