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Is mauve a soothing color?

The color mauve has become increasingly popular in recent years for its calming and soothing qualities. Many people have begun using mauve in interior design, clothing, and accessories as a way to create a sense of relaxation. But what exactly makes mauve such a tranquil shade? And is there evidence to suggest it can truly help induce feelings of calm?

The Origins of Mauve

Mauve is a pale purple tone that has a soft, dusty, or grayish tint. The first known use of the word mauve to describe this color was in 1859 and it came from the French word for the mallow flower. The mallow plant produces flowers in tones of light purple, pink, and mauve. During the Victorian era, chemist William Henry Perkin accidentally created the first synthetic dye when he was attempting to synthesize quinine. This dye produced a new vivid purple shade that became known as mauve or Perkin’s mauve. This invention of the first artificial dye kicked off the mass production of affordable synthetic dyes and the mauve color grew highly fashionable in the 1860s.

The Color Psychology of Mauve

Color psychology suggests that different hues can evoke different moods and emotions in people. Colors on the cool end of the spectrum like mauve are often described as calm, soothing, and meditative. Mauve is a combination of violet and red on the color wheel. Violet is often associated with spiritual awareness, wisdom, and creativity. Red has connotations of strength and passion. Combined together in mauve, these undertones create a sense of groundedness and tranquility.

The pale, soft nature of mauve is less stimulating than bold primary colors. Soft, muted shades don’t overstimulate the eyes and nerves in the way bright colors like red and yellow can. Pastel versions of purple and pink are thought to release tension in the body and mind rather than cause stimulation. This is why many people anecdotally describe mauve as a relaxing, introspective color that can aid relaxation or sleep.

Mauve in Design and Decor

The calming attributes associated with mauve have made it an increasingly popular color choice for interior design and home decor. Using mauve in spaces like bedrooms, spas, or meditation rooms can help create an overall serene ambience. Mauve makes an excellent paint color for bedrooms because some believe its tranquility fosters better sleep. It also pairs beautifully with cream and gray for a soft, dreamy palette. Using mauve textiles like bedding, pillows, curtains or rugs is another way to weave in this peaceful color.

In commercial design, mauve can be an appealing choice for medical facilities, senior living, and other spaces where maintaining a peaceful environment is important. Some dental and doctor’s offices intentionally paint waiting rooms in mauve or purple tones to help calm patients during stressful visits. Spas, yoga studios, and retreat venues may also utilize mauve in their color schemes and decor.

The Soothing Effects of Mauve

While the emotional effects of colors are highly subjective, some scientific studies have provided evidence that mauve and similar shades of lavender may have measurable calming and stress-reducing effects. One example is research on how colored light impacts the autonomic nervous system, which regulates unconscious bodily processes like breathing and heartbeat. Soothing colors are believed to create a parasympathetic response (“rest and digest”), lowering blood pressure, pulse, and muscular tension.

In one study, being exposed to lavender light for 10 minutes resulted in study participants experiencing increased parasympathetic activation compared to green or red light exposure. This led to greater heart rate variability and slower breathing rate, indicating relaxation. The researchers concluded that lavender color stimulation could potentially be used to help stabilize mood and enhance relaxation.

Further evidence for the relaxing effects of mauve comes from aromatherapy studies using the scent of lavender. Lavender essential oil is known for its calming properties and ability to reduce anxiety and stress. Inhaling lavender oil has been shown to significantly reduce heart rate and lower cortisol, the body’s key stress hormone. Since mauve is associated with the lavender plant, these effects may translate to visual stimulation from the color as well.

Mauve Self-Care Products for Relaxation

Due to the perceived soothing attributes of mauve, this color has become trendy in products marketed around self-care, mindfulness, and relaxation. Here are some examples of popular mauve items that promise tranquil vibes:

  • Mauve yoga mats, blankets, and bolsters for meditation or savasana
  • Sleep masks or weighted blankets in muted mauve tones
  • Mauve aromatherapy diffusers and bottles of lavender oil
  • Mauve journals, stationery, or gratitude journals
  • Bath bombs, bubble bath, or bath pillows in shades of light purple

Scented candles are also commonly found in packaging evoking mauve and lavender fields. These types of products capitalize on the associations people already have between mauve, calmness, and wellbeing. The color becomes a visual cue triggering expectations of relaxation.

Potential Downsides of Mauve

While many find mauve to have a positive soothing effect, it’s important to note that color perception is highly subjective. Mauve may elicit a range of reactions among different individuals. Some may experience mauve as gloomy or sad rather than tranquil. Mauve also has strong feminine associations due to its prevalence in women’s fashion in the Victorian era. Therefore, some men may perceive it as unappealing or unflattering in certain contexts.

Additionally, the subdued nature of mauve makes it a color that can easily appear “dull” or “boring” if overused. Designers need to be careful about using too much mauve or it may inadvertently create a space that feels monotonous and dreary rather than relaxing.

Mauve vs. Lavender vs. Lilac

Mauve is often categorized as a light purple, but it has some key differences from similar shades like lavender and lilac:

  • Mauve has a grayish tone and a muted, dusty appearance.
  • Lavender is a lighter, cooler purple with more blue undertones.
  • Lilac is also light like lavender but has a slightly warmer, pinkish tint.

However, these shades are closely related enough that their emotional associations tend to overlap. All three colors convey a sense of nostalgia and old-fashioned femininity. And they are all frequently described as calm, gentle colors optimal for creating soothing spaces.

Finding Balance with Mauve

While mauve’s soft, hazy qualities show promising stress-reducing potential, more studies are still needed to better understand this color’s impact. Not everyone perceives mauve the same way. But there does appear to be strong anecdotal and some scientific evidence supporting its relaxing reputation.

In most cases, mauve is unlikely to elicit a strongly negative reaction, even if it doesn’t actively create positive feelings. Mauve is a safe, neutral choice for design, clothing, or decor in contexts where conveying tranquility is desired. But balance is still key. Too much mauve risks being bland and monotonous. When used sparingly and intentionally, the soothing charm of mauve can shine.


Mauve is widely considered a peaceful, soothing color, but does the evidence support this reputation? Research suggests mauve can modestly lower heart rate and arousal levels, encouraging relaxation. However, reactions are subjective and mauve risks appearing dreary if overdone. With balance and restraint, the elusive tranquility of mauve can be captured effectively in a variety of contexts and applications.

Color Hex Code RGB Code Fun Fact
Mauve #E0B0FF R: 224, G: 176, B: 255 Mauve was popularized by chemist William Henry Perkin in 1856 when he accidentally invented the first synthetic dye.
Lavender #B57EDC R: 181, G: 126, B: 220 Lavender blooms in late spring to mid summer and the flower spikes can last several weeks when cut.
Lilac #C8A2C8 R: 200, G: 162, B: 200 Syringa vulgaris, the common lilac, is the state flower of New Hampshire.

In summary, mauve is a nostalgic, feminine shade with a muted purple-gray tone. While reactions are subjective, it shows promise in design and decor for creating tranquility and relaxation when used in moderation. More studies are needed, but current evidence suggests mauve’s soothing reputation holds some weight.