Ask a Beauty Editor: Best Calming Fragrances for Instant Stress Relief

Just spritz, whiff, and chill.


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Reader question: What are the best aromatherapy fragrances for stress? —Casey Chang

With seasonal depression kicking in and holiday chaos just around the corner, we could all use some more calm in our lives. Enter our sense of smell, a powerful medium that has the ability to affect our mood with a single sniff. (And IDK about you, but I could use many stress-relieving sniffs right about now.)

I’m going to start off by saying this—fragrance is subjective, and any fragrance that you personally like is going to be stress-relieving for you. That being said, there are certain botanical extracts (made from plants, leaves, citrus peels, and flower petals, etc) that are scientifically shown to have aromatherapy benefits. From mists and sprays to oils and creams, these essential oils are compounded into beauty products that you can roll on your temples, spritz on your pillow, or rub into your body to de-stress instantly. 

The benefits of these fragrances are doubled come nighttime, which is why wearing some fragrances to bed may not be worst idea if you're not overly sensitive to it. According to Brittany Hogan, aromatherapist and founder of Nefertem Holistic Skincare, "studies have shown that inhalation of specific essential oils before and during sleep can decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, reduce wake-up times during the night, and improve a sense of vitality the following day."

Here’s how it works: When we enjoy what we smell, a domino effect happens because of how the body is wired. "Enjoyment of the scent helps the pupils to dilate, and your body will produce chemicals that can encourage the smooth muscle of blood vessels to relax," says Kelly Fowler, an aromatherapy expert and an instructor at The Soma Institute. "When your body goes through that vasodilation process, your blood pressure lowers, and heart rate slows a little, which is a signal of calmness and relaxation."

A few examples? Lavender, eucalyptus, and lemongrass, which studies have shown can do things like increase quality of sleep, elevate mood, and even decrease anxiety. And in true Ask a Beauty Editor fashion, I’ve of course made sure to include several standout products below.

01 of 05

The Nue Co Functional Fragrance

calming-fragrances-The Nue Co Functional Fragrance

This eau de parfum by perfumer Frank Voelkl (the brilliant nose who created Le Labo’s ubiquitous Santal 33 and co-developed Glossier’s You) contains sparkling top notes of green cardamom and iris, and a gorgeously warm base of palo santo and cedarwood. The blend was designed using the findings of a five-year study that explored how people around the world respond mentally and physically to different odors. Their research showed that woody notes (reminiscent of forest bathing) tie back to relaxation for most people, while musk was linked to the primal emotion of feeling safe (possibly explained by the fact that there are notes of musk in breast milk). Naturally, both are included here.

To buy: $95;

02 of 05

Bath and Body Works Eucalyptus Sage Essential Oil Mist

calming-fragrances-Bath and Body Works Eucalyptus Sage Essential Oil Mist

There are literally hundreds of different scents that can be used in aromatherapy, but eucalyptus and sage have to be two of the top MVPs. BBW’s aromatherapy collection merges the two into an herbal mist to clear your mind. Tip: Give your pillow and linens a quick spritz with it before bed for a more relaxing bedtime experience.

To buy: $8,

03 of 05

Maison Margiela 'REPLICA' When the Rain Stops

calming-fragrances-Maison Margiela 'REPLICA' When the Rain Stops

If you love the smell of a rainy day, this scent of the outdoors that you can wear indoors is made for you. The name says it all—the fragrance is meant to capture the smells of wet grass through a unique combination of aquatic accord, rose petal, bergamot oil, and patchouli.

To buy: $144;

04 of 05

JR Watkins Aromatherapy In-Shower Mist

calming-fragrances-JR Watkins Aromatherapy In-Shower Mist

Not a fan of lingering sprays? The newest in-shower mists from JR Watkins brings the spa experience exclusively to your bathroom. For a calming experience, spike your shower with their Sleep mist, which is packed with ingredients like lavender, orange, and cactus water, to help soothe your mind and make you feel uber-refreshed come morning.

To buy: $10,

05 of 05

Diptyque Tam Dao

calming-fragrances-Diptyque Tam Dao

This velvety sandalwood concoction combined with the scent of fresh bed linens is addictive. The woody nuances are highlighted with a hint of Asian spices that transport you to a peaceful forest escape.

To buy: $115,

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