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PERFUMERY MYTHS OR FACTS?

Updated: Apr 4, 2018



You probably, like me, have heard several statements related to perfumery or the olfaction field that you don’t really know whether they are true or not. My purpose here is NOT to tell you if they are a myth or a fact but to provide you with plenty information about the subject in order for you to elaborate a “reasonable” and logical opinion. All the information I will be providing comes from internet or other different sources like books (yeah, people still read those), magazines, or even people’s opinions.


Coffee grains refresh or “reset” the sense of smell:

I am sure you’ve heard about this one or you may even have tried to smell coffee beans when you need to “forget” the smell currently retained in your nose or perhaps you saw it in a perfume store, where they might have offer you a whiff of coffee beans in between trying different perfumes.

Why the need of “refreshing” or “resetting” our sense of smell in between trying different perfumes?

First we need to introduce the concept of olfactory fatigue: is the temporary, normal inability to distinguish a particular odor after a prolonged exposure to that airborne compound. Once you are no longer exposed to the smell, the ability to pick up that particular smell returns. Olfactory fatigue is a sensory adaptation.

Let’s make an example: We smell perfume #1 that is composed of materials A, B, C, D, H, M and P, then we smell perfume #2 that is composed of A, B, F, J, Q, T and Z. The problem is that by the time that we switch perfumes (from #1 to #2), our nose is already “fatigued” or “accustomed” of materials A and B so when we smell perfume #2, we are smelling it WITHOUT A and B, because our nose is not picking out the scent of those 2 materials.


Olfactory fatigue could also be used as an excellent tool to identify a smell. Let me explain and give it a try whenever you can, it is quite interesting: Let’s suppose you have 2 different mixes: sample #1 and sample #2.

  • The first one contains 4 materials (bergamot, rose, marjoram and Cedar-wood).

  • The second one, a mix of 5 materials (the same 4 as Sample #1 plus one you don’t know what it is).

The easiest way to “smell” the unidentified material by itself is using olfactory fatigue. By definition, when we “force” our nose to smell repeatedly a smell, soon it gets tired of it and the effect is that, for a few seconds, we stop smelling it. So, using this, if in our example we smell sample #1 strongly and repeatedly, as soon as we cannot smell it anymore, we switch to smell sample #2. In doing so, our nose, for 4-5 seconds will not be able to smell the mix of bergamot, rose, marjoram and Cedar-wood and the ONLY thing that will go to our brains is the smell of the 5th material, leaving us in a better position to define and identify what that material is.


Now, back to the coffee beans, do their chemical composition have some mysterious molecular component that allows them to reset our sense of smell? Do they have an unknown to us superpower that let them change and affect the way our sensory make up interacts with the world? Do they have the magical ability to numb our sense of smell or switch its functionality just by their mere presence and the emanation of their own smell? As much as it would be really cool to respond affirmatively to any of these questions, unfortunately I believe the answer is NO. Here you can read a short work by Alexis Grosofsky, Margaret L. Haupert and Schyler W. Versteeg named “An exploratory investigation of coffee and lemon scents and odor identification.” You will find scientific evidence that coffee beans are no better at cleansing the olfactory palate than lemon or air itself.


Also, have you ever noticed how you don’t smell what your home smells of until you come back from holiday? Our brains are wired so when you smell a particular smell for long enough, it decides that it’s safe and can now be ignored. In that sense, the concept of sniffing something, ANYTHING other than perfume is actually not bad for ‘cleansing the palate’ between trying out perfumes.


On the other hand, let’s try common sense…if I smell a perfume that smells like coffee (as instance, A*Men Pure Coffee by Thierry Mugler)…how does coffee will actually “clean” the smell of coffee I’ve just smelled? PLEASE somebody explain?!


So, how can we “clean” our nose of the countless smells we bombard it with on a regular basis? Well, apparently the perfect baseline to our sense of smell is our own smell, our skin, which at the same time, it DOES make sense that there's not a more neutral smell to you than your own, right? Again, since you smell yourself on a constant basis, your mind ends up “ignoring” your smell as something that is always there and then smelling, as instance, your arm should give you (and your brain) a pretty good grasp of what “nothing” smells like, hence the term baseline or resetting your nose. This also explain why people that sweat with an intense odor, don't seem to realize there's a problem...

