Too rushed to wander around among trees for their relaxing effect? Spritz on Forest Lungs, a fragrance from The Nue Co. billed to give a similar calming sensation, thanks to an olfactive component replicating the effect of phytoncides, plant-derived compounds.
About six months’ stock of the scent was sold out in just eight days after its introduction, according to Flo Glendenning, vice president of product and sustainability at the U.K.-based company.
“That product really tapped into something that people were craving,” she said.
Forest Lungs is part of a new, rising niche of fragrance called neuroscents, which are created with an olfactive note or notes to elicit emotional responses that are neurologically proven, increasingly with brainwaves.
Neuroscents’ effects harken back to that of perfume with healthy, holy and healing properties beginning some 4,000 years ago. Then, fragrances provided spiritual and mental wellness, rather than just being used as a tool for seduction, which has essentially been their role in recent decades.
“It’s really aromatherapy 2.0,” said Céline Manetta, senior manager for human and consumer insights at IFF, who manages the U.S. headquartered company’s science and wellness program. “Today, we are reopening all these doors and territories.”
Neuroscents are next-generation functional fragrances birthed from advanced science and backed by facts, but they’re not totally new. Fragrance makers have already been studying people’s biometric reactions to scent, to try to understand the perfume-mind connection. But these days they are homing in increasingly on brainwaves’ reactions to scent in the quest for emotional responses that are a part of a broader well-being.
Think of neuroscents as the olfactive equivalent of Marcel Proust’s madeleine in his book “In Search of Lost Time.” These are fragrances able to conjure up memories, emotions — and possibly a whole lot more.
“The Proustian effect, it’s not that it just takes you to that moment. It takes you to how you felt at that moment,” said Simon Ellwood, head of health and well-being, fragrance and beauty at Swiss fragrance and flavors supplier Givaudan.
The now of this is manifold. Following coronavirus-related lockdowns, there is a swell of demand for perfume with wellness attributes.
“There’s more understanding that well-being is not only physical,” said Matteo Magnani, chief consumer and innovation officer of global perfumery at Firmenich, the Swiss fragrance and flavors supplier.
He underlined the link between emotion and mental well-being that’s a growing focus for consumers, even in relation to high-end scents.
“They clearly said they want positive emotions everywhere, all the time,” Manetta said.
“Our research says that two out of three consumers look at scents for more than just the pleasure, the hedonistic value of a nice smell,” said Magnani.
IFF surveyed more than 3,000 women and men in 14 different countries and found that nine out of 10 wanted to improve their well-being. Eighty-seven percent desired a fragrance with emotional and physical benefits, while 45 percent expressed that they expect fine fragrance to better their mood and comfort levels.
“Fragrances are more and more seen as a self-care product,” said Magnani. “So in that context, the emotional balance, the emotional benefit and the impact of emotions on our well-being at large become more relevant.”
Technology’s giant leaps forward are helping make this dream become reality.
“The public have gotten a greater feeling for being able to actually observe objectively their well-being,” said Ellwood, citing portable trackers as an example.
Givaudan has been using electroencephalograms, or EEGs, to follow brainwaves’ response to scent. Such implicit methodology is now being used more frequently industry-wide.
“The idea is really to go beyond the obvious,” said Manetta.
Whereas perfumers of the past might have automatically turned to classical lavender for a scent meant to relax, now they know thanks to neurological studies that some lavandin is even more relaxing. Vanilla, generally associated with relaxation, as well, is understood today to have an energizing property, too.
Data science helps read and synthesize people’s neurological results in newfangled ways.
“It’s the ability to process big data in a quick and user-friendly way, and really embed data science and AI in the creative process and the work of the perfumers,” said Magnani.
IFF perfumers work with internal data scientists to know better and faster how to use an ingredient or ingredients.
“It’s not only about single ingredients today, thanks to AI,” Manetta said. “Because we combine our methodologies and decode our results with algorithms, that helps to identify the synergies of ingredients — meaning all the combinations of ingredients — that can help to boost a certain benefit, like relaxation.”
The focus is on both natural and synthetic ingredients, whereas aromatherapy 1.0 tends only to use natural ingredients and is unidirectional benefits-wise.
Each person has a different emotional response to scent, with nurture, in the form of cultural context, playing a massive role. “Our memory center is one of the key triggers of emotional responses, and they are associated with the way we have grown up, the culture we’ve lived in,” said Magnani.
Firmenich takes a country-specific approach to people’s emotional response to fragrance. IFF’s method generally combines people’s verbal and neurological reaction to scents, allowing for an understanding of what is common among people and specific to a certain culture.
Yet nothing is one-size-fits-all. Individuals keep forming their own memories and habits, therefore their emotional reactions to scent are unique. “There is the intangible, how we were brought up, our memories. How scents affect the brain I feel is directly linked to memory,” said Giancarlo Möller, a neurosurgeon and cofounder of the House of Bō fragrance brand, which does not currently incorporate neuroscents.
He has not reviewed studies on neuroscents yet, but is keen to see what the data shows.
Neuroscents remain a niche, but are diffusing into all fragranced product categories.
Some prestige scents using IFF ingredients include Givenchy’s Irresistible Eau de Parfum, containing “anti-morose” rose extract; Paco Rabanne Phantom, with a “sensual” emotional benefit, and Vyrao The Sixth, billed to promote mindfulness and intuition.
Firmenich has a set of solutions, some of which have been used by The Nue Co., Rituals L’Essentiel and the Brown Girl Jane Wanderlust collection.
Firmenich’s EmotiON has various tools, such as EmotiWAVES, which are wholly natural essential oil ingredients proven neuroscientifically with an fMRI to stimulate a specific emotion.
