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CandaScent Labs: Fusing Science and Scent for Whole-Body Wellness

Published January 26, 2023
Published January 26, 2023
CandaScent Labs

CandaScent Labs aims to empower consumers through ingredient transparency and knowledge, backed by scientific studies and research. Founder Véronique Lee was inspired to start the company when working for one of the largest global grain merchandising companies where she realized the impact of capitalism on food sourcing, procession, and marketing, and the negative results of that on the environment and individual health. Thereafter, she became a partner at sustainable beauty and fashion retailer Modavanti, immersing herself in the world of wellness and more environmentally minded practices.

Sourcing with the utmost care became her priority, which is reflected in the product creations free of synthetics and aroma enhancers, containing organic, therapeutic-grade essential oils. This ingredient transparency, moving away from the traditional notion of the “parfum” label, which can house many ingredients in a bid to protect perfumer’s formulators, but also leaves consumers in the shadows about the complete INCI list of the products they are purchasing.

The company’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Susan Trapp, is a plant-microbe bioscientist and biotechnology expert with over two decades of experience. Dr. Trapp informs the brand’s science-first product development process, which emphasizes “whole-body wellness through the olfactory system” through 100% botanically derived formulas. Case in point: one of the company’s hero ingredients, beta-caryophyllene, a terpene that interacts with the endocannabinoid system to create homeostasis, or in layman’s terms, the physiological state of balance. Furthermore, other terpenes incorporated into the products, like the terpene derivative bornyl acetate, act as antibacterial air purifiers.

Focusing on a curated rather than vast product range, CandaScent labs currently offers a waterless nebulizing diffuser and essential oil blends, botanical mists, and candles —available in five scentways: the invigorating Focus, comforting Protect, forest bathing-emulating Mojo, uplifting Amaré, and relaxing Unwind. Products are available through the company’s own site and national luxury beauty retailer Cos Bar.

“We believe the trend of multipurpose products and simplification is going to continue, and perhaps pick up meaningful momentum this year. CandaScent is a brand with a clear dual purpose of wellness and the warming ambiance one would expect from a candle. The packaging is beautiful, and we also like the simplicity of the messaging,” comments CEO of Cos Bar Oliver Garfield.

The California-based enterprise also supports the nonprofit Airmid Institute, which focuses on the global research, education, and sustainable management of aromatic and medicinal plants. BeautyMatter caught up with Lee to discuss the wonders of terpenes and the prevailing power of nature in an increasingly technological world.

Obviously you have quite a background in terms of retail sustainability, but what inspired you to launch CandaScent Labs?

CandaScent Labs is an amalgamation of my passions. It evolved out of my experience and passion for sourcing wellness and, ultimately, nature. My journey in sourcing started years ago when I was working for a multinational agribusiness company, a very large multinational, and basically saw how food got to our table, the politics behind it, and how our food system was changed. I became more concerned about how we were sourcing things, and it's always been a passion of mine to know how things are made. Ultimately, that brought me to wellness and how it affects us, and what we do on this planet.

Interestingly enough, I thought I would be a premed major before, and I've always been interested in the body, so I studied political science, economics, and the distribution of natural resources. It always blends together after a while.

I was really interested in the diversity of our planet and species. I went into sustainable fashion, understanding that how our clothes are made also affected us. It’s obviously a huge industry. Working with artisans also led me to understanding how important it is for people to source their things mindfully so that they're healthy for the people who are creating them.

When I had Modavanti, which is our sustainable marketplace for fashion and wellness products, I had always been looking for a candle that was a wellness candle. I never found it. They were all made with synthetics. That was always in the back of my head,  and I had read some interesting things about the olfactory system years ago, in The Economist.

I had all these little points of interest. Then moving to California and getting interested in the cannabis industry, working with chemists there on some CBD and CBN products. looking to create a CBD line with a doctor in New York City, I was ultimately drawn to terpenes, which are these aromatic molecules. If you know a little bit about the cannabis industry, people are very interested in the entourage effect. So even if terpenes have been around in plants forever, the cannabis industry has brought a resurgence of interest in what terpenes do. These terpenes have beneficial effects for our bodies and how they work with other aromatic molecules, phytocannabinoids, or other plant components.

I brought all that together in creating CandaScent Labs. It’s this passion of bringing the best ingredients to people for health and wellness and being able to create something that I'm passionate about. I saw that there was a whitespace in the candle market for a wellness candle, so that's how it started. Now we've added botanical mists and diffusers.

