Harnessing the functional benefits of essential oils and aromatherapy, fragrance has transcended beyond its traditional roots of classic perfume as it begins to pervade into the wellness and self-care world
By Amy Galper
As such, self-care products and fragrance as a function are two prominent emerging trends that are impacting the ways in which we use essential oils and aromatherapy. The fast-growing spa industry and the clean beauty skincare industry thus offers significant opportunity for the integration of essential oils and aromatherapy into their practices and formulation.
One essential oil at the forefront of the aromatherapy industry is Indian sandalwood oil, which is obtained via steam distillation of the aromatic heartwood of Santalum album. As an active ingredient, Indian sandalwood oil can produce multiple skincare benefits, in addition to its therapeutic benefits. The oil is also renowned for its signature olfactory characteristics, having a soft, warm, and woody odour that makes it a popular fragrance in both perfume and aromatherapy. The essential oil captures the essence of the tree itself being hearty, grounding and complex. As a result of its olfactory characteristics, Indian sandalwood oil has found its way into many applications – a key one being aromatherapy.
Self-care is fast becoming synonymous with wellness, as other trends in health and wellness continue to expand, the topic of self-care is everywhere.
A survey 1 by IRi found that nearly nine out of ten Americans (88%) actively practice self-care. Essential oils, because of their dual ability to deliver healing to body and mind, are already being integrated into self-care products and practices.
The aromatic components of sandalwood are alpha-santalol and beta-santalol. Alpha-santalol is the most dominant of the 125 constituents, holding most of the therapeutic benefits of sandalwood. Studies 2 show that the alpha-santalol in sandalwood oil calms the nervous system when inhaled or applied topically. Common markers of a stimulated nervous system include eye blink rate, pulse rate and systolic blood pressure, all of which are significantly reduced when sandalwood is inhaled or absorbed through skin application.
Fragrance as Functional 3
As beauty and skincare products begin to integrate the concepts of wellness and deeper meaning into their formulations, by telling the stories of the ingredients and where they are sourced from, the scent of the products is no longer seen as just an aesthetic flourish. Instead, scent has meaning as well.
Aromatherapy is now becoming an essential component of both the fragrance and beauty market sectors. Not only do consumers want their products to smell transporting and work well, but they want the aroma to have a function as well.
We are seeing perfumes triggering the experience of being in nature since research has shown that spending time in a forest can reduce our stress levels. Specific scent notes that are trending are those that are reminiscent of the forest, to recreate the experience of “forest bathing” - a Japanese meditation practice called Shinrin Yoku that encourages slow mindful walks in the woods, inhaling the natural aromas of the trees, to reset the parasympathetic nervous system and improve wellbeing.
Aromas that come from the wood and bark of trees like sandalwood are currently being featured more in beauty and skincare products. Due to its popularity, Indian sandalwood faced persistent threats to its survival with overharvesting and illegal poaching landing it on the International Union for Conversation of Nature’s vulnerable species list in 1998. Only with the establishment of sustainable Indian sandalwood plantations, through companies like Quintis Sandalwood, has the ingredient resurged in the fragrance industry.
The Spa Industry
Spas are set to continue to grow exponentially, as more and more people are seeking ways to relax and reduce stress.
Within the spa industry, aromatherapy and essential oils are currently having a much more dynamic presence – and playing a richer, more integral role – than ever before. In particular, the holistic benefits of Indian sandalwood make it a perfect ingredient for spa and wellness treatments and products.
Although aroma has always been a key player in a spa’s aesthetic, and mood, we are now seeing the use of aroma evolve into a more sophisticated expression of not only the spa’s branding and identity, with the development of signature scents, but a keener emphasis on the client’s relaxation and comfort. Scent is now valued more intentionally and deeply for its therapeutic effects to reset and recalibrate our nervous system.
We can find evidence of this reframed approach to using essential oils and aromatherapy within the spa experience through offerings like aromatherapy classes, essential oil blending bars, and featured guest speakers on the topic.
This will continue to grow and expand as aromatherapy is seen as an essential key element to supporting client relaxation and wellbeing.
Clean Beauty: Skincare
The continued exponential growth of plant derived and minimally processed ingredients for use in the Clean Beauty skincare industry is also supporting the growth of the aromatherapy and essential oil market.
Fragrance in our skincare products is no longer seen as just an aesthetic flourish, but instead, brand owners and product developers are wanting the scents of their products to also have benefits. We are seeing facial products and body care brands talk about their aromas from the point of view of benefits, highlighting the aromatherapeutic properties of the essential oils incorporated.
The Clean Beauty movement introduced the concept of holism into our beauty routines and purchases, linking the brand owners’ own personal story, to the story of where and how the ingredients are sourced to their unique benefits for our skin, and our overall wellbeing. This reframing of beauty as an expression of wellness is the ideal landscape for integrating aromatherapy concepts into skin and body care products, so we are seeing more and more essential oil inclusion in formulas across categories.
Looking towards the future
Essential oils and aromatherapy are set to infiltrate the wellness and beauty markets as an increased consumer interest in holism and wellbeing continues to drive self-care and functional fragrance trends.
Beyond its ability to make you smell good, the plethora of benefits fragrance offers to our wellness and overall health will see an increased opportunity for integration within the aromatherapy, spa and skin care industry.
2 Evaluation of the Effects of East Indian Sandalwood Oil and a-santalol on Humans after Transdermal Absorption; 2004; Heuberger, E., Hongratanaworakit, T.