Are Functional Fragrances The Next Big Wellness Trend?

Illustrated by Lindsay Hattrick

And if they are, do they actually work?

Fragrance, as a beauty category, looks far different than it used to; it's expanded to encapsulate much more than just the classic perfumes and colognes we grew up with. Instead, fragrance has begun to spill over into the worlds of wellness and self-care, tapping the growing popularity of essential oils and aromatherapy to create fragrances with a function: cleanly formulated products that incorporate the benefits of aromatherapy, while still smelling as complex and beautiful as the scents we've been using for years.

Just last month, wellness and supplement brand The Nue Co. launched its very first fragrance: a clean, natural blend of oils aimed to help manage stress in the form of a woody, smoky unisex scent. Its green cardamom, iris, palo santo, and cilantro notes hold alleged mood-boosting aromatherapy benefits, but it doesn't smell like you're dousing yourself in essential oils, and instead just smells like a delicate unisex scent.

Natural beauty brand Osea also launched a functional fragrance last month: Vagus Nerve Oil, a body oil meant to stimulate the vagus nerve, the body's longest cranial nerve that's responsible for regulating stress, rest, and digestion. The formula is a blend of chamomile, jojoba, juniper, and lavender oil, which not only smells heavenly and contains uplifting aromatic benefits, but also supposedly induces a calming effect on the vagus nerve's response mechanism.

With a new year approaching, bringing tons of beauty launches with it, functional fragrances might just be shaping up to become one of 2019's biggest beauty trends. But what is it that makes a fragrance fall into the "functional" category? It all has to do with aromatherapy.

First things first, what exactly is aromatherapy? Amy Galper, co-founder of the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies, explains it as follows:

It's an integrative wellness practice and mind-body experience. As the actual physical molecules of the plant enter our physical body via our bloodstream—either by breathing it into our respiratory system or applying it topically to the skin—the same aromatic molecules also have a great effect on our unconscious mind, which controls all physiological, emotional, and psychological responses. That said, a key—and most profound—benefit of using scent/aroma is to help us mitigate our stress responses and trigger certain neurological responses that can improve our health.

Though Galper speaks of aromatherapy as a means of managing stress, it can have much more profound and powerful effects. "Scent is perhaps one of the most evocative of the senses," says Adora Winquist, co-founder of Adora Therapy and essential oil formulator. "Due to the proximity of the nose to the brain, and specifically the limbic system, which holds and connects memory and emotion, we have the ability to shift our mood in the moment. We can literally shift the trajectory of our emotional response to a more positive, empowering perspective."

The right essential oils or essential oil blends claim to do everything from relax, energize, address pain, improve skin, and support the immune system to balance mood and emotions. "Aromatherapy is a supportive process to re-wire negative patterns by gently clearing old emotions and mental associations and creating new positive affirmations and experience," says Winquist, "Through using scent and intention we can quickly and easily influence our mental-emotional terrain and, therefore, our overall health and well-being."

For a fragrance to offer aromatherapy benefits and be considered functional, Winquist explains, the formula must contain essential oils—and the purer, the better. "A product must be made with essential oils for it to be considered aromatherapy, but even here there is a bit of a rub, as there are varying degrees of quality and efficacy dependent on the purity of the raw materials."

Like with many other product categories in the beauty and wellness sphere, it's important to know where ingredients are being sourced from—even with natural products. Alyson Charles—spiritual teacher, speaker, and shaman—explains that, as someone who regularly works with plant medicines in the form of essential oils, it's crucial to know where and how a plant was sourced—as it can greatly affect its purity and efficacy. She doesn't consider an essential oil true aromatherapy if the oil or scent has been mixed with cheaper oils (a practice that can be used to lower a price point or mass market a product), or is a synthetic version that resembles the scent of the plant.

However, it is important to note that many essential oils are diluted in order to be applied directly to the skin, safely. "For something to be considered aromatherapy, it must be 100 percent pure essential oil, with no additives," says Sarah Kaur, co-founder of essential oils brand Vellum Wellness. "Often time, essential oils are commonly mixed with base oils—for example, almond, grapeseed, or jojoba oil—to make them safe for topical use. This is still considered aromatherapy, as the base is also natural and often cold-pressed, and is a safe way of applying essential oils directly onto the skin."

