How (and Why) to Smell Like a Forest, Wherever You May Be

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To be alone in nature is a magnificent experience. The trees alone are enough to move me to tears — so old, so tall, like Abraham Lincoln. Please don't get me started on mountains, or else I will be forced to write the most gorgeous poem you have ever read.

The idea that being outside makes humans feel good is boringly old, boringly uncontroversial, and endorsed boringly at length by Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The concept became popular again only recently, rebranded as an exotic cultural practice: Shinrin-yoku, literally and quite descriptively translated from Japanese as "forest bathing," only dates back to the 1980s, but is built upon the ancient Japanese Shinto principles of nature worship. 

And unlike other forms of Eastern medicine, such as acupuncture, shinrin-yoku is the subject of a substantial body of clinical study linking nature time with lower blood pressure and cortisol production — mostly thanks to phytoncides, or essential oils derived from wood. They repel pests but remind our brains of nature's sublime beauty; how meaningless we feel compared to it, and how fortunate we are to exist within it. The concept rose to phenomenal interest between 2016 and 2020, interesting dates that I'll be looking into later.

Forest bathing has also recently permeated the consumer beauty market. Good news for those of us who have not been near a Japanese forest in some time! Instead, I am bringing the outside in, by transplanting its lush olfactory language into my home. It's going great, thank you for asking. Here are my top picks.

"Forest bathing in a bottle": I'm Outside distills the health benefits of shinrin-yoku into a four ounce face and body mist, featuring a dense grove of woodsy essential oils, like cedar, pine, fir needle, hinoki. 

I'm Outside, but I'm inside — get it? I mist myself midday: Bracing notes of tea tree prickle up the insides of my nose until they arrive at my brain's limbic system, telling it that, despite what it may have heard, my body is absolutely in a forest right now, and loving it!

I'm Outside All-Over Mist

The Nue Co's Forest Lungs delivers phytoncides in the form of a wearable fragrance that smells less like a Japanese forest and more like a luxury spa situated in a Japanese forest. It's supposed to trigger some of the same biological reactions as forest bathing — the brand conducted a study that reported unanimous calming effects, although the 65-subject sample size was relatively small. The only marked difference I observe when wearing it is that I smell significantly better. Any ancillary vibes felt thereafter are welcome.

The Nue Co. Forest Lungs

Nest Fragrance offers a passport's worth of options via its single-note fragrance oils that I apply on my body or drop in my diffuser. Will my bedroom be a Turkish rose garden, or an Indian jasmine patch? Will my wrists smell like Madagascar or an island in the South Pacific? These are rhetorical questions because I only use the jasmine one, but it's nice to let the mind wander when one's body cannot.

Nest Indian Jasmine Perfume Oil

Diptyque is to Paris as D.S. and Durga is to New York. The brand practices a somewhat irreverent worship of fragrance, scaffolding classic notes (like jasmine) with constructed worlds (like the heaving breath of a Mexican rainforest) that may not exist outside of the Brooklynite's imagination. 

Recently, a venerated French brand launched a jasmine scent that features citrus and floral notes, while D.S. and Durga accessorized theirs with sambac, spicy vetiver, and a cool wash of limestone ruins, sparkling with humidity.

D.S. & Durga Jazmín Yucatan

In desperate pursuit of clear sinuses, I started littering my shower with eucalyptus salts. Then I became so addicted to the practice that I nearly depleted my salts. Now they are a special ceremony that occurs right before a big night out. (I have not used them in months.)

Aura Cacia Clearing Eucalyptus Shower Salts

I know that there has been a lot of discourse — occurring on public forums like Twitter, the private corridors of one's inner monologue, across family dinner tables worldwide — surrounding which Boy Smells candle is the best Boy Smells candle. Pound the gavel: It's Hinoki Fantome! Hinoki describes a cypress tree native to Japan with an almost pungent, medicinal aroma, and Boy Smells surrounds it with bouquets of warm florals. It suggests the outdoors, but luxuriously so, in the manner of a wellness retreat. 

Boy Smells Hinoki Fantôme Candle

Sometimes, the only place you want to be transported is to a nearby patio, arm's distance from a frozen tequila drink. Demeter's fabulous library of scents, which includes entries like Freshly-Brewed Coffee, Thunderstorm, and Morocco, expanded last year to include Puppy's Breath, PBJ, and the unexpectedly tart Margarita — and not a moment too soon, as the bar increasingly became a locus of viral disease.

In 2021, it appears we will be able to visit bars in addition to fantasizing about going to them. I'll be there, smelling like a lime rind, as soon as I'm able to.

Demeter Frozen Margarita Cologne Spray

Wherever you find yourself, sure to observe your surroundings: Is there a tree nearby? Or does your drink have a little green garnish? Close enough — happy forest bathing!

A version of this story originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Allure. Learn how to subscribe here.

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