Do Functional Fragrances Really Do What They Say?

Do Functional Fragrances Really Do What They Say? featured image
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The idea of a functional fragrance sounds great in theory, but it also sounds like it might be too good to be true. We tapped experts and asked the question we’re all wondering—do functional fragrances really do what they say?

  • Tammy Fender is a celebrity aesthetician and holistic skin-care expert
  • Bee Shapiro is the founder and CEO of Ellis Brooklyn
  • José Ginestar is the director of research and development at Sisley

What is a functional fragrance?

“Functional fragrances are designed to enhance the wearer’s mood and state of mind, unlike conventional perfumes, which may have done so inadvertently but not with directed intentionality,” says celebrity aesthetician and holistic skin-care expert Tammy Fender. Founder and CEO of Ellis Brooklyn Bee Shapiro says this shift can come in the form of relaxation, calmness, energy or other feelings.

What is the difference between a functional fragrance and a general perfume?

“A functional perfume has additional properties that help improve the activity and effectiveness of the product,” explains the director of research and development at Sisley José Ginestar. “A standard perfume has as its sole fragrant function, bringing to the cosmetic product a hedonic agreement which is the pleasure of smelling it during application.” Shapiro notes that some perfumes may fill into the functional space as they use similar ingredients.

What are some functions fragrances can have?

“Scents can trigger anything from energy to relaxation to even ‘aphrodisiac’ chemicals in the brain,” says Shapiro, noting that vanilla has been shown to reduce stress and promote wellbeing.

Different essential or natural oils can spark different reactions. Lavender can induce a calming feeling, spearmint can be energizing, citrus uplifts and frankincense and sandalwood help support focus, explains Fender. The new brand Neuraé was born from the team at Sisley’s interest “in the impact of smell on emotions and how emotional perception was modified,” says Ginestar who then dove into research.

How do functional fragrances actually work?

Anyone who has smelled sunscreen in the middle of winter knows how transporting scents can be, but what actually happens when applying a functional fragrance to make these things happen? “Because the nervous system is attuned directly to our sense of smell, without the thinking mind’s intervention, aromas have a huge influence over our emotions and sense of wellbeing,” says Fender. Basically, the scents themselves trigger brain changes, explains Shapiro.

Fender says scent can be so powerful that she often uses aromatherapeutic essential oils as a diagnostic tool before treatments. “Sometimes our sense of smell can direct us towards what’s needed most in the moment when the mind might not even have access to that knowledge,” she says. “I’ve seen incredible healing shifts through the use of essential oils, harnessing the wisdom of this ancient plant-based healing technology.”

Functional fragrances to try

Fender says rose and ylang ylang are two of her favorite aromatic essences. Rose, in something like Bulgarian Rose Water ($70), helps uplift “the heart, creating a sense of enveloping, nurturing care.” Ylang ylang is great for dissolving stress. “It can ease the mind, alleviating anxiety and even lowering blood pressure,” says Fender, “especially when used on acupressure points like the one found between the eyebrows or on the hand, midway between the thumb and pointer finger.”



Shapiro, personally loves sandalwood, including the creamy one her brand uses in SALT eau de parfum ($110).” There have been studies of sandalwood that have shown that it can support or cause self-arousal,” says Shapiro. “I love that idea—a perfume that turns yourself on.”



Neuraé allows you to shop for products, including emotion boosters, serums and creams, by emotion with the options of harmony, joy, energy and serenity. Another popular functional fragrance brand is The Nue Co., which offers a variety of options, including Water Therapy, Forest Lungs, Mind Energy and a general Functional Fragrance ($95 each).

Award Photo: Mind Energy



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