All of the five senses—sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch—are connected to memories, but it’s smell that is directly linked to the part of the brain that processes emotions and memories. Research by the Sense of Smell Institute reveals that while people’s visual recall of images drops to about 50 percent after three months, they recall smells with a 65 percent accuracy after an entire year. This is good news for spas, as aromatherapy is such an integral part of a spa’s environment and atmosphere. “A person is, on average, 100 times more likely to recall a scent than an image,” says Farah Abassi, founder of Aroma360. “This is because our sense of smell is the only one of our senses that has a direct path to the brain’s limbic system. The limbic system is the ‘emotional center’ of our brain, which is why a scent has the ability to trigger such strong emotional responses.”
Using a signature scent in spa surroundings creates an olfactory memory for guests based on their relaxing experience and is a great way for your spa to create an emotional connection with clients. “Once they have a positive experience in a scented environment, each subsequent encounter with that scent will trigger those positive feelings and emotions,” says Abassi. “This is an extremely effective way to strengthen the brand and customer loyalty.”
Choosing the right scent for a spa is critical, which is why it is important that you work closely with aromatherapy companies to create a scent that reflects your spa’s vibe and location. “Imagine walking into a beautiful log cabin and being greeted by the scent of a crisp ocean breeze—it just wouldn’t feel right,” says Abassi. “Scenting is not a one-size-fits-all discipline, as the scent has to be consistent with all aspects of the space.”
According to Geraldine Howard, founder and chairman of Aromatherapy Associates, there are several factors which must be taken into consideration when choosing a scent for a spa environment, such as the spa’s ethos and the treatments and locations where the fragrances will be used. Abassi works with the spa’s leadership team to determine the spa’s scenting goal. “If we are creating a scent to represent the brand, we take into account all aspects of the brand including its mission, vision, and future goals,” says Abassi. “If it’s a scent that is geared toward enhancing the customer experience, we consider the desired mood and emotions and incorporate the corresponding scents to accomplish the desired effect. Lastly, we take into account all other sensory stimuli, such as colors, sounds, lighting, and decor, to make sure the scent is consistent with the surroundings.”
Nick James, founder and botanical formulator at Body Bliss, believes that the process of creating a signature scent varies depending on the spa and its needs and that it should help tell the spa’s unique story through scent and product. “Very often, this involves investigating the plants that naturally grow in the area in which the spa is located,” he says. “Then, we take those scents, and sometimes related, complementary scents, and make blends in that way.”
At Spa Aiyana at Carmel Valley Ranch (CA), for example, lavender is planted throughout the property, so Body Bliss created the CVR Lavender Garden blend, which actually incorporates the lavender grown on-site. Similarly, at The Lodge at Woodloch (Hawley, PA), the spa’s signature scent, Rosemary Mint, is inspired by the many rosemary plants growing on the property. Clients can experience the signature scent and its benefits in the spa’s Rosemary Awakening Body Treatment (starting at $250, 1 hour 40 minutes), which includes a stimulating body polish of rosemary and citrus to cleanse and detoxify, a full-body massage enhanced by locally crafted rosemary-infused oils and herbal heat packs that relaxes and restores tired muscles, a warm seaweed wrap, and a scalp massage. “Scent is one of the most powerful senses of the human body,” says spa director Nancy Deaton. “It can take a person back to a specific time and place with the faintest of smells. It can also have a powerful effect on one’s mood. We hope that our signature scent will bring back the memory of their experience at The Lodge at Woodloch while also benefitting their mood with the naturally energizing and cleansing power of rosemary.”
On other occasions, a property might want to create a scent that matches the spa’s vibe or theme. At Eau Spa at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa (Manalapan, FL), clients can enjoy seasonal signature scents based on aquatic botanicals, the climate, and the spa’s fanciful theme. The summer’s scent featured European dewberry as its main ingredient. “Summer at Eau Spa in South Florida is drenched in sunshine, citrus fruits, beach beauties, and sea spray, and so the easy decision for us was a mermaid theme,” says spa director Catherine Warren. The spa’s signature Mermaid Treatment ($185, 60 minutes) is performed on the beach and includes a massage and an exfoliation with the spa’s signature scrub and body butter. “We even mix the mermaid ingredients together with a pinch of Palm Beach sea salt and sand for an authentic oceanic treatment,” says Warren. Clients then receive a custom kit that includes a scrub, a loofah, a moisturizer, a body spritzer, and a body butter to bring the spa experience home.