What’s interesting too is this crossover between the cannabis and fragrance industries. Speaking of the products, how does a wellness scent differentiate from aromatherapy?

What aromatherapy has provided is research over centuries in different aspects, whether that be Chinese herbal medicine or Ayurvedic medicine, folk medicine—these are all experiences that have been shared by people all over the world. What they have lacked many times is the scientific research behind them. What we're finding is that people are more and more interested in marrying that scientific research with an experience base.That’s where we are: right in the middle drawing from all these centuries of experience of plant medicine and adding on what we're learning through scientific research. It's aromatherapy that's evolving with science.

It’s so important, especially these days, to be able to show this isn't just a placebo effect, that there's actual neurological evidence of this helping you, which is brilliant.

I don't know why it is, but there are many people who don't believe that plants are medicine. There's kind of this mental block in believing that pharmaceuticals are not plant medicine, when in fact, they are derived from plant medicine as well. People are starting to understand that medicine does come from plants. We're evolving the understanding of that. It's so important for people to be aware of plants and their importance to us. That's part of our whole DNA, is to keep these plants healthy, because they're going to give us better medicine in the future.

For many years, there has been a view of it as being something “alternative” or “hippie,” but there's a growing consumer audience that is hoping to get back to nature. Not just for the assurance of “this is something that grew in the ground,” but also to realize that there are more natural alternatives out there.

It's very true. Our medical system is one that addresses something when it goes wrong, rather than trying to prevent something from happening. We are not so much into preventative medicine than fixing something, when, ultimately, we could have been taking care of it all along. That's where plants also come in. Certainly it’s been studied in some of the ingredients that we use, the olfactory system, and the endocannabinoid system as something that promotes homeostasis. It’s the regulation of the body for inflammation and antioxidants. Keeping our body regulated is so important, especially now when we have so many proinflammatories in our environment. These will become more important as people understand more about how this all works together.

Where do you source your ingredients from?

We use organic essential oils and pure plant extracts. We will use isolates from top manufacturers that we draw from the cannabis industry. Our organic essential oils are sourced from the best manufacturers that we can find with all the GCMS [gas chromatography–mass spectrometry] reports. We have all the chemical reports, all the certificates, and we make sure that everything is also tested for purity without any heavy metals, pesticides, or solvents. We want to make sure that everything is pure. 80 percent of the essential oils today are adulterated. That is also the reason why we do it, because we want to make sure what we are using is as pure as it says. The demand for essential oils is projected to double within an eight years’ timeframe, which means that there will just be more adulteration, people will be more aggressive in the production of plants and the harvesting of those plants, which means that the quality may not be as good as well because of the soil. When you stress out the soil, just as in monocropping, the nutrients aren't there, so we try to get the best ingredients possible to make the best product. It really comes down to that.

Speaking of the product, what was the process of discovering your hero ingredient, the beta-caryophyllene?

Beta-caryophyllene is the only molecule that is found to work on our CB2 receptor and the endocannabinoid system. What they have found about beta-caryophyllene, which has been extensively researched, is that it has been shown to be an anti-inflammatory anti-tumor, neuroprotective, antioxidant, analgesic, anti-stress molecule. It’s a sesquiterpene and can be considered a cannabinoid. It does work in the same way as the cannabinoid, in that it affects our cannabinoid receptors. It triggers the same receptor that would be triggered with CBD, but not the CB1 receptor as THC would, so it doesn't have those psychoactive effects.

But it does connect to the body, central nervous system, and immune system. It regulates that. The interesting thing, as with the olfactory system, is that they are all based on chemoreceptors that are communicating within the body, so it affects our entire body.

Another interesting point is there has not been much information about the potential health risks of, depending on which wax you use, burning candles.

We use a coconut soy wax. It is a science in terms of the burn, quality of the wax, and wick that you use. If you burn our candles, you'll see they really go to the edge of the container. We want to get that nice pool of wax so that the aromas are diffused from the warm wax. Most candles are made with paraffin, and there are different grades of paraffin. But that ingredient, unfortunately, can have some carcinogens. It really depends on how the product is refined.

There are other products that I've seen that have chemicals that are maybe okay in the United States but are banned in Europe, some preservatives. Also certain candles are made with surfactants, there are ferrosilicons in there too. They're not really great to breathe in. It's difficult for people to understand what their candles are made out of if the ingredients aren’t on there, and most don't include them as a trade secret.

