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Why perfume smells differently on different people

TL;DR: Don’t use harsh stuff on your skin, keep it moisturized, and ease up on those bottomless mimosas (you’re embarrassing the family).

There’s little in the way of scientific research to explain why exactly the same scent can smell so differently on different people. But there are a few credible explanations on which there’s a pretty good consensus. Here are three factors that can affect how a fragrance reacts to your skin, and how you can make adjustments for better results:

1. Skin type. If your skin tends to be dry, it’ll react differently to perfume than skin that’s well moisturized. Since many of us apply our fragrance right after we shower – when our skin is most likely to be stripped of its natural oils – it’s important to moisturize before applying fragrance, and avoid products that tend to overdry the skin, which also means not getting overzealous with harsh cleansers and scrubs if you tend to be oily. Dry skin is thirsty, so it tends to absorb the fragrance more, and you’d rather have it sitting on your skin than in it. The better moisturized your skin is, the better it’ll react to your perfume, so use gentle cleaners and quality moisturizers that you know your skin absorbs well, then apply your fragrance as usual a few minutes later. If your skin tends to be oily, though, remember that it might react differently to certain scents, too: sugary notes like vanilla might be extra potent, but light citruses might work really well. As a general rule of thumb, remember that the more balanced your skin’s moisture, the less likely it is to skew the scent you’re adding onto it.

2. Skin pH. pH can vary individually. This is where oft-referenced body chemistry comes into a play a bit. For many of us, the surface of our skin is a little bit on the acidic side of the pH scale, but that can easily get thrown out of whack if you have conditions that affect skin pH, such as eczema or diabetes. Some lotions and soaps (including old-school classics like Ivory and Zest) can also affect your skin’s pH, making it more alkaline. Fragrance will perform differently depending on the pH of the skin it’s sitting on. Look for skin products that are pH balanced, and use products that are tailored to your specific needs if you have a skin condition that can skew your pH.

3. Diet. Realistically, there aren’t too many foods and drinks that affect how our skin smells. But there are some notable exceptions. Hitting the sauce (booze, not sriracha) or going wild on a tray of garlic bread might actually give your skin an alcoholic or garlicky twang afterwards. Unless you like to layer your perfume with a hungover or vampire-repelling edge, avoid overindulging on these before adding your scent to the mix.

Let us know if you have any other burning scent questions – we love to hear from you!


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