A Semi-Scientific Study on Fragrance

—Emily Wylie
A Semi-Scientific Study on Fragrance

When we walk into a shopping mall, we are bombarded with smells. Upon looking up the actual definition of “fragrance” I discover that this word means “pleasant, or sweet smelling”, of which, to me, those mall smells are anything but. Yet so many people really enjoy strong colognes and lotions and we really shouldn’t judge. There is no rhyme or reason to what smells are good or bad.

Olfactory sense is totally subjective. Our sense of smell is 10,000 times more powerful than our sense of taste and we have the ability to detect roughly a trillion unique scents. Other factors play a huge part in how one perceives fragrance like what you had for lunch (scent and taste impact one another up to 90%) and how often you are exposed to certain smells (familiar smells seem less offensive).  If you have a memorable event relating to a scent there is a predisposed emotional response, plus a whole host of other environmental factors like temperature which can open up a fragrance. Citrus or other top notes tend to open up in warmer environments but also fade first leaving base notes like clove, cinnamon and frankincense to linger. So the same fragrance can smell different in hot or cold weather.  

How does smell work?


This is a “Semi-Scientific” study so I won’t get into the molecular theories about the shape or vibration of the scent molecules but here is the gist as Amber Luong, MD, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, explains it. When odors enter the nose they travel up to the olfactory cleft where the nerves are situated. “There, the odorant is detected by various receptors located on the nerve cells and the combination of activated nerves travel to the brain. The combination of activated nerves generates all the unique smells that we as humans can detect.”

The sense of smell is our oldest sense, developing before other senses in the womb, it also refreshes every 28 days giving you a fresh new nose. Our sense of smell is the sense most connected to our emotions even offering the ability to smell fear or attraction and women have a better sense of smell than men. Beardbrand products are pretty mild so don’t be afraid to layer!

There are different types of fragrance in the personal care industry. Companies jumping on the all natural trend are opting for pure essential oil in their fragrances, but it’s important to know that all-natural does not always mean superior. Natural scents come from plants, trees and even animals. There are ethical and environmental implications to many of these oils and the market is finicky meaning there are huge fluctuations in price and availability. Synthetic fragrances are manufactured in a lab. Of course it should come as no surprise that there are cost incentives to choosing a synthetic over an all natural fragrance but what is surprising are other benefits.

Synthetic fragrance can be better for your body including for sensitive skin and better for the environment. A natural fragrance has dozens of molecules that are potential causes of irritation for those with allergies or skin sensitivities and many companies use highly concentrated essential oil blends without really knowing the implications or side effects of using too much. In a lab the same fragrance can be disassembled to isolate the single desired molecule.

Natural fragrances can also cause massive deforestation due to high demands for certain crops, cruel extraction methods for natural musks from animals and even black market sales of counterfeit essential oils that find their way on to the market without any testing or purity certifications. When most of these scents can be made without causing any harm it’s easy to understand why some companies prefer working with synthetic fragrance.

Not all synthetic fragrances are created equal

If you’ve been a long time Bearbrand customer you might have noticed that your favorite fragrance smells a little different than it used to; or if you have been a customer since the beginning you might notice that your favorite beard oil never smelled exactly the same. The same pure essential oil can vary significantly between crop seasons and the different regions where the oils are sourced resulting in notable variations in product. Some of you may have also experienced an out of stock delay on Temple Smoke beard oil due to a worldwide shortage on just one single essential oil, Oud. As part of our commitment to always improve our product and our process at Beardbrand, we have moved away from using only pure essential oils to using naturally derived fragrances.

The FDA considers fragrance a trade secret so companies are not required to divulge the ingredients on the label. No matter how many chemicals or preservatives are in the formula, all that is required to list on the label is “Fragrance”. If you flip any Beardbrand product over what you will see is “Naturally Derived Fragrance”. Fragrance listed as “Naturally Derived” is a blend of essential oils, natural resins and natural aromatic extracts which may include natural isolates (those isolated scent molecules I referred to earlier). This allows us to create a really high quality fragrance for all of our products that is consistent both in scent and cost and we won’t be out of stock again when ice cream companies buy all up the vanilla in the world! We do not use any fragrance from, or perform any testing on animals, we do not permit synthetic musks, phthalates or neurotoxicants in our fragrances.

Beardbrand adheres to the bodycare and cosmetics regulations that the EU and Canada follow, which are more strict than the US regulations. So you can be sure we are always using the most up to date information and sourcing the best possible ingredients both in our fragrance and our base product. We also really listen to the product feedback from the customer community and believe in transparency. As the product developer for the last two years I have put a lot of passion behind our quality and am proud to stand behind our products.

I’ll be taking over the blog for a while and am excited to share more about what we put in our products to make you feel good about what you put on your body. If there are any topics you’d like to know more about, post them in the comments below!

Keep on Growing!

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