We use coconut and soy wax because it burns very cleanly. We don't have any preservatives, parabens, fragrance enhancers in the formula. We want people to be breathing in the purest aroma that they can, even if it means that it might be more subtle in scent, because that is really what nature is providing us. If you want the therapeutic benefits of what nature can provide, we also have to realize that some of these scents that are super powerful may not actually be so healthy for you. It's an educational process. As we evolve as a brand, we see that more and more people are interested in knowing more, and we love that.

"The more we understand nature, the more we see how we're so dependent on it and how beautiful it is, the more we're going to take care of it."
By Véronique Lee, founder, CandaScent Labs

In terms of synthetics versus naturals, a lot of the studies say smelling rose works on certain receptors—I'd be curious to see if the effects were the same with a synthetic or not.

Synthetics have not been studied for their effects so we don't really know. We can break it down into the components and say that this particular molecule is good for something, but it's really in the synergy and the marriage of all of these compounds that are together where they work best, so it’s a difficult question to answer.

For me, having a synthetic set that's made of two or three molecules is not going to compare to a natural one with hundreds of different molecules. Your body is processing them completely differently. When you smell, it's a complex system that we're still in the process of discovering today. Linda Buck discovered the olfactory receptors in 1991, and went on to win the Nobel Prize in 2004. Basically, these olfactory receptors that she discovered are all over our bodies. How we smell comes through our olfactory neurons and goes directly into our brain, limbic system—hypothalamus, amygdala, thalamus, and hippocampus—and prefrontal cortex to define smells and alter our central nervous system. When you are breathing in different molecules, your body is working to chemically bring signals into your body. It’s working hard to do that. So we're smelling and activating our body in different ways, and we trust the process with naturals because they've been studied and experienced for centuries. We can't say that for synthetics. It's completely different.

What we do is formulate differently because we formulate for effect and scent. A good example is the forest bathing candle that we did, Mojo. When we got together with Dr. Trapp, we looked at all the terpene profiles of forest bathing. She was really interested in delta-3-carene, and I was really interested in bornyl acetate. Delta-3-carene is good for bone health and has some great anti-inflammatories. Bornyl acetate is an air purifier, a great antibacterial. We've also included alpha and beta pinenes. We chose our star ingredients and formulated around them to get the highest percentages of those that we want and have found to be most beneficial in the research. It turned out to be this gorgeous scent, but it's almost as if we're going backwards. We’re formulating for effect, whereas perfumers formulate for scent.

That's a very interesting point too, aesthetics versus function in fragrance. It’s a very different product expectation when you go in wanting something that smells nice, versus tapping into something that's scientifically researched and developed with the intent to have a palpable effect on the brain.

Absolutely. It’s also, for us as a brand, about this whole ecosystem of wellness, which begins with understanding our connection with nature. The more we understand nature, the more we see how we're so dependent on it and how beautiful it is, the more we're going to take care of it. It's critical to us to understand that, because even when we think about the olfactory system, it’s built on chemicals. We are breathing chemicals all day long, and those are triggering things within our body. These chemicals are shared with all the creatures of this world. It’s my hope that we’ll be more sensitive to what we're doing in this world, but that’s a long conversation.

I was reading this article recently that we're now at a tipping point: there’s chemicals that we’re manufacturing and spilling into the environment, so there's a cost to everything. What I’ve witnessed throughout my career many times is that there is a cost when people think that it's for free. It's never for free.

What made you want to expand into botanical mists after having launched with the candles initially?

We love the candles. They really bring out the essence of the natural world. We always respect the percentages of what the natural world offers us—you cannot make a natural candle be as aromatically intense as a synthetic candle. People who want that really strong aroma, that's not what we're about. We're about allowing people to smell nature and bringing them those therapeutic benefits, so we stay within those confines.

What we have in the botanical mist is that people are able to, because it is so immediate, smell that more intense aroma. We'll be coming out with more products that allow people to have that degree of aroma that they're searching for. People don't look at candles, generally, as a wellness product, and it's a lot of education. So we wanted to bring something out with different aromas that people can experience in different ways. That's been a win for us, people have really enjoyed the botanical mists giving you this immediate blast [of scent]. I've had people come up to me and say that they've never smelled anything so good.

