Aromas we smell are processed in the limbic system of the brain where emotions and memories are stored. We are literally tapping into a very deep part of the brain when smelling a fragrance.

Jessica Hanna

pictured: Jazmine Danielle Guillory

It’s no secret, fragrance matters.

The way something smells is a huge part of how we experience not just the products we use, but the world at large. For this reason, a bad smell can be a deal breaker when it comes to our beauty and personal care products, especially if it’s a fragrance that lingers on the skin or hair.

Many of us have given up products that worked well because we could not stand the smell or because our significant other complained. Sex and the City fashion icon and celebrity Sarah Jessica Parker once said this to Vogue about fragrance: “It’s immediately communicating more than your clothes, which we think tell our story, right? But clothes don’t invade anybody else’s space.”

That’s so true. You can look away if someone near you is wearing something you don’t like–but you can’t hold your breath all day, can you? Fragrance can even linger in a space long after the wearer has gone away. Think of what happens after your date hugs you “goodnight”. Fragrance has such a powerful effect on us that we aren’t always conscious of.

Why does fragrance play such a big part in the way we experience our personal care and beauty products?

When asked to explain why fragrance was such a big part of the way we experience products, perfumer and owner of J Hanna Co., Jessica Hanna, says:

“The science behind the olfactory system is fascinating. Aromas we smell are processed in the limbic system of the brain which is where emotions and memories are stored. So we are literally tapping into a very deep part of the brain when smelling a fragrance. There is no filter on the sense of smell either, so we drop into those emotions or memories instantly. This can happen out of the blue, when we least expect it.

A stranger on the street might wear the same cologne as a first lover, causing us to feel breathless and sentimental. Perhaps the scent of a musty cabinet might smell exactly like grandmother’s attic where we used to play as a child triggering joyful memories. Scent is powerful; in products it might achieve a myriad of results like give us confidence, keep us calm, or make us feel sexy. A well-fragranced product should be a gift and tool for the user.”


What fragrance says about a brand

Product manufacturers are well aware of the importance of the smell of their products as it pertains to define a target audience. According to Modern Salon, this is called sensory branding. “It was very important to create a product fragrance that captured the essence and sophistication of the line and at the same time worked well with our product formulations,” says Oribe’s manager of product development, Michele Burgess. Aveda Head Perfumer, Guy Vincent, focuses on “natural aroma ingredients, which fit with Aveda’s brand story and are well-known to have aromatherapeutic benefits.”

We all have our ideas of the fragrances we think we’ll like but sometimes things don’t go the way we expect. If you’ve ever bought a fragrance you thought you’d like, worn it once or twice and then never did again, then you know exactly what I mean.

Fragrance is not a one-size-fits-all

Back in high school, I would buy several perfumes that I thought I liked in store but couldn’t bring myself to wear once I got home. I ended up using these perfumes to clean the brown pair of Mary Jane-style shoes I wore as part of my school uniform. Jessica agrees, sometimes fragrances just don’t work for us.

“It’s amazing to see people find what they are attracted to and often it is never what they expect. One of my favorite blending experiences was working with client who had long hair, tattoos, and a commanding demeanor. He was very much into scent…initially he said he liked tobacco and smoky essences, yet once we started smelling, he chose aromas that were floral and bright, which was truly unexpected. On the other hand, I have worked with timid, mild-mannered clients that tell me they want airy light scents. Yet when we start smelling essences, they are attracted to dirty smoky and earth aromas. Our diversity plays out even in the aromas we find attractive and I continue to find that beautiful.”

 Our diversity plays out, even in the aromas we find attractive–and I continue to find that beautiful. -Jessica Hanna

Fragrance has to work well with our body’s natural scent and whatever others we may combine them with. They have to create an end result that’s pleasing to us. The scent of your hair product should not clash with your favorite body mist (or that would create an olfactory crisis”>! This is the reason many product manufacturers keep the fragrance consistent throughout their product line or ensure that when different fragrances are used, these fragrances are complimentary. It’s about flexibility, and it’s important to be open minded about fragrance and to be willing to mix, match and experiment. Sometimes, the end result surprises you. 

I personally love the smell of chocolate, fresh laundry, florals and citrus. But I am aware that many people have allergic reactions to fragrances. I empathize, because my experience with many fragrance-free products is that they smell quite awful.

How to experiment with a new scent

Are you staying away from synthetic fragrances, or just feel inspired to try blending your own scent for a DIY hair or beauty product? Jessica has a suggestion for you.

“A few drops of lavender essential oil in jojoba oil is a great first experiment. It can be used to calm nerves during an evening ritual during bedtime. Jojoba oil is the closest to our natural skins oils so it serves as an excellent carrier oil and a wonderful massage oil. Experiment with additions of sandalwood, clary sage, jasmine, or bergamot. I always tell my students to source quality materials so the end product is excellent. Remember if an oil doesn’t smell pleasing, then don’t use it.”

That’s what fragrance is really about: pleasing the wearer, above all. If you’re not pleased, then it’s not the fragrance for you. And you shouldn’t feel bad for not wanting to use a product just because of the smell and nothing else.

Have a great day, smell happy!

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