A spa’s signature scent might also reflect a feeling that clients might desire. For example, according to Janel Luu, CEO and formulator at PurErb, a spa located in a big city may attract clients who seek a soothing, centering experience that evokes nature, so the signature scent might feature earthy, woodsy, or floral notes such as frankincense, juniper, rose, and sandalwood. Likewise, a spa located in a smaller town may attract clients who seek a more stimulating experience, so the signature scent might feature energizing, vibrant aromatic notes, such as geranium, grapefruit, mandarin, and mint. According to spa director Laura De La Rosa, The Spa at The Setai by Thémaé at The Setai, Miami Beach (FL) uses lemongrass essential oil as its signature scent, because it provides a clean scent, which has the ability to calm and revitalize without being too overpowering,
Warm, floral blends, such as Bulgarian rose, lavender, and sandalwood soothe and relax the client by creating a sense of serenity and peace of mind, while woodsy, earthy blends like frankincense, juniper, and patchouli encourage composure and centering. For an invigorating scent, Luu suggests creating a fresh, spicy blend that revitalizes and stimulates the client by waking up the senses and sharpening the mind, which may include grapefruit, rosemary, and spearmint. At The Spa at Pelican Hill (Newport Beach, CA), organic and wildcrafted essential oils of Italian bergamot and grapefruit are blended with warm, spicy clove bud and amber to create the exclusive Amber Gold scent that is reminiscent of Mediterranean citrus groves and California sunshine to reflect the resort’s Italian-inspired design and its Southern California locale. Similarly, at Eména Spa (Miami), it was important to create a scent that was both uplifting and soothing and would allow clients to leave feeling rejuvenated. The key was to make sure the scent didn’t alienate the spa’s male clientele. Abassi worked closely with spa management to create the Orange Bergamot blend. “Orange is a wonderful pick-me-up and great for positivity and clarity, while bergamot is known for its calming properties and is great for reducing stress,” says Abassi.
Something in the Air
A spa’s signature scent should be used to enhance a clients’ experience as they move throughout the spa. From the spa reception to the treatment rooms and relaxation area, the signature scent should be used throughout to help clients stay calm and relaxed during their entire time at the spa. “Because scent plays such an important role in the formation of memories, creating the right atmosphere will allow clients to recall their spa experience with greater clarity and make them more likely to return for additional services, which translates to higher revenues,” says Abassi.
The spa can also introduce the scent in the air at the entrance for a memorable welcoming effect, and it might also be detected outside to extend the smell of the spa’s interior to passersby. According to Sandra Barvaux, vice president of air care at Prolitec, some spas use the scent in all interior public spaces as an aromatherapy and memorable brand experience. This practice is referred to as ambient scenting. “Ambient scenting is the use of scent as an environmental element and a medium of communication, like the music we hear and the many visual elements we see,” she says. “Recent developments in technology make it possible to accurately present the full art of the perfumer with a computer-controlled system, which creates an extraordinary scent experience with almost no scent material in the air. The importance of getting your scent ‘right’ is supported by research showing that a brand’s scent can be a more powerful element than its logo. It’s more memorable and effective in communicating a brand message than a visual, sound, or touch.”
What a Treat
One of the most effective ways to get a client to associate a scent with relaxation is to incorporate the scent in the treatment room during signature treatments. “Aromatherapy has played a large role in skin treatments, especially in customization,” says Beth Bialko, global education developer and master instructor for The International Dermal Institute and Dermalogica. “By combining the sense of smell with the power of touch, therapists can give a signature treatment with therapeutic oils that can decongest, revitalize, and soothe the skin while unique aroma profiles can even address their mood. The treatment room instantly becomes a personalized environment that triggers positive emotions and thoughts, and more importantly, it creates a sensory experience that will keep clients coming back for more.”