So, what do you think? Myth or fact?


Rubbing the perfume on our wrists increases its chemistry with our skin:

If you remember the blog about how to make a perfume, probably you remember i mentioned the basic structure of a perfume, usually reflected in a pyramid. At the top of this pyramid we find the “top” or “head” notes. Here is a link in case you want to revise the concepts. These are the notes that are most affected with the rubbing of the wrists. We know that these notes are more delicate, lighter and last the least or dissipate most quickly, in opposition to the base notes that linger for a longer time.


Master Perfumer Harry Frémont, who has been in the perfume-making business for well over two decades, is behind the new Estée Lauder Modern Muse fragrance, and one of the about 10 master perfumers in the world says there is a good reason to stop that wrist-rub habit: it changes the way the scent performs on your skin:

“If you rub your wrists together right after putting on your favorite fragrance, you really do spoil those light-molecule top notes. The friction between the perfume and your skin's natural oils "rushes the fragrance," says Frémont. In effect, he says, you're fast-forwarding your scent experience, bypassing the opening and going straight to the heart notes.”

“Catastrophic? No. But when you spend what you spend on fragrance, and the top notes are what attracted you to the perfume in the first place (you have to love the top notes even to consider sampling the juice, right?), why would you skip the first-date stage of your day?”[1]


Make sense! BUT…

A lot of people DISCOURAGE this theory. I’m copying here what member “snowbunny007” from the website Fragrantica.com responded in 2012 when a similar question was posted in their forum[2]:


Question:

Hey!

I've read a couple of times that if you rub your wrists together after applying perfume, you will bruise the scent and it won't smell the same and/or won't last as long as it normally should?

Have you ever heard that before? Do you think it makes any sense? To my knowledge, it doesn't but I'm just wondering what you guys think.


Answer:

Myth!!!

If that were the case...think about it!

You couldn't even move without "bruising" the molecules. And, they are molecules. They are not time release bath pearls that slowly dissolve and reveal their inner layers.

The molecules act independent of your bodily movement. They only thing you can do is break down their structure with soaps and the like, or let them fade on their own. Movement of you rubbing your wrists together or walking or whatever just livens them up a bit. That's all.

I'm adding to this post to perhaps give you a better explanation, as I see it...

The laws of thermodynamics basically tell us that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change in form. All energy is molecular. The molecules act either together or apart to create any certain energy. You can change their arrangement, but you cannot destroy them in and of themselves. You cannot "bruise" or "injure" a molecule. It either stays put, or floats away to make friends with some other molecule or molecules- literally. If you are lucky enough to get close enough to a molecule to rub against it, it will either resist and stay put, move to the object that touched it, or float away.

Perfumes have entire chains of molecules, mingling about in the formulation. These chains and the mingling of them give you the top, middle and base notes of the fragrance. But, since they all have their own lifespan, there is sort of a hierarchy in which they will be most active or stick around the longest. This is some serious chemistry that I won't explain. Glad

Sooooo- you might be able to "rub" the molecules to make a slightly earlier detection of a molecular chain that was not ready to fire off yet, but you cannot change the entire fragrance or it's hierarchy by rubbing your wrists together. All that will do is cause your own personal molecules to interact and slightly rearrange the chain...making the scent unique on you.

That better explain things?”


Brilliant explanation. Yet I think is not necessary correct. The heat generated from the rubbing CAN cause the more volatile molecules (top or head notes) to evaporate more quickly than desired by accelerating their evaporation rate. From that point of view, it sort of changes the scent, but only insofar as the way the development of the composition of notes unfolds, not the actual perfume.


So, What do you think?

Rubbing affects the top notes, improves the chemistry with our skin or not?


The right way and place to apply perfume[3]:

There is so much information in the collective mind about these subjects that’s really difficult to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong. When it comes to applying perfume: is there a right way? Do you spray a cloud and walk through it, do you spray it in your clothes, to avoid skin chemistry or, do you spritz on wrist, neck and other pulse points?


