13 min read
Since the dawn of civilization humanity likes nice smells. At first we got them directly from the nature – from the flowers and other materials with pleasant odors but in time we began to manufacture mixtures of these materials and make scents that cannot be found in nature.
Many of us take our sense of smell for granted without a second thought about how the smell is made. Yes, smell is often the most neglected of our senses – other look more important or have, at the first look, greater impact on our lives. But sense of smell influences us in many ways and there are interesting things that could be said about it.
From the sweet bitter smell of that first cup of coffee to the gentle scents which reassure us we are home, we’re exposed to an endless tapestry of different smells every day – many of which have a significant impact on our mood and outlook on life.
To celebrate the wonderful organ which is our nose, here we’re sharing some of our favorite facts about scents and smells, some of them strange, some of them shocking.
Perfume comes from Latin “per fumus” which means “through smoke”. The first scents were smokes of the burned odorous materials.
Perfumes often smell more intensively when are applied to hair. However, perfumes that contain alcohol (which is most of them) can cause dryness in hair so perfumes should not be applied to hair too often. Perfume the hairbrush instead and it will transfer the smell to it.
Don't read ingredients of the perfume and base your decisions on them. Different ingredients work with each other in different way and because you don't like one in one perfume, doesn't mean you would not like it in the other.
Although the exact number is yet to be determined, scientists revealed in a 2014 journal that humans can identify at least one trillion different smells. It is thought that the actual number may be significantly higher than this, however, thanks to the 10 million smell receptors in everybody’s nose.
Our own smell is personal to us, and completely unique. How we smell is predetermined, and comes from the same genes which determine our body’s tissue type.
We all have our ‘scent blind spots’, smells which we cannot pick up. This means that we all smell things differently, and the scents we enjoy are entirely unique to us.
Amazingly, our sense of smell is so developed it has been discovered that we can smell fear, disgust, happiness and even sexual arousal on other people. A 2012 study found that smell signals exist in our sweat, helping others empathize with us when we’re experiencing certain emotions.
The battle of the sexes rages on, but one category has a clear winner: tests have found that women have a more developed sense of smell than men, and are capable of identifying a greater number of different odours. This is thanks to women’s orbital prefrontal region of the brain, which is more developed than their male counterpart’s.
Around 18 or 19 is when our sense of smell is at its peak. After this age, our sense of smell gradually declines.
Thanks to the additional moisture in the air during the spring and summer months, it is easier to identify different smells than during autumn and winter. Furthermore, our sense of smell improves after exercise, which many of us are more likely to do during the longer, warmer days of spring and summer.
When pregnant, a woman’s sense of smell becomes heightened and hypersensitive. It’s thought that this heightened sense of smell could be the reason behind the strange food cravings of pregnant women.
Moving away from the human race for a moment, our canine friends put even the best human nose to shame. With just shy of 44% more scent cells than humans, dogs have a far more developed sense of smell than we do – capable of discerning more subtleties in odor and picking up scents from a greater distance.
A 2015 poll of 2,000 UK adults found that a freshly-baked loaf is the favorite smell in the UK. This narrowly pipped the likes of roses, vanilla, lavender, lemon and scented candles (our personal favorite, of course) to the top spot.
Not so bothered about the freshly-baked bread, our animal friends each have their own favorite smells. Cats favor Valerian, lions prefer mint and camels love tobacco.
And your pet pooch’s favorite smell? You, of course!
It has been discovered that we remember smells for much longer than sights, sounds, tastes and feelings. Amazingly, people can remember smells with a 65% accuracy after one year, whilst visual recall is only 50/50 after a quarter of the time.
Smell is the first sense to develop, with unborn babies enjoying fully-formed and functioning smell. This sense then continues to play a major role in our early development, with the smell of crayons routinely noted as one of our earliest memories from childhood.
During those peaceful slumber hours, we close down our sense of smell completely. So, no need to worry about waking the rest of the family as you brew your morning cup of coffee.
It’s no secret that the smell of food massively impacts our taste perception, accounting for up to 95% of the flavour. However, did you know that without a sense of smell it would be almost impossible to tell the difference in taste between a potato and an onion?
We thought it was bad enough suffering from anosmia, the condition in which you cannot identify any smell, but that’s nothing compared to cacosmia. Sufferers of cacosmia will only detect disgusting scents, and even those traditional smells (freshly-baked bread et al) will smell like vomit or waste to these poor individuals.
To reach the pinnacle of the perfume profession, perfumers must successfully identify at least 250 different scents as part of their induction test. This difficult initiation is why there are only 50 fully-fledged perfumers (also known as Noses) in the world.
