Skip to content

The power of scent:
Here’s how Kenvue scientists choose the perfect fragrance for every product

Ever wondered how scents can stir up emotions, trigger memories and boost well-being? Dive into the fascinating world of fragrance selection at Kenvue.

Johnson's bedtime bubble bath with floral aroma and happy baby

From fragrant, fresh flowers to your favorite family recipe, scent surrounds us — and those scents can trigger our memories and help us tap into and connect with moments that matter, like your newborn’s first bath.

How do we know? Because Kenvue scientists have been innovating with a purpose in this space for years, helping generations take care of themselves and their loved ones with innovative products that smell great, too.

But how do Kenvue scientists choose the right scent for the right product? For an insider look, we asked Kenvue experts Allie Dinapoli Marzano and Joseph Greco, who both work in baby research and development, to break down the process behind the scented products you see on store shelves every day.

The emotional brain

Unique to our other senses, scent is directly connected to the brain. One deep inhale and scent travels through your olfactory nerve, a component of the limbic system, or our emotional brain.

“This is why the science behind scent is so important for usages and products,” Greco said. “Kenvue studies have shown purposeful fragrances can induce calmness and stress reduction and have positive impacts upon social and memory development.”

So, while other senses, like touch or vision, can take longer to process, it takes only milliseconds for scent to trigger memories and associations, be it from childhood, a special place or any meaningful moment in time.

Inside the lab

Safety goggles on, white coat buttoned, and we are in the Kenvue lab. The key piece of developing known and loved scents is you — our Kenvue consumers.

“In partnership with fragrance houses, we first develop a brief of what we’re trying to accomplish with each scent,” Marzano said. “Whether it’s a memory or an emotion, we start with those details.”

What’s tricky is that every person has their preference on which scents are more pleasing to them.

“Take the cilantro example,” Greco explained. “Some people love it, and to others, it tastes like soap. The same goes for fragrance.”

Following this process comes a consumer check, where real people smell variants created by the fragrance houses, while matching each to an associated emotion. The end goal is to understand what each scent triggers in a consumer’s brain, so scientists can work toward how they want consumers to feel using specific products.

For instance, consumers who like fresh scents might enjoy Neutrogena® brand’s Rainbath® Collection, while the OGX® Coconut Milk line might be a favorite of those who want to feel like they’re on an island vacation.

The heart of the fragrance

“Fragrance as a whole is a blend of ingredients. It’s not one single thing — it’s how the ingredients work harmoniously together,” Marzano said. “There are the top notes, those that you first smell. Then, there are those that linger on the skin for a minute or so — the middle notes. Finally, there are the notes that linger post usage, anywhere from 10 minutes to multiple hours later, which are the bottom notes.”

And while every fragrance is comprised of top, middle and bottom notes, it is the middle notes that Marzano and Greco call “the heart of the fragrance.” It’s where consumers will take notice of fragrances that certain product sets are known for. For example, in every Johnson’s® fragrance, you will find notes of rose, jasmine and musk — it’s their heart.

“So, while some people prefer the purple Johnson’s® Bedtime® over the pink Baby Moisture Wash, when you look at the ingredients and the notes that are in the center, the heart of the fragrance creates commonality and familiarity,” Marzano said.

“As generations evolve, we aim to keep the heart of the fragrance the same, this way it can still bring the sense of what consumers may know, even with a more modern version,” Greco added.

Our fragrance standards

Did you know that less than 25% of the aroma compounds used in fragranced consumer products meet Kenvue’s strict standards? To deliver our fragrances to consumers safely and effectively — including those with allergies or sensitive skin — we follow a rigorous four-step process:

  1. Follow global regulatory guidance.
  2. Evaluate and consider regional and local guidelines.
  3. Fragrances are approved by our in-house safety team and must meet our care standards to be skin safe, mild to eyes, and allergy tested with a combination of safety-in-use testing.
  4. We continually monitor in-market performance to meet consumer expectations, update global guidelines, and review new scientific studies to understand if any of our policies or ingredient levels need modification.

“We’ve even conducted side-by-side testing with and without fragrance and we have had the same results,” Greco said. “So Kenvue consumers never have to sacrifice fragrance for safety.”

Back to the beginning

As a scientist living in New York City, Allie Dinapoli Marzano “fell into” the fragrance world, working in a fragrance house with a focus on perfume.

“It was a unique world that I’ve never seen or heard about, even in school,” she said. “I didn’t know what went into building a fragrance, but it was that exposure where I found my passion for it. And when I joined the baby team at Kenvue, there was the opportunity to restage the entire Johnson’s® brand, touching all of our fragrances globally.”

Through this opportunity, Marzano led the global fragrance strategy and execution. She worked with fragrance houses, much like the one she came from, looking at iconic scents, understanding and developing how Kenvue was going to implement this — how do these products show up in different regions? What are the variants in those regions? And why should they select such distinct fragrances for the same product?

“Understanding what drives those decisions and what is important to the consumer was just so interesting,” she said. “It was more than science, it was psychology.”

Working in the baby sector for over half of his career, Joseph Greco now focuses less on the time spent in the lab, and more on how scent can influence parent-baby bonding and connection.

“I became really interested in psychology and the study behind fragrances,” he said. “And it’s true when you use something that has fragrance versus something that doesn’t, you don’t get the same pleasure out of using a product.”