There is also ScentMove, the company’s model for the verbalization of emotional feelings stemming from fragrances.
Firmenich has begun using EmotiCODE — a set of AI-generated design rules that cross categories to develop full fragrances delivering a benefit that is proven with cognitive science.
Givaudan’s MoodScentz, a trio of mood-enhancing fragrance technologies, has been used most recently in products such as Love Beauty & Planet Coconut Oil & Chamomile and Dove Men+Care products like Inner Peace Holy Basil + Hemp Seed Oil Face + Body Wash.
In November 2022, Givaudan released MoodScentz+, a fragrance and oral care flavors design program, with six patents, described as redefining the understanding of emotional experiences, while introducing a new neurobiology measurement capability based on data mining.
“It is actually more of a revolution than an evolution, because it measures blood flow in the brain,” said Ellwood. And that can change according to emotions.
Givaudan has been delving into the range of emotions between relaxation and invigoration.
“The challenge for us was ‘happy,’” said Ellwood. “It’s finding those physiological markers.”
He also explained that Givaudan has discovered there’s an inner and outer aspect to emotions or moods. “That’s something we’re starting to unveil now,” he added.
Heightened focus is one functional attribute fragrance suppliers have zoomed in on lately.
“It’s about fragrances that help you ground yourself, be more mindful,” said Magnani.
The need to focus and remain concentrated was an acute consumer need across different target groups. “It can take different forms and lead to different benefits,” said Magnani. For instance, responses in a teenager in school or who is gaming would differ to that of seniors.
Being present in the moment is a cross-generational challenge being addressed by perfume makers, as well.
“There is a physical facet of wellness, too, and at IFF we are working on sleep,” said Manetta. The sleep-related findings, culled with IFF partner SleepScore Labs, will be integrated into consumer products from every category of scent, plus some new ones. “We are looking into those emotional states that can really have a direct impact on our behavior in certain areas of our life,” said Magnani.
That could include, for instance, the digital and virtual reality realms.
“Those experiences are still somehow imperfect,” said Magnani. “Olfactory deprivation is part of that. So there’s some power in connecting those experiences with scent and specifically with scents that add emotional impact. That’s an area that is extremely inspiring and relevant for the industry.
“Obviously, there’s a challenge in the right technology and devices to support it,” he added. “But the opportunity is there, and the impact for consumers can be significant.”
In the categories of personal or family care, other ideas for next-generation functional fragrance products include: What if people had many more touchpoints with scent across their day and life, and that those even respond to what’s happening, Magnani mused.
“This is an interesting development for the future: We are looking at how emotion can impact behavior,” he continued.
Mental performance and energy are in some companies’ scopes.
Tracking brainwaves is also beginning to help fragrance makers guide consumers in store to scents best suited to their emotional desires and needs. To wit, there’s YSL Beauté’s Scent Sation.
Delphine Helin Tour, international beauty tech and retail services director at YSL Beauté at L’Oréal, explained that more than 60 percent of consumers interviewed expressed they’d like to have an application or device to help them choose their next fragrance.
So L’Oréal and neurotechnology company Emotiv partnered on a project to help people make precise and personalized fragrance choices among YSL’s 27 perfumes, based on their emotions. The companies created an in-store fragrance consultation experience linking neuro responses to fragrance preferences through a multisensory EEG-based headset.
It works like this: People answer a few questions regarding their olfactive preferences. Then the headset with sensors is put on the consumer and in real time, as people experience six proprietary scent accords blind, the headset employs machine-learning algorithms that interpret a brain’s electrical energy to be able to sense precisely and monitor behavior, preferences, stress and attention.
“It’s really the client’s brain, which turns scents into emotion,” said Helin Tour. “The captors on the headset register how each olfactive note will stimulate the neural activity and measures the electrical impulses triggered in specific areas of the brain.”
Scent Sation, a service lasting between 20 and 30 minutes, was pilot-tested in Dubai Mall starting November 2022.
“It’s a very personalized diagnosis, and the clients actually learn about themselves,” she said.
Scent Sation recommends to the client three fragrances, two of which are a match and one that is like a surprise, but the perfumes’ names are not revealed. Clients are also given a “likeability curve,” according to their emotional responses, and they can join an online community of people with similar results.
In Dubai, two out of three recommended YSL fragrances have been purchased, leading to 20 percent higher sell-out rate than before. The conversion rate was 62 percent.
Scent Sation should be in 10 sales points this year. Its rollout is to begin in March in Europe — the U.K., Germany, Spain and Switzerland; Hainan, China, and the Middle East, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
L’Oréal also plans to use data culled from Scent Sation to help inform product and service development, and gain a deeper understanding of consumer preferences in all regions. Creating personalized fragrances using the learnings could be the next frontier.
Neuroscents could change perfumery’s trajectory in myriad ways.
“If in these studies they can really prove that without a storyline or regardless of where a person came from [a] note was able to increase their attention or efficiency or happiness — or whatever — absolutely, it’s the future of fragrance,” said Möller.
“If this is real, drug companies are going to pay for it not to be real,” he continued, with a laugh. “If you’re telling me that I can wear a perfume that’s $300 or $200 and I can focus, be more efficient, and I don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on Adderall or Ritalin or whatever … it would be huge.”
Many perfume-makers are already fully convinced of neuroscents’ strength and staying power.
“It’s all about the higher process — what goes on in the brain,” continued Ellwood. “We’re at a very rudimentary stage, as much as it looks extremely scientific. We know very little about it, it’s broad brushstrokes we’re working with at the moment. But who knows where we’re going to be in 100 years’ time?”
“We’re just scratching the surface here,” said Glendenning. “The sky’s the limit.”