Bialko suggests applying a few drops of an essential oil blend on the palms of the hands and lightly placing the hands over the client’s nose for deep inhalations at the beginning of the skin treatment; applying the essential oil blends to the scalp, feet, or on the client’s spine to induce relaxation and therapeutic effects; adding a few drops into a bowl of warm water and placing it under a face cradle, allowing the client to benefit from the aromatic inhalations before a skin or body treatment or massage; and customizing hydroessentials into steamed towels and cleansing water for added aromatic and skincare benefits.
James also suggests using the signature scent on hot towels for welcoming guests into the spa, for aromatherapy inhalation rituals at the beginning of treatment services, in the salon in manicure and pedicure bowls, in diffusers and candles for room fragrancing, and in the locker room amenities. “The ultimate integration comes by employing the signature scent throughout the in-room amenities in a resort,” says James. “Some scents even lend themselves to being used in restaurants—in unique signature dishes or again on welcome towels offered once guests have been seated.”
A signature scent can also generate additional revenue for the spa if it is incorporated into products, including candles, body lotions, oils, and other scented products, that can be used in the spa and also sold in the retail area. “The idea of a consumer desiring to bring the scent home in a format that they can use in their personal environment represents the ultimate recognition of a truly liked fragrance experience,” says Barvaux.
Because of the many opportunities to utilize the scent in the spa, a signature scent creates a silent brand identity, says Tara Durkan, founder of Dossage. “The scent, like notes of a favorite piece of music, resonates a feeling of wellbeing, being at peace, and relaxation.” Whether the scent is custom-created or not, the key is to choose a scent that accurately matches the personality of the spa brand and enhances the customer experience. “A spa is meant to enhance the quality of life—it’s all about being good to the body, mind, and soul,” says Luu. “Carefully chosen aromatic blends with different therapeutic benefits create a multi-layered experience of wellness, which hopefully will be remembered long afterward, and will prompt clients to return again and again.”
Consider offering signature aromatherapy products such as these customizable blends to enhance the relaxing experience at your spa.—Jessica Morrobel
1. Amber Products Pure Essential Oils: Bergamot, eucalyptus (shown), grapefruit, tangerine, and ylang ylang oils can be combined with massage oils, scrubs, body powders, hydrotherapy treatments, and body wraps.
2. Aura Cacia Pure Essential Oils: Essential oils of lemon, lime, peppermint (shown), sweet orange, tea tree, and wintergreen can be used to create custom bath and massage oils.3. Body Bliss Aroma Design Mini: This custom aromatherapy treatment kit features a variety of organic essential oils, including lavender and rose (shown), and illustrated laminated recipe cards for use in massage oils and treatments.
4. Bon Vital’ Aromatherapy 100% Pure Essential Oils: A combination of basil, clary sage, ginger, grapefruit, tea tree (shown), and white camphor essential oils can be added to diffusers, creams, lotions, and gels to customize therapeutic treatments.
5. Enfleurage Aromatics from the Natural World: Featuring angelica root, grapefruit (shown), nutmeg, turmeric, and ylang ylang, these customizable aromatic oils are sourced from farms for use in diffusers, vaporizers, and oil burners.
6. Ess Aromatherapy Pure Essential Oils: Distributed by Universal Companies, Ess offers a custom line of essential oil blends, including Relaxation (shown), for use in massage oils, diffusers, and baths.
7. Floracopeia Essential Oils: Cinnamon, frankincense (shown), lemongrass, oregano, peppermint, and rosemary can be combined to create custom personal care products and massage treatments.
8. JennScents Custom Aroma Mist: Clients can develop a personalized aromatherapy spray with essential oils derived from bark, berries, and flowers for use at home or with massage treatments.
9. Nantucket Perfume Company Aromatherapy: Incorporating more than 40 organic and therapeutic-grade essential oils, the custom blends can be used in diffusers, nebulizers, and massage treatments.
10. Prima Fleur Essential Oils: More than 200 essential oils, including carrot seed, chamomile, cinnamon, and helichrysum (shown), can be combined for use in personal care products and massage treatments.
11. Tara Spa Therapy Essential Oils: Clients can choose from a variety of organic, wildcrafted, and pesticide-free oils, including cedarwood and juniper (shown), from farmers around the world to create custom fragrances and bath and massage oils.
12. Victoria’s Lavender Aromatherapy Body Mist: Offering a variety of essential oils, including eucalyptus, mint, and lavender (shown), clients can create custom body sprays to help soothe and calm the skin.