Of all the psychological benefits beauty products can provide — from a gorgeous lipstick that affirms one’s gender identity to a go-to curl cream that helps improve both a bad hair day and confidence levels — fragrance has always struck me as one of the most influential. A beauty nerd by trade, I’ve amassed quite the elaborate (some might say obsessive) collection of scents that I treat not dissimilarly from my clothing wardrobe, choosing which notes best convey how I’m feeling on a given day. Even if your fragrance wardrobe isn’t as extensive as mine, the practice of selecting a perfume based on mood isn’t that uncommon.
As fragrance brands strive to develop products that can attract consumers in a very crowded marketplace, incorporating more advanced aromachology (the study of the connection between odors and human behavior and emotions) into new formulas is becoming increasingly popular. That’s why I was eager to see how The Nue Co.’s latest release, Water Therapy, compared to its previous three “functional” fragrance options, and whether it would elicit a different emotional response.
But first: How exactly does fragrance have an effect on mood? Memory, emotion and scent are all closely linked, according to Venkatesh Murthy, Raymond Leo Erikson Life Sciences Professor and chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard. During a 2020 panel discussion titled, “Olfaction in Science and Society,” he explained that odors travel through the limbic system, the part of the brain involved with emotion, memory, and behavior. That’s why many of us have scents that precipitate a memory or two, like smelling an ex-partner’s shampoo in a crowded elevator, or the way a restaurant’s new dish can take you back to cooking at your grandmother’s house as a kid. Complex feelings like heartbreak, happiness and love can get tangled up in these moments of olfactory interaction.
As for designing a perfume that will trigger a specific emotion, it’s first crucial to understand the link between scent notes and cognitive response. When developing her first scent for The Nue. Co, called Functional Fragrance, founder Jules Miller looked to the Geneva Emotion and Odor Scale (GEOS) which was “developed to measure the subjective affective experience elicited by everyday odors.”
Whereas earlier scent studies often asked participants to select emotions from a list of 22-480 possible options (like fear, anger, sadness, pride, love, desire and more), the GEOS utilizes 36 representative terms within six groupings: Sensuality, Relaxation, Pleasant, Refreshment, Sensory pleasure and Unpleasant feeling. In other words, the nuanced manner of attributing scent with emotional response is becoming easier to navigate with tools like this study, and that, in turn, equates to more advanced perfumes for aromachology buffs.
Water Therapy, The Nue Co.’s newest release, is inspired by so-called “blue medicine,” or the “belief that water positively impacts our mental health with its relaxing, stress-relieving benefits,” per the brand. The scent uses olfactory technology to simulate the feeling of being surrounded by water. With calming notes of seaweed, cardamom, vetiver, sandalwood, salt, and rose, it is designed to soothe tension, balance mood and reduce stress — all things the average New Yorker like myself could benefit from on a daily basis.
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If, like me, you categorize the ocean, a pool, or really any body of water that you can lazily flop into as a happy place, you’ll absolutely feel drawn to Water Therapy. I’d equate it to that crisp, earthy smell after it rains on a cold spring morning when you know a lake is nearby — all soothing elements that I’d swear can lower my blood pressure.
I’ve gotten to try out this new scent and, compared with my experience using a previous perfume from the brand, Mind Energy — which is designed to increase focus and boost brain function — Water Therapy definitely makes me feel more inclined to slow down and chill. Whereas the former is my fragrance of choice on mornings when my iCal is scheduled down to the minute and multiple deadlines are looming, the latter is for when I can finally close my laptop and exit the solitude of my workspace to enjoy a meal with close friends. It’s languid and gentle, and I find that I’m constantly bringing my wrist to my nose to inhale the scent, which I’ve found honestly only gets better as my skin heats up throughout the day.
Only time will tell if The Nue Co.’s latest release will lower my stress levels and help me relax in the long term, but I’m definitely going to enjoy working my way through the vivid azure bottle to find out.
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