That’s four tonnes of roses, concentrated into just 1kg of rose oil, used for perfumes, candles and more. No wonder it’s one of the most coveted scents around!
Fragrance oils are derived from just about everywhere in nature, from barks, blossoms and roots to seeds, fruits and leaves. No stone is left unturned in the pursuit of the most wonderful scents for perfumes and candles!
Like the five different tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami), some scientists believe there are seven different main smells – musky, putrid, pungent, camphoraceous (similar to mothballs), ethereal, floral and minty. It is thought that all scents are a mixture of these seven basic ingredients.
Perhaps the least surprising fact about scents. If we smell something we find pleasant, it can have a positive effect on the mind and help to lift our mood. So, we believe it’s always a good idea to have a candle or oil diffuser to hand for when we need a little pick-me-up.
Many today's perfumes don't use natural scents like flowers anymore but synthetic ones. Today's technology can synthesize almost any type of smell.
There are many aromatic sources available in nature, and all parts of plants are used in the quest for new and exciting scents. There are fragrance oils made from: barks, blossoms, seeds, woods, fruits, leaves, resins, roots, lichens, and even microorganisms!
Men’s fragrances aren’t just for men. One third of men’s fragrances sold are worn by women. Surprisingly, there’s little inherently masculine or feminine about a particular scent, it’s all how it’s presented.
Only materials that can be dissolved have smells. That is why, for instance, glass doesn't have smell.
Reason why perfume managed to spread throughout Europe was because of perfumed leather gloves which were popular in 16th century. Glove makers perfumed gloves to cover the smell of treated leather which was prepared in ammonia (from urine during the tanning process).
Car salesmen use odors of new leather in old cars they sell, to create illusion of a new car and sell it more easily.
Cells in our noses that sense odors are regenerated every 28 days.
If you have the habit of rubbing your wrists against each other after spraying a scent, nix the habit immediately. Typically, perfumes are complex combination of top notes, heart notes, and base notes. The top notes are more delicate and fade quickly, while the base notes are long lasting. The friction caused by rubbing your wrists increases the interaction of the fragrance with your skin’s natural oils, which can end up distorting the scent.
The earliest modern style of perfume (made by blending essential oils with an alcohol solution) was created in 1310 for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary. This fragrance, known as “Hungary Water” was a blend of rosemary, thyme, and verbena essence in brandy, and variations can still be purchased today by traditional perfumers. Originally it was used as tonic water as well as a perfume, and physicians prescribed it to gargle with for all sorts of ailments! They also used it, after all there was alcohol in its composition (brandy).
A good perfumer is known for his olfaction. One of the tests that beginner perfumers have to take is quite impressive – they are given a scent that consists of up to 250 different notes and they have to specify each one of them!
It’s a waxy grey substance regurgitated by Sperm Whales which often washes up on beaches. Real ambergris is still used by some of the more expensive perfume houses, but most high street perfumes contain a synthetic substitute. Aged ambergris has a sweet, earthy scent, and has a wonderful mellowing and enhancing effect on other fragrances.
Nowadays many modern perfumes are made from synthetic fragrance oils. This allows for many different fragrance combinations not found in nature- for instance, “Calone” is a synthetic compound which imparts an ozonous/marine scent; and fragrance compounds have been extracted from unlikely substances such as petroleum, which smells pretty awful on its own!
Synthetic fragrance can create a more consistent effect than natural oils, although many people still like the idea of a “real”, non synthetic fragrance.
In modern perfumery, the two most commonly used flower essences, are Rose and Jasmine; which are staples in commercial perfumers’ palettes. Actually, these two scents are so lovely I think most of us could probably have guessed this!
An “Eau de Cologne” is a milder, watered down perfume typically with concentrations of between 2- 5% essential oils to base. The style originated in Cologne, Germany, and was used by both men and women, although nowadays it is marketed more towards men.
Grasse in Provence, France is considered to be the birthplace, and the capital, of modern perfumery. It started out as a leather and tanning capital in the 13th century, providing perfumed gloves when they became highly fashionable. Eventually the leather glove trend faded, but the perfume was still very much in demand…
Grasse is an ideal place for perfume making as it has the perfect micro climate for growing delicate flowers.
The most expensive nose in the world belongs to a… perfumer! It’s understandable, just like an athlete would insure his legs as they bring him profit and glory, a perfumer would insure his nose. That’s what Jean Charles did – according to some resources, his nose was insured for USD 1 million! An even more interesting fact about him is that, towards the end of his life, he totally lost his olfaction, which hasn’t obstructed him from creating perfume masterpieces like Miss Dior despite his condition – just like Beethoven continued creating music after the loss of his hearing!