With all that said, don't expect to reap any benefits from your everyday perfume. "Aromatherapy is a practice of using scent to support and promote well-being. Perfume is really all about art. A perfumer builds an aesthetic scent landscape and tries—like a painter or musician—to evoke feeling and beauty. So, although both are using scents and similar palettes, their intention is very different," says Galper. This is technically the difference between aromatherapy and aromachology, which deals with the psychological—not therapeutic—effects that scent has on the brain.

That, and the fact that most perfumes and colognes are formulated with synthetic fragrances.

Synthetic or artificial fragrances or fragrance oils that don't contain any actual plant matter or any of the benefits found in plant matter are a whole different story. "Synthetic fragrances will give you the same consistent scent, viscosity, and texture every time, yet they'll never be able to communicate with our brain's limbic system the same way natural plant matter does, meaning they won't have the same impact on mood, or the same healing powers for our bodies," says Christina Kaur, co-founder of Vellum Wellness. She points out that if a product's ingredient label contains the words "parfum" or "fragrance," it's a pretty clear indicator that it contains a synthetic.

While Galper mentions that both synthetic and plant-based fragrances can still both have an effect (though, different) on our minds, she points out that synthetics can potentially cause negative results, especially over time, as our bodies process them differently than plant-based naturals:

Repeated use of a synthetic aroma can potentially cause adverse reactions in the mind and body, because aromas, fragrances built entirely on molecules not created by nature, aren't as easily excreted by our bodies and can linger and cause issues that can adversely affect our well-being. Plant molecules, however, are easily recognizable by our bodies—they can be easily processed and excreted, and synergize in a way that benefits our well-being.

Also, as Charles points out, synthetic fragrances can be derived from some pretty nasty ingredients, such as petroleum, carcinogenic benzene derivatives, aldehydes, toluene, allergens, respiratory irritants, neurotoxic chemicals, environmental toxicants, and many other not-so-great chemicals. So, therapeutic benefits aside, functional fragrances and essential oils are a much greener option.

So, should we be buying into the functional fragrance trend? Well, like many anti-stress wellness products—and essential oils in general—they're certainly not a cure-all. But, if there's something we can use to help combat day-to-day stress and boost our moods while also leaving us smelling nice, why not?

Photo by Handout / Getty Images.

From selling probiotic supplements to picture frames and umbrellas

A Kardashian-level of success doesn't happen overnight, and it certainly doesn't happen without proper planning. Kim Kardashian West clearly knows this because, according to TMZ, she has already filed for trademark protection on the name of her two-week-old baby, Psalm West. From personal appearances and entertainment services to probiotic supplements and scrunchies, she is leaving no stone unturned in terms of possible business opportunities.

Apparently, all of the Kardashian parents file these kinds of trademark protections for their kids even if the businesses never come to fruition. It's done as a precautionary measure to keep others from profiting off of their name and to make sure that, should they ever want to start a business, they don't have to worry about someone else getting to it first. The sheer length of this list speaks to the huge earning potential of baby Psalm, who can't even control his own neck muscles yet, let alone go into business. Still, this brings a whole new meaning to "securing the bag."

Below, a list of all the things Kardashian West is seeking usage rights for.

Hair accessories












Hair extensions

Ornamental novelty pins

Entertainment services

Personal appearances

Skin care

Probiotic supplements

Toy figures

Doll accessories

Computer software


Baby bottles






Skin moisturizers



Bubble bath


Body powders

Shower gels

Body oils

Skin serums

Nail polish

Nail polish remover

Nail care preparations



Toy jewelry

Toy cameras

Toy food

Bath toys

Baby gyms

Playground balls

Electronic action toys

Baby bouncers

Baby changing tables

Baby walkers




Picture frames


Baby carriers

Cosmetic bags

Toiletry cases

Duffle bags




Key chains



photo albums



Writing utensils

Collectible trading cards

Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Well, actually it's crocodile, but she looks out of this world so...

