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Feeling Down? This Citrus Scent Can Lift You Up

Lemon fragrances can make people feel "lighter" and may improve self-image. 

I've been under lockdown at someone's guest house in Marin County for the past week. Although stay-at-home orders can feel oppressive, over the past few days, I realized that a specific smell has buoyed my spirits. The owner of this home has a lemon-scented liquid hand soap imported from France by the kitchen sink; every time I wash my hands for the CDC recommended time of at least 20 seconds, the lemony smell lifts me up.

Christopher Bergland
Source: Christopher Bergland

My personal fragrance collection is filled with lots of heavy musk-based "powerhouse" colognes that I've used to motivate me to run harder and faster as a marathoner and triathlete for decades. These heavy smells help me get through grueling workouts, but I also own a few uplifting citrus-based fragrances that put me in a different mood and seem to lighten my load.

Eau d'Hadrien by Annick Goutal, which was launched in 1981, is my favorite "citrus potion." This eau de toilette is a blend of Sicilian lemon, grapefruit, and mandarin orange along with some grassy, fougère ("fern-like") notes. I've always assumed that my heady response to this scent was linked to childhood memories of Mom. Throughout the 1980s, my mother wore Eau d'Hadrien every day of the week; this scent reminds me of being home.

Some days, if I'm feeling down, I'll dose myself with this citrus concoction to lift my spirits. Even though I've had people complain that my eau de toilette smells like furniture polish, for reasons that I've never really understood, I seem to enjoy smelling like Pledge. New research helps to explain how lemony scents change the way we feel.

This morning, I learned about a recent study that reaffirms the power of lemon scents to change the way you feel about yourself in ways that may promote healthy behaviors. These findings (Brianza et al., 2019) were presented virtually on December 11, 2020, by the University of Sussex's Giada Brianza at the 179th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA).

Brianza and colleagues found that exposure to lemon-scented essential oils in combination with listening to higher-pitched sounds on a pair of headphones made study participants feel "lighter" than when they were exposed to vanilla scents. Lemon scents also seemed to improve body image perceptions (BIP).

Interestingly, the researchers speculate that sounds may have a stronger effect on unconscious behaviors, whereas scents may have a more robust effect on conscious behaviors. "Our results show that scent stimuli can be used to make participants feel lighter or heavier (i.e., using lemon or vanilla) and to enhance the effect of sound on perceived body lightness," the authors explain.

This pioneering research into the link between sound, scent, and body image is still in its infancy. Future studies will explore how olfactory and auditory stimulation may someday be used in more targeted ways to improve people's self-image and reduce mental distress while promoting better psychological and physical well-being.


Giada Brianza, Ana Tajadura-Jiménez, Emanuela Maggioni, Dario Pittera. "As Light as Your Scent: Effects of Smell and Sound on Body Image Perception." (First published online: August 23, 2019) DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-29390-1_10

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