The pandemic forced many of us to turn our homes into offices and gyms for the first time, and if you’re a city-dweller or New Yorker living in an apartment not much bigger than some walk-in closets, this has made it very tough to find any bit of Zen. Home fragrance companies took notice, and as a result, we’re seeing a big trend in wellness scents hitting the market right now. Though not a new concept—Bath & Body Works has had its super popular Aromatherapy line for years—these new collections offer a timely spin on the candle and diffuser trend we’ve relied on over the past year to fill our most intimate spaces with comfort during stressful times. Here’s what we know, and three brands we’re loving in this arena right now.
According to neuroscientist Tara Swart, MD, our sense of smell (olfaction) is the most emotive—meaning it stirs up memories—because the olfactory nerve goes directly from the nose to the part of the brain that connects memory and emotion in the limbic system. “The limbic system is the intuitive, emotional system of the brain, so use your intuition to guide you to the candle that feels right for you today or depending on what you are doing regarding work, winding down or needing energy or to de-stress,” she explains. “The beauty of neuroplasticity is that we can create new aroma-mood combinations by anchoring a particular candle to a particular activity.” This is the idea behind home fragrance collections designed exclusively to provide wellness benefits.
NEST New York recently launched its Wild Mint & Eucalyptus Wellness Collection, which features a candle and reed diffuser that use an aromatic botanical blend of wild mint, eucalyptus, basil and Thai ginger to help cleanse the mind and soul. “In the past year, we’ve heard directly from our customers that they’re turning to our products to pick up their spirits and ease their anxiety during very stressful situations,” says Malinda Appel, senior director of product development for NEST New York. “We listened to what our customers were experiencing and developed this amazing new fragrance to be something they can incorporate into their lives as an enhancement to their environment and their well-being.”
LAFCO’s new Retreat Candle (there’s also a matching diffuser) highlight an olfactive, aromatherapeutic blend of three essential oils: clary sage, mate absolute and palo santo. “My aim in combining these ingredients was to create a warm, verdant, slightly herbal sensation that feels clean and natural,” says Jon Bresler, founder of LAFCO. “My intention was to create a calming and tranquil retreat-like atmosphere in the home, whether at work or during relaxation.”
One brand I was recently introduced to that you may not know of yet is Anecdote Candles, which is launching a “Relax and Recharge” collection on April 7 that founder Julie Maskulka says is about finding moments throughout the day to practice self-care rituals. “The fragrances we selected all serve multiple purposes: they can feel calming yet invigorating; grounding yet refreshing; and complex yet light. We love that fragrance has the ability to play with these tensions to evoke new and different takes on familiar things. The specific scents we selected were based on the anecdotes because we have a very particular approach to product development. We always start with a story, then translate that into a feeling, and finally develop the olfactory that best represents that.”
The Key Notes
What makes these fragrances different is that they utilize “several aromas that have been studied and are known to affect human behavior,” says NEST founder Laura Slatkin. “We wanted to create a product that not only smells amazing, but also acts as a scientifically established mood-enhancer.”
For many of us, the smell of eucalyptus conjures up spa-like vibes, so it’s no surprise this one is part of the mix. “It’s known to have the therapeutic benefit of clearing the mind,” explains Appel. The other ingredients NEST includes are wild mint and basil, which Appel says are energizing and shown to increase alertness, and Thai ginger, which is known to be stimulating to the senses.
Anecdote’s Self Care candle also features the eucalyptus-mint combo. “Our goal for this candle was to create an aroma that felt refreshing but also liberating. You know that feeling when you finally take a moment to yourself and forget about the world around you? That’s what we wanted to put into a candle,” says Maskulka. “When we started exploring scent profiles, we quickly landed on a blend of eucalyptus and lavender as the base. We used top notes of verbena, citrus, and mint leaf to augment the mintiness of eucalyptus.”
Bresler chose clary sage, one of the oldest and most used aromatherapy oils, for its ability to induce feelings of relaxation, clarity and calmness while alleviating anxiety and irritability. “Research has found it was closely linked to the feel-good hormone dopamine and seemed to be associated with improved memory and greater alertness. It contains high amounts of linalool—a terpene alcohol that occurs in nature—and has been widely studied for its anxiolytic effects.”
Distilled from the leaves of the Ilex Paraguariensis tree native to South America, mate absolute was selected by Bresler as well, as it “helps promote mood, memory and alertness by stimulating production of the neurotransmitter dopamine.” And finally, palo santo—aka Spanish holy wood—is included for its stress-reduction properties relating to psychological cleansing. “It’s said to have a deeply transformative effect, including nurturing, activating and manifesting creative and spiritual potential,” says Bresler. “It is often aromatherapeutically used in meditative practices to slow the mind. Palo santo is also high in limonene—one of the most common terpenes in nature— and numerous studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of limonene as an anti-stress and anti-anxiety agent.”
Another upcoming release from Anecdote Candles is Meditation, a scent highlighting palo santo and black cedar that Maskulka wanted to feel grounding and earthy, but still have a touch of warmth to it. “The actual anecdote is a personal one: I always say that anything that is supposed to make you relaxed—yoga, meditation—makes me unrelaxed!” she says. “But palo santo is often used to ease stress and is thought to have a purifying, cleansing effect on the body and mind—think about all of your friends who buy smudge sticks.”
I’m not sure about you, but my husband and I have been lighting candles a lot more than we ever did pre-COVID, and it feels very comforting. But we often forget we lit it hours later and then we question if it’s been burning too long, is that bad, etc. Here’s what the pros have to say: “We recommend burning a classic-size candle in three- to four-hour intervals,” says Slatkin. “This helps the candle burn at a mild temperature and allows for an even melt pool. One suggestion is to burn our Wild Mint & Eucalyptus candle throughout the afternoon while working or doing chores around the home, then extinguish, and then begin burning a new scent to help you ease into the rest of the evening.”
But if you do often burn the same candle all day, Maskulka says it may be good to switch things up halfway through the day because there is such a thing as fragrance fatigue. “We got a lot of emails from customers saying they burn certain candles at certain parts of the day, so we actually created this capsule collection thinking that certain aromas may be more suitable at certain parts of the day. Mainly, whether you’re looking to relax or recharge.”