On the point about performance on natural versus a synthetic, not enough consumers know about that. Within body fragrance especially, there’s a misunderstanding about what the natural can do. Sometimes there's been an emphasis on sillage and longevity. By its very nature, a citrus scent isn't able to do that. People often think the longer it lasts, and the louder it is, the higher quality it is, but that's actually not the case. That's such an important point to bring up when we're talking about naturals that often gets overlooked.

What have been the biggest surprises, having delved into the wellness benefits of scent?

I don't think that people know about their olfactory system. It's been largely neglected, and it hasn't been very sexy. Now we see articles cropping up everywhere, new research, and it's absolutely phenomenal and exciting.

The TPR [ translocated promoter region]-coupled receptors [part of the olfactory system], 40% of drugs are trying to target those receptors, so the more we know about them, the more therapeutic value we're going to be able to access. There's going to be a lot more in terms of medicine that comes down the pipeline, but what's exciting is that people will begin to understand that it's really a whole-body wellness, both mental and physical, that we can nourish and be attuned to, almost like a biofeedback thing.

Our sense of smell can tell us a lot about our current health. Your sense of smell is the most important precursor of disease or death. It has so much to do with the health of your central nervous system, immunological health, and autoimmune diseases. It can even help with depression. It's so important to our memory as well, and the richer experiences we have in smell, the richer memories we have. It brings so much in terms of taste, too. 80% of taste is smell. It has so many benefits. These olfactory receptors, they are in our organs, skin, blood, tissues, kidneys. These are messenger systems that are communicating throughout the body. It has a larger effect than people realize.

It's interesting how under-researched this olfactory system is in comparison to the other senses. If you think back to the Middle Ages, smell was much more of a diagnostic tool in healthcare. Lavender was believed to ward off the plague. There's such a rich history in medicinal uses of scent.

Rosemary, thyme, and sage, they used to wear those around their neck.

Looking a little bit more towards the future and less towards the past, what are the upcoming plans for your brand? How will olfactory wellness develop?

We're focusing on delivering scent in different ways, like through diffuser systems. That's our objective, creating a home sanctuary, that's where this is headed in terms of olfactory wellness. It’s hard out there, life doesn't get any easier, and we've got all these things going on in the world—we want to have some sense of control in our lives and well-being. Maybe this opens up the door for people to have that be a part of their lives.

What's so exciting to me is that all this research is being done, and we're going to be able to evolve with that. People are curious, they want to know what they’re breathing, not only in their lower respiratory, but their upper respiratory system. People, for the most part, are now taking their health more into their own hands and trying to understand what makes a healthy body and a healthy world. These are big topics for the future.

There's an interesting tension between this idea of our world becoming so digital, and scent is this elusive unicorn that cannot be digitized—or at least hasn't been in the same way as everything else. It’s harkening back to our primal essence as humans. But also, if you think about the fact that the olfactory system was so impacted by COVID, whether people had hyperosmia, anosmia, or phantosmia, it rewires how you reconnect with your sense of smell.

It's very disorienting. For the most part, people get their sense of smell back because your olfactory neurons regenerate, whether it be in weeks or months. Some people have not been able to get their sense of smell back, and they're looking to do some regeneration in neurons to help that process along. There’s still a debate whether any of these neurons get hijacked by the virus. So far what they've discovered is that the supporting cells, they can attack the H2 receptors and then that causes inflammation, which is destroying the neurons at the point that they are still able to regenerate. But it’s still up in the air.

The thing is that if you are consciously smelling things and have that library of smells, you are actually building gray matter in your brain. If you do lose your sense of smell, those can help retrieve that again. We lose [more than] 50% of our sense of smell by the time we're 80. But if we actually use it, it's like the old adage—use it or lose it. It's important to our brain health.

It also brings us directly into the present. The whole idea of mindfulness when you smell has so many advantages for people to be able to appreciate it, and going out to experience smells costs nothing. It's such a free pleasure. For me, as I get older, I appreciate nature and smells more and more every day, it’s always there for you. Hopefully people have an opportunity to go do that. And if they don't, we want to be able to bring those things to them so at least they can experience it in their home.

It’s interesting how we are such an advanced society but there will always be a part of us that craves that return to nature.

It's true. Sometimes I think people feel that they're above nature, when in fact, that's not the case at all.

Mother Nature has shown us plenty of times that we are just her humble servants.


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