Winnie Harlow walked the Cannes red carpet on Wednesday on her way to a screening of Oh Mercy!, wearing a showstopping gown.

The sheer black dress featured green embroidery on the front and back, which Ralph and Russo confirmed was in the shape of a crocodile. She belted the dress with a black crocodile skin-like belt and finished the look off with some strappy heels. She didn't leave it at just that. For beauty, Harlow packed on full lids of sparkly purple eyeshadow. She kept her hair sleek and simple.

Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Though the brand says otherwise, as Game of Thrones fans, we'd like to think the embroidery is reminiscent of a dragon's skin. Not to mention, Harlow looks out-of-this-world beautiful in it.

Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

That denim kimono!!

Marion Cotillard shut down the Cannes red carpet on Wednesday at a screening for Matthias Et Maxime. Instead of an extravagant gown that's expected of the event, Cotillard wore a matching black crop top and shorts. Despite wearing an outfit I typically don to a hot yoga class, she looks incredible. She completed the look with an oversized denim kimono, a statement necklace, and heeled booties.

Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

At first, I was drawn in by the crop top and hotpants duo, but, after looking closer at the kimono, it's clear that it's the real scene-stealer. The floor-length Balmain piece was decorated with artful rips and dragon motifs. I would like to live in it.

Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Let's all bow down to the Khaleesi of Cannes.

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Photo by Frazer Harrison / Getty Images.

"It doesn't make you weak to ask for help"

Singer Billie Eilish is continuing to open up about mental health, this time in a new PSA video in partnership with the Ad Council and Seize the Awkward.

In the video, Eilish insists that "it doesn't make you weak to ask for help." She doubles down on the importance of asking for help, and stresses the importance of friends and family being there when their close ones reach out and checking in on them as well. "You should be able to ask anyone for help, everyone has to help someone if they need it." According to Eilish, there have been times when someone reached out to her at the exact moment she needed it, and it helped.

It was particularly refreshing to see Eilish acknowledge that there are things she still doesn't know and has to learn about her mental health. At the very beginning of the video, the interviewer asks her to reflect on her mental health journey, and all Eilish can do is let out chortle. "I think when people hear, 'Remember to take care of your mental health,' they think that everyone else is, and that is not at all accurate," she admitted. "You know, for me I'm trying to learn still to make sure that I stay okay."

Check out the PSA below.

Billie Eilish On Mental Health & Friendship | Ad Council

Photograph via @kimkardashian.


Kim Kardashian has definitely been accused of borrowing a design now and then. But when Instagram influencer and Kardashian look-alike Kamilla Osman claimed the entrepreneur copied her birthday look for a Met Gala after-party, Kardashian was not going to let it fly—and shared plenty of photo evidence to shut down the claim.

Fashion industry watchdog Diet Prada first noticed Osman's claims on Instagram and shared side-by-side images of Kardashian's Cher-inspired outfit designed by Mugler and Osman's dress. "Never get confused with who 'inspires' who. They won't give you credit but they will copy," Osman wrote on her IG story. "I designed this dress for my birthday last year. Nobody had a dress like this was an original design."

Kardashian responded by posting the true inspiration behind her look: images of Cher, in similarly sparkly, plunging-neckline dresses and wigs, and of model Yasmeen Ghauri walking a Mugler show in the '90s. In fact, the only similarity between Osman's and Kardashian's looks is the bodycon mini-dress style, which the two are not the first to wear. Among the images, Kardashian included a blank slide with the hashtag "NotOnMyMoodBoard," making it clear that this was in response to Osman's claims.

Screenshot via @KimKardashian Instagram Stories

Screenshot via @KimKardashian Instagram Stories

Though I am with Kim on this one, Kardashian does have a history of co-opting other people's work. From being sued over her Kimoji app, to claims she copied makeup palettes and perfume bottle designs, to being accused of copying Naomi Campbell's entire style, it's far from the first (and probably, far from the last) time Kardashian's name will be mentioned like this.