Before FaceTime and face masks, it happened a lot: You’d catch a whiff of someone’s perfume, and it was just amazing. You’d breathe in and go, “What is that?” and they’d either tell you or pretend it was “just shampoo,” which we all know is a lie, but okay. More and more often, though, when women obliged to answer, they’d say, “It’s Ellis Brooklyn.” The range of eight scents was created by Bee Shapiro, whose other job is at The New York Times, where she’s a beauty journalist (and asks a fair amount of celebs and makeup gurus “what is that?” herself).

In the midst of COVID-19, Bee’s hosting an Instagram Live series for the Times, writing her “Skin Deep” column for the newspaper, and running her company from the kitchen table. How is she doing it without losing her mind? We asked.

It feels like there are no limits on work right now, even for those of us with just one job. How are you avoiding burnout?
It’s incredibly hard. But I think we’re being blind about how prevalent that was before COVID-19 happened. Business is a super-broad term now, because everyone’s expected to have a “personal brand.” That’s a recipe for burnout. For me, I refuse to answer emails after 7 P.M. It’s not a genius original idea, but it’s a boundary!

A lot of women dream of starting their own business, but they’re not sure whether to tell their boss. How did you navigate that conversation?
It was tough… I framed it as, “So I’m doing this now. I’m really excited about it, but I obviously want to keep working with you. What can I cover that still works for us now? How can I still contribute?” If you have a relationship of real trust and respect, it’s easier to go into a conversation with your own suggestions and solutions… And the truth is, running a business has made me a better reporter. As a journalist, I only saw finished products; I never saw the messiness and the journey to create them. That makes a big difference in how you understand and talk about the industry.

As the owner of a small business, what should we know about online shopping right now? Is it ethical to do it, or does it put warehouse workers at risk?
That’s a great question, because people don’t realize that most small businesses have a really interactive relationship with their warehouses. Mine is in New Jersey, and a month ago, they sent me a giant list of their new policies… We felt really good about their tactics to keep their staff safely employed. And I’m happy to say, from talking to other small business owners in fashion and beauty, there are many, many warehouses taking good care of people.

How can we scent our homes right now to make them a more calming place?
I love this question! Even before COVID-19, I would constantly talk about this, and people would be like, “Bee who cares?!” But listen, scent is a lifestyle. Scent dictates 75% of our mood, even though we live in this hyper-visual world. Look at how everyone is baking bread. Bread has a really cozy smell, and you want your space to smell like that. You can’t eat a loaf a day, but you want that smell every day.

What can we use as a DIY scent in our homes?
Vanilla extract! Vanilla is one of the most studied scents in the world. Science says it brings relaxation and harmony to our brainwaves. Everyone knows lavender is calming, but vanilla brings an automatic sense of comfort to most people. Throw a few drops into your bath every night if you want.

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