10 things you may not know about scent
It probably comes as no surprise to you that fragrance is a complex thing. After all, a perfumer has to be able to identify 250 different scents before they qualify (though this is a drop in the ocean compared to the number of scents we can all detect – see fact #1). This applies to all kinds of fragrance, not just perfume.
This week is National Fragrance Week; a national campaign to celebrate the fragrance industry and all the benefits and joy that fragrance brings. In homage to this (and to further fuel my own obsession with scent!), I have put together 10 Funky Fragrance Facts to demonstrate just how fascinating fragrance is and why it’s so important to people:
1. Humans have 10 million smell receptors in their nose
This means we can detect at least 1 trillion different scents
2. We can smell emotions!
Our personal scent can give away our emotions via the smell signals in our sweat. Fear, happiness, disgust, and even sexual arousal can be communicated through scent and this allows people to detect how we’re feeling and empathise
3. Our sense of smell is personal to us
We all smell in a unique way so a fragrance can smell quite differently to one person than it does to another. There may be specific fragrances that some cannot pick up on at all. This gives us an insight into why fragrance is so subjective
4. Our sense of smell is strongest in our teens
Our sense of smell alters throughout our lives and actually peaks in our late teens, at which point it starts to gradually decline. Ironic, given the smell coming from many teenagers’ bedrooms!
5. Women can detect more scents than men
If you have ever wondered how men can tolerate certain smells, it may be because men’s sense of smell is less developed than women’s (it perhaps adds some clarity to the above point when you think about the specific smell of teenage boys’ bedrooms!). The orbital prefrontal region of the brain is more developed in women than men and this means that they are able to identify a greater number of scents
6. Sense of smell is heightened in pregnancy
It’s probably no surprise to anyone who has experienced pregnancy that your sense of smell becomes hypersensitive during this time. For many women, scents that have previously never bothered them, or that they even enjoyed, can suddenly become unbearable or make them feel unwell (for example, coffee or the smell of cooking). Likewise, it could explain unusual food cravings
7. We remember smells more than sights, sounds, or tastes
Scent is our most memorable sense (I have talked about the link between scent and memory before on the blog). Evidence shows that people can recall smell with 65% accuracy after a year, while only achieving 50% for visual recall.
8. Smell is the first sense we develop
A fully formed sense of smell develops in the womb before any of the other scents. Smell plays a really important role in early childhood development and many will remember scents better than events from being very young (the smell of crayons being a very common scent memory)
9. Fragrance consists of top notes, heart notes, and base notes
Fragrance, whether created for perfume or room scent, is complex but in simple terms, it consists of three ‘notes’. Top notes are those you smell first. They are very delicate and don’t last too long. Heart notes are usually herbal, floral, or spice fragrances and these last longer than the top notes but not as long as the base notes, which are typically wood, amber, or musk scents and these linger the longest. This is why your perfume, or your wax bar, will smell differently when you first put it on than it does later in the day as the scent develops
10. Smell is made up of 7 elements
Just as taste consists of 5 elements (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami), scent is made up of 7 elements: musky, putrid, pungent, ethereal, floral, minty, and camphoraceous. All scents are made up of a combination of these basic smell types.