TREND: MediScent: Fragrance Gets a Wellness Makeover
Aromatherapy 2.0: Scent as Medicine
This focus on scent’s powerful connection to our brains and its potential to heal, soothe and delight is “making consumers hungry to learn more about how it can be leveraged for health and wellbeing,” says Matthias Tabert of International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), a leading innovator of scent.
Of course, the concept of aromatherapy, or using scent to treat “disease,” is a centuries-old practice. However, what’s old is new again thanks to huge leaps in technology, fragrance development and neuroscience studies, including new formulations; cleaner and greener ingredients; and more science-based research encouraging medical professionals, health insurers and skeptical consumers to take another, more serious look at this age-old treatment.
Companies like Aeroscena, based in Cleveland Clinic’s Innovations Lab, are literally redefining and relabeling aromatherapy. The company has trademarked the term “phyto-inhalants™” to describe its line of plant-based aromatherapeutics formulated to specifically treat health symptoms, such as pain, nausea and anxiety. The company, which boasts a medical advisory board that includes the likes of Dr. Michael F. Roizen, chief wellness officer of the Cleveland Clinic, is pioneering the concept of clinical aromatherapy in the US (other countries have been more open to aromatherapy’s use). Founder Mark Kohoot says they are bringing legitimacy to aromatherapy’s folklore through large-scale medical studies that provide evidence-based proof that scent can stifle pain (a study is currently happening with patients receiving knee replacements), improve sleep, alleviate morning sickness, and relieve anxiety. The biggest problem with adoption? In the US, insurance companies won’t cover natural remedies without FDA approval; a hurdle Aeroscena is working to overcome in its quest to bring clinical aromatherapy to market.
Aromatherapy 2.0 ticks all the boxes today’s consumers care about, including 100 percent natural ingredients, transparency, sustainability and evidence-based results. And the natural essential oil market is expected to grow at a rapid pace, reaching $13 billion in 2024 thanks, in part, to an aging population looking for natural solutions to combat what ails them as well as a growing demand for natural essential oils in beauty products.
Mental Wellness: Because the brain hatches memories in conjunction with smell, it’s been discovered that scent can play a healing role for people suffering from neurological disorders, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Interestingly, scent is featured both in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s—losing the sense of smell is often an early symptom of the disease—and in its treatment: Scent therapy can help ground and comfort people with short-term memory loss by triggering positive memories from their past.
For example, a New York nursing home partnered with scent innovators at IFF to create a “memory” kiosk called “Scents of the Game,” featuring six distinct scents that can be found at a baseball game with the goal of triggering long-forgotten memories for residents with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Smelling a hot dog, baseball mitt or popcorn not only connects them to the joy they felt visiting Yankee Stadium in their youth, but this sensory therapy also serves to stimulate their minds and gives them a reprieve from the disorientation they feel in their daily lives.
Functional Fragrances: “The future of fragrance will be using scent to ‘biohack’ our brains and bodies to perform better,” says Joanne DeLuca of Sputnik Futures, a company that specializes in anticipating consumer trends. For example, researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology revealed that the scent of coffee alone might help people perform analytical tasks better, suggesting a placebo-like effect of caffeine. Don’t be surprised if the pleasant aroma of coffee brewing permeates your workspace in the near future!
The Nue Co, a UK natural supplement company, has created the first anti-stress supplement that can be worn as a fragrance. Dubbed “Functional Fragrance,” the new scent is unisex and was developed using data insight and research into the connection between cognitive function and the olfactory system.
The research of scent’s impact on learning and cognition will flourish over the next few years. Already, studies of rosemary’s effect on cognition indicate that being exposed to the aroma helps people perform mental tasks faster and more accurately. And, a positive side effect is the feel-good factor of aromatherapy: The subjects’ moods improved with exposure to the rosemary aroma.
Scent’s Power in Workplace Wellness: Using aroma in workplaces as an invisible mood enhancer—both for employee satisfaction and productivity—is on the rise. A Japanese company found that while lavender and jasmine soothed employees, diffusing a lemon scent was able to increase their productivity by 54 percent. Rachel S. Herz, assistant professor of psychology at Brown University, writes that people who work in the presence of pleasant-smelling air set higher goals and are more likely to employ efficient work strategies. People are more creative in problem-solving when exposed to a pleasant scent compared to an unpleasant one.
Forecasting The Future
- The exploration of scent and the power of our sense of smell in wellness is in its infancy. In the future, the neuroscience of scent will become more pervasive in everything we do.
- The research of scent’s impact on learning and cognition will flourish over the next few years. Already, studies of rosemary’s effect on cognition indicate that being exposed to the aroma helps people perform mental tasks faster and more accurately.
- The future is using fragrance to “biohack” our brains and bodies to perform better as well as usages we may never have dreamed of: from diffusion technologies that emit functional fragrances every 10 minutes to eliminate the issue of “scent habituation” to using scent to create no-calorie eating and drinking experiences to virtual aromas that can be experienced online/digitally.