Spray a cloud and walk through it:

This was a technique promoted by the launch of Aromatic Elixir by Clinique in 1971, transferred afterwards through all of the Lauder group companies. It is a rather wasteful technique that is better applied with perfumes with a huge projection and trail (most of Estée Lauder’s). Use this technique if you don’t want to offend people surrounding you when you are wearing a perfume that is almost impossible not to smell it from afar (really strong sillage).


Do not spray in clothes so you allow the interaction with your skin: Marketing technique specifically conceived for Chanel º5 after its mass popularization to regain a bit of its original individual value as a precious commodity. It gives the wonderful notion that every woman would achieve its own unique fragrance because the scents is different in accordance to her own skin. Even though there are certain chemical interactions with the smell of our skin, these are not enough to make it a brand new different perfume. If you think about it, you can smell and identify a perfume you know in another person, even though it might smell slightly different on that person than it smells on you. So, the only reason NOT to spray perfume in clothes is if there’s a chance of the perfume staining the fabric, which could happen in certain cases.


The pulse points: These points are the places when you heart rate can be felt. Theory says that at these points, since the blood is closer to the skin, the warmth of your blood creates a point where heat is a little bit higher than the rest of the body and that the perfume is “activated” faster by this heat. Some of these points are the wrists, behind the ears, at the bottom of your throat, inside your elbow and bellow your knee.

The same as with other theories there are people that say the contrary and they think you might be doing yourself a disservice using these points: “According to renowned perfumer Jean Claude Ellena the PH of the skin on the inside of the wrists can be a bit acidic/sour, thus subtly shifting the aroma of your fragrance. This is especially crucial with fragrant compositions which present tart or floral notes. Additionally, wrists are the places we often wear a wristwatch, bracelets or other jewelry and use to rest our hand on a mouse pad or hand-rest. These are materials which can also influence the scent of your perfume. A metallic watch or bracelet interacts subtle, while a leather band lends its own inherent aroma to the mix (sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a bad way). Not to mention that in the case of a mouse pad the transferring of different perfumes ends up in a haphazard mix-up rather than a deliberate olfactory collage…”

As for behind the ears: “is a rather bad place for perfume…because at the back of the ears there are glands which produce an oily-smelling substance which distorts your perfume. You can judge just how much your own glands produce by rubbing a wet towel behind that spot and sniffing… Heavy consumers of dairy products will notice a curdled milk, butyric note that is rather displeasing (and which prompts the Japanese to consider Westerners as "dirty"-smelling). Those who eat a lot of spice will have a production of sulphurous byproducts which can make their fragrance smell rotten, heavy or sour.

The best practice is to forsake behind the ears application for the front of the neck (assuming you don't wear neck jewelry, especially pearls which get tarnished by perfumes)…”


So where, for sure would be an acceptable place to spray perfume?

Again, Jean Claude Ellena says:

  • “A better area to use, if you want to be able to lift up your fragranced body part to your nose at any given time to enjoy, is the upper hand or upper forearm. Not only are these areas with a more consistent PH acidity with the rest of your body, giving you a truer picture, the existence of slight fuzz (or actual hair for the gents) aids the projection of the fragrance to those around, prolongs its lasting power and aids its wake (what the French call "sillage").

  • Also, “spraying the flanks of your body, extra handy when wearing a jacket, as the natural movement of your arms brushing off when walking releases and re-releases fragrant molecules as you go through your day. Yet another nice spot is under the jacket lapels, or spraying a handkerchief and tucking it in your breast pocket. Spraying your clothes also presents the advantage of extending the perfume progression's arc, making the notes appear in slow motion; especially nice with fragrances with complex bouquets and full-bodied character in which you want to savor every phase”.

  • Your Hair: You will hear from that your hair might catch fire if a stranger holding a lit cigarette stands close enough, to that it will completely dry out your hair and wreck it. No matter what they say, truth is you can still spray the brush you use with your hair or even the back of your neck. As Frederick Malle agrees:

  • "For a special occasion, apply perfume on the back of your neck. The heat rising up your body and the movement of your hair will diffuse the scent. Also, the oil in your hair is a fabulous fragrance keeper, so you could spray some in your hair too. Just don't do it every day because the alcohol will dry out your hair."

