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The Power of Scent and Your Strands

February 3, 2021

5 Min read

This feature originally appeared in Issue 04: Intention of our print magazine At Length as The Power of Scent.

In her podcast Smell Ya Later, beauty editor Sable Yong explores the role scents, smell and odors play in our everyday life. Here, she unbottles the complex relationship between fragrance and hair.

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I like to think of the sense of smell as the underdog of your five senses. Touch, eyesight, and hearing are most-used for navigating the world, but your sense of smell creates multiple in-depth dimensions out of nearly every single interaction. Odor can, in fact, make a longer-lasting impression than visual, auditory, or tactile stimulation due to—as realtors say—location, location, location. Olfactory receptors are cozy neighbors with the amygdala (your brain’s emotional filing cabinet), so their physical entanglement gives them an uncanny ability to crystallize experiences with the scents they’re attached to. For instance, when you get a whiff of cinnamon, your brain will react by rolling the tape labeled “Christmas morning at grandma’s house” wherein you’re instantaneously reminded of her freshly-baked cinnamon buns.

I’ve always been obsessed with smells, and extremely sensitive to the emotional pull a scent can elicit. When you get down to it, we’re all creatures controlled by our emotions, and therefore you could say that we’re all controlled by scent. In fact, we’re so scent-conscious that fragrance in everyday products are hugely influential to whether we like or dislike something—especially scents that cling to our hair and bodies. “Hair is made of protein and is porous and permeable. This means that smells can be easily absorbed,” says Gretchen Friese, certifed trichologist at BosleyMD. “Depending on the source of the smell your hair can absorb it more than your skin.”

That’s why fragrance is so important to beauty companies, like custom hair care company Prose. “Our fragrance collection is interesting because, contrary to most hair care brands, it is inspired by fine perfumery,” says Alexandrine Delrue, director of product innovation at Prose. “We work closely with fne fragrance perfumers who help us build a collection of scents that are both elevated and diverse.”

They go so far as to include customers who are part of The Salon, their membership program, in the creation process, asking them what they would want for, say, next year’s summer fragrance or a holiday scent. “It is amazing to see how imaginative and conceptual they can be,” says Delrue. “Many ideas for upcoming fragrance launches come directly from their suggestions.”

Scent is a form of communication, especially when you’re wearing it, so it’s no wonder we are drawn to the scents we envision as exuding our own unique essence or how we want others to perceive us. One thing I always remember is how people smell when going in for a hug. There’s that one brief whif of hairspray, perfume, cigarette smoke, or sometimes just that crisp outside smell clinging onto someone like dewdrops. I even love the way I can smell the night before on my hair when I wake up.

Our experiences and memories defne so much of who we are, and scent is the secret key to their most intimate unfurling. Sometimes it catches us of-guard and some of us may even hoard certain fragrances as an aromatic keepsake. The power of scent isn’t to be taken for granted. It’s an everyday kind of magic with the ability to bend time, even if just for a moment, conjuring a memory of someone close to you or anchoring you squarely in a moment, like a spell.

Choose Your Scent 

It’s never just one element that makes a scent feel a certain way. It’s the sum of its parts that can evoke an entirely new sense of self.

A floral bouquet

Florals are a gorgeous way to illustrate a botanical sweetness, the beauty of walking through a meadow or past a rose bush. Renowned French nose Karine Dubreuil-Sereni, the perfumer behind several of Prose’s fragrances, says she forged her olfactory heritage in the gardens of her grandmother’s, which blossomed and grew all kinds of fragrant plants—like roses, jasmine, and daffodils.

Your Prose picks: Signature, Prelude

The great outdoors

The concept of freshness isn’t so much a destination, as it is a feeling of escape. Fresh scents, ones that feel green, dewy, and aquatic, evoke a spring meadow or a misty ocean breeze off the coast of the Mediterranean. “The idea of summer makes me want to be outside, specifically in Marseille where I grew up, looking far out into the sea towards the island of Corsica,” explains Cecile Hua, the perfumer behind Prose’s Corsica scent.

Your Prose picks: Corsica, Botanica

A cozy moment

Some fragrances immediately draw you in with inviting notes reminiscent of a lazy Sunday morning laying in crumpled bed sheets. And then there is the decadent feeling from spices and gourmands like nutmeg, vanilla, and white wood to evoke coziness or sensuality. Dubreuil-Sereni was inspired by “a chalet with an open fire, the warmth of the cozy indoors, and a stroll in a snowy, peaceful forest” when she created Prose’s winter scent Candela.

Your Prose picks: Perle, Candela

Subscribe to the Salon to become a member and receive the entire print and/or digital version of At Length magazine with your Prose orders.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sable is a writer based in New York City. Formerly an Allure Beauty Editor, you can find more of her writing at ELLE, ManRepeller, GQ, and other corners of the Internet. She also hosts a podcast about scent called Smell Ya Later and plays bass in a punk band.

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