The Best Science-Backed Aphrodisiac Scents to Get You in the Mood
These aromas are proven to trigger arousal.
When it comes to the art of silent seduction, nothing comes close to the subtle power of fragrance. Just a hint of an aromatic perfume has the ability to trigger an inescapable, visceral reaction deep in your heart and your body. And that’s precisely what makes fragrance so wonderfully complicated: the flashbacks they evoke, whether it’s the nostalgia of your first love or a comforting childhood memory, transport you back to a moment in your life and strengthen your connection to the aroma — and the person wearing it.
Fragrance’s profound effects on the human body are not just whimsical flights of fancy — far from it. In fact, scientists have proven that smell has a stronger link to memory and emotion than any of the other human senses. Scent is managed by the front of the brain, which sends information to other areas of the body and is immediately redirected to the regions responsible for interpreting emotion and memory, the amygdala and the hippocampus.
Scent is undoubtedly subjective, just as the memories they evoke, but there are specific fragrance notes that have been known to spark arousal in humans for centuries (just ask Cleopatra), and now, we have actual evidence that connects scent to sensuality.
Look no further for the notorious notes and scents famed for their aphrodisiac properties for your next bewitching hour.
“We know from research that sensuality in fragrances tends to be associated with the idea of a slow release,” says Pierre Negrin, master perfumer for Hope Fragrances. “The structure of each fragrance note and molecules give it a particular evaporation rate, and those that evaporate more slowly are those that linger on the skin, that take their time revealing themselves and are present throughout wear.” Madagascar vanilla, according to Negrin, “evolves slowly and is present throughout an evening and well-beyond.”
Shop now: Tom Ford Vanille Fatale Eau de Parfum, $240, sephora.com
According to a 2013 study from the National Institutes of Health, this Middle Eastern herb is “recommended as an aphrodisiac agent in traditional medicine” and has been linked to an increase in sexual behavior and satisfaction in human clinical trials.
Saffron’s unique profile is a masculine, earthy mix of spicy notes with a lingering honey-scented finish.
Shop now: Byredo Black Saffron Eau de Parfum, $180, www.nordstrom.com
“For many years, Panax ginseng has enjoyed a reputation as one of the finest aphrodisiacs in the world,” according to a NIH study of natural aphrodisiacs. And its reputation as a sexual powerhouse is well-earned: further NIH research proved the herb to increase libido, boost performance, and improve sperm count and quality. To top it all off: The word Panax means “all-healing” in Greek, so really, the revitalizing power of an especially delicious orgasm has been celebrated for centuries.
Energizing and peppery, the zesty sensation is fresh, light and easy to wear.
Shop now: Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Water, Sulwhasoo, $82
“Many woodsy base notes, like patchouli, elicit the strongest aphrodisiac reactions, because they can stimulate hormone receptors,” explains natural perfumer and herbalist, Jane Hendler, who also co-founded Ajne, a boutique parfumerie in Carmel-by-the-Sea with a celebrity following.
Deep, distinctive and reminiscent of wet soil, patchouli was notoriously beloved among the 1960s hippie free spirited crowd, thanks to the heady scent’s ability to mask hints of wafting cannabis. Modern interpretations of patchouli are sophisticated and sensual, with a boho-chic core.
Shop now: Ajne Fragrance Oil Roll-On Roshambo, $65, ajne.com
Tropical florals, like jasmine, not only provoke the body’s hormone receptors that create the physical aphrodisiac reaction, says Hendler, but they also “mentally take us to magical places that make us amorous.”
Across ancient cultures, jasmine was a rare and highly sought-after flower, symbolizing various aspects of sexuality in each region. In China, jasmine symbolized the sweetness of women while Karma, the Indian Love God, softens his arrows with jasmine blossoms before piercing hearts.
Shop now: Le Labo Jasmin 17 Body Oil, $70, lelabofragrances.com
“Women, in particular, are triggered by a sandalwood base note,” notes Hedler, and researchers of a 2006 study from the University of Pennsylvania found this to absolutely be true, as women who inhaled sandalwood during sex reported a spike in desire and an elevated mood.
Light yet luxurious with a warm, comforting aroma reminiscent of a campfire in the middle of the woods, perfect for a summer night scent.
Shop now: diptyque Paris Santal Candle, $68, diptyqueparis.com
Many ancient writers referred to the richly-fragrant labdanum as the “perfume of Arabia,” and legend has it that the scent was so addictively luxurious, incense bearing its aroma was burned at the altar of Aphrodite’s temple.
Today, labdanum’s intoxicating blend of intense leather with sweet warm honey is the foundational ingredient in most amber perfumes. Renowned French perfumer Guillaume Flavigny, the nose behind Balmain and Valentino fragrances, loves “to play with warm, creamy, mysterious amber and vibrant resins for addiction” when concocting a new aphrodisiac scent.
Shop now: L’Atelier de Givenchy Ambre Tigré, $235, sephora.com
Invigorating and youthful, the snap of a citrus top note doesn’t necessarily translate to a basic airy kitchen aroma. In a 2014 study from the National Institutes of Health on the effects of citrus aromatherapy, researchers determined that bitter orange essential oil has the effects of being an enhancer of sexual desire" in addition to its ability to alleviate anxiety and improve mood and calmness.
Shop now: Atelier Cologne Orange Sanguine Cologne Absolue, $140, sephora.com
Not all aphrodisiacs are created equal, nor do they always offer a romantic whiff. Case in point: Oakmoss. This pungent blend of moss, pine, decaying leaf, and damp earth notes blend into the ultimate, gritty elixir straight from nature, perfect for those bold and raunchy enough to wear it. And surprisingly, according to Hendler, oakmoss tends to elicit a more powerful sense of arousal in women.
Shop now: Chloe Nomade Eau de Parfum Travel Spray, $34, sephora.com
In Indonesian tradition, the wildly aromatic flowers that produce the sweet, fruity ylang-ylang oil are scattered across the bed of newlyweds on their wedding night to benefit from their aphrodisiac properties. In a recent NIH study, participants reported feeling more relaxed, with an elevated mood, and generally more “in harmony” with their mind, body, and souls after inhaling. When massaged into skin, the oil relieves pent-up stress, and, some say, sparks sexual experimentation.
Shop now: Banyan Tree Ylang Ylang and Geranium Bath & Body Massage Oil, Banyan Tree, $28, essentials.banyantree.com