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Anosmia is the inability to smell. Dysosmia is when things don’t smell as they should. Hyperosmia is having a very strong sense of smell. Cacosmia is when all smells they are perceive as something revolting, such as putrid or vomit. This way, even a bunch of fresh flowers is smell as something horrible.

  • Dogs have nearly 44 times more scent cells than humans. Humans have five to six million odor-detecting cells as compared to dogs that have 220 million cells. We have evolved to rely less on our sense of smell, while most animals have retained this sense.


  • In the same way that humans have a favorite smell, so too do animals:

Cats like the smell of Valerian, lions a mint smell and camels like the smell of tobacco. (so next time you are in front of a lion, start waving a little leaf of mint and all will be good...)

  • Even though your sense of smell diminishes with aging, your scent cells are renewed every 28 days, so every four weeks you get a new “nose”.

  • Probably you’ve heard of white light and white noise. Scientists have created a smell called “olfactory white”: a mix of 40 or more odor compounds in equal amounts. The researchers created four different olfactory white blends, none of which shared any common ingredients. Test subjects consistently identified them as the same scent. Here you can read more about it.

  • When you are asleep, your sense of smell shuts down!

  • Humans have 350 functional olfactory receptors in their nose, which can tell apart at least 1 trillion different odors. Up to no so long ago, this number was believed to be only 10,000, based on a 1927 study. You can read more about this study here.

  • PH levels in Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum and other strengths vary. Men’s skin is more acidic than women’s which means the PH needs to be regulated in men’s fragrances. This explains why men use Eau de Cologne and women don’t (although some women actually prefer masculine scents). The acidity level of each person’s skin is different, add to this hormones, grease, etc. and you will realize that scents will smell slightly different on each person. Indeed, how a perfume smells on you is all up to the chemical properties of your skin and how they react to the chemical properties of the perfume.

  • Fear and disgust can be smelled through the sweat and then you can experience the same emotions, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Psychological Science.


Some more statistics:

  • A woman owns an average of 5 different fragrances.

  • 88% of women wear perfume to please themselves.

  • 55% of women use fragrances as a mood lifter.

  • 1/3 of all men’s fragrances is purchased and worn by women.

  • Age-related loss of smell is linked to race: African-Americans and Hispanics experience loss of smelling related to age earlier than Caucasians, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences. Researchers asked more than 3,000 adults aged 57 to 85 years to identify five common odors. Non-Caucasian individuals consistently scored 47 percent lower than Caucasians, and were equivalent to being nine years older. Women from all races performed the smell test better than men, and were equivalent to being five years younger.

  • The favorite scent for men is the smell of fresh breakfast; for women it’s the scent of newborn babies.


  • When you are sick, you smell sick. Here you can read a study about it.

  • Hotel chains in America, have devised their own scent: Sheratons smell like fig, clove and jasmine; Westin lobbies go for white tea while the Four Points venues smell of cinnamon.

  • Priced at $215,000 for 16.9 ounces, Clive Christian’s Imperial Majesty is the most expensive perfume in the world. It comes in a Baccarat crystal bottle with an 18-carat gold collar and five-carat diamond. https://www.clivechristian.com/

  • A Mesopotamian chemist, Taputti, is the first known perfumer in the world (at least he is considered to be the first named perfumer).

  • Apparently there’s an explanation to pregnant women’s weird food cravings: It may be caused by their exacerbated sense of smell: At pregnancy, the nose is hypersensitive, causing to develop an abnormal sense of taste, which in turn leads to bizarre cravings like pickles and ice cream.

  • Scents can bring up memories. Most of your scent memories, however, come from the first decade of your life, unlike visual or other sensorial memory types. The most profound smell people are triggered by from their childhood, is the scent of fresh crayons! Also, Smell is the most sensitive of the senses: People can remember smells with 65% accuracy after a year, while visual recall is about 50% after three months. Here you can read a study that shows that the olfactory center of the brain is directly connected with the areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory. This could be why a particular scent can bring back a memory or emotion faster and stronger than a visual or verbal cue.

Have a wonderful week!

[1] Beautygeeks


[2] Fragrantica.com


[3] Most information taken from the perfume shrine Blogspot, site that I highly recommend.

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