Jorvik Viking Center, a museum of Viking culture, uses odors to give its visitors full simulation of life in a Viking villages.
Give your nose a break. When testing new perfumes, avoid trying more than three in a row. Your nose will have trouble differentiating the aromas if you happen to overload. A quick way to clear your nasal passages? Take a deep breath against your shirt, or a bowl of coffee beans (which fragrance stores usually have on hand).
Molinrad, perfume manufacturer from France, started producing a fragrance called “Habanita” in 1921 which was used for scenting cigarettes.
Studying in International Flavors & Fragrances Perfumery School, where you can learn to be to become a connoisseur of fragrances, lasts between five and seven years.
Scents that have floral notes are not a good idea to be worn in parks and open air natural places because they can attract insects.
Smells are stronger in the spring and in the summer because the moisture in the air is greater than in autumn or winter. That is why we tend to wear lighter fragrances in the summer when it is hot and leave the stronger ones for cold weather and nights.
As with everything else in fashion, there are rules for use of perfumes in many institutions. Perfume should not be smelled at a greater distance than an arm’s length of the person that wears it. So no “clouds” and “tails” of scent are “permitted” in such institutions. There are also places where perfumes are totally forbidden.
Perfume applied to body can last approximately to six hours, but many fragrances can last up to twelve hours, and even more than that. If your skin is dry, perfume will not last long. In Western cultures petroleum jelly or some type of skin moisturizer is first applied and then perfume which will prolong odor. Many skin unscented lotions work well for this purpose.
In the Middle East, and the Persian Gulf Region in particular, musk perfume oil is the go-to fragrance of choice as the initial layer; read our article titled "A LESSON IN LAYERING FRAGRANCES FROM THE MIDDLE EAST" - very interesting facts about layering.
Perfume has been around since ancient Mesopotamia, dating back to more than 4,000 years ago. Back in those ancient times, mixing perfume was a magical process that looked more like cooking than creating a perfume. The first perfumers used oils and dried leaves and seeds from herbs and spices, nuts, and flowers to mix together.
Smell has great impact on how the food tastes. That is why when we have flu food can taste bland. Some even say that smell is responsible for up to 80% of taste and that people that have worse sense of smell tend to gravitate to unhealthy food.
Although we may not perceive them as such, odors are very easy to memorize and are often connected with other memories. At later date we can remember those memories and even emotions that we had then just by smelling the same odor. This is, among other places, used in marketing and, for instance, many hotels use special odors to “tie” memories of their guests of the time they spent in these hotels to these odors. A certain smell can be remembered with 65% of accuracy after a year while a picture can be remembered with 50% after three months.
Probably a remainder of our past, when we used to heavily rely on our olfaction to survive, this ability serves us well even today – among the emotions we can feel with our nose are fear, happiness, and even excitement. Men can even smell when a woman is ovulating!
“Clive Christian No.1, limited edition men perfume” is one of the most expensive men's perfume. It is produced in just 1000 bottles every year and the price of each bottle of 30ml is around $1800.
Your nose and brain get used to familiar scents, so you can’t smell your own perfume after a few minutes; If you have you noticed that your perfume disappeared after a few hours? The truth is that your nose and brain stop noticing it because it becomes familiar. Once your brain realises that it’s not harmful, it just ignores it. In fact, if you have a signature scent that you use all the time, your brain becomes so used to it that it barely notices it at all, and you’ll only be able to smell the top notes of the scent every time you spray it.
Don't over spritz thinking it is no longer there. Try to determine your signature scents' longevity before reapplying. Ask a trusted friend.
In 1921, Molinard released a fragrance called Habanita that was intended to scent cigarettes. You placed the satchels in your cigarette case, or applied it directly to your cigarette in liquid form for a “delicious, lasting aroma.” And you thought e-cigarettes were fancy!
Many jasmine notes in some fragrances are actually produced by using a synthetic material named Indole, which is derived from—wait for it—coal tar. When used in a low concentration, it has a sweet, flowery smell.
In case you wanted another way to enjoy your favorite breakfast food, you can now wear it. Bacon by Fargginay was started in 1920 by a Parisian butcher who realized he could dramatically lift his customers’ mood with a blend of 11 essential oils plus the essence of bacon.
No matter which side of the perfume you prefer, make sure you have lots of these magical concoctions with you and especially on you!
What is the most interesting fact that you know about perfumes? Share it with us in the comments below!
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