I’ve been talking about the topic of scent perception for several years on this blog, and here’s another interesting, though limited, study showing that we each smell things a little differently. Thanks to Robin at Now Smell This for the link.
This investigation found that almost everyone was anosmic to some ingredient in the study, and those anosmias of course influence the way people smell fragrance blends that include the ingredients they can’t smell. The author said she discovered that she can’t smell galaxolide, which is a common musk (it’s a polycyclic musk very common in laundry products but on the decline in fine fragrance now that we are moving to biodegradable macrocyclic musks instead). I’ve found people are commonly anosmic to things besides musks, like ISO E super, ambroxan, other synthetic ambers, and salicylates. They are less commonly anosmic to naturals since traditional botanical natural extracts are composed of many chemicals, but they can be anosmic to natural isolates that are a single chemical. Sometimes people can also be nearly anosmic to more complex naturals like ambrette seed, being only able to smell them a little bit.
Once again this poll found everyone liked the scent of vanilla; we’ve seen that in previous studies. The author also found that Asians rated the scent of rose higher than other ethnic groups did, and that’s interesting to me because Velvet Rose is very popular with my customers in Japan. I’ve wondered if Velvet Rose received some word of mouth recommendation in that market circle or if there is a cultural preference for rose soliflores too — I’d love to know if rose scents are popular in Japan.
The author also mentions the way people describe scents using different terminology, but you have to be careful there because often people really do smell the same thing but just describe it differently. People who don’t study perfume or scent don’t have the vocabulary that we perfume lovers take for granted, so terms like “green” to describe a smell can seem foreign to them at first, and terms like “aldehydic” won’t be used at all by someone not familiar with fragrance. She mentions isoeugenol, which is an aroma chemical that smells like clove and is used in carnation accords as well as many other types of scents. People can smell isoeugenol and describe it as floral or spicy since it may remind them of clove or of carnation/dianthus flowers. Isoeugenyl acetate is more floral (to my nose anyway), and is gentler.
I have found it interesting to watch these studies continue to trickle in over the years, given that this variation in scent perception is an issue that perfumers have long grappled with. It’s good to see smell research continue; I hope we’ll come to understand how we smell as we research it more.
Here are some of the other posts I’ve made on this topic:
More On The Sense of Smell
Every Human May Have A Unique Nose
Possible Reasons For Why We Differ In Our Perception Of Scents
Our Own Scent Truth