Making Scents: the right fragrance for your skin type

People ask whether their perfume will smell different on another person’s skin. It will, but usually I answer: “It should!”

Fragrances – especially natural scents, which are more subtle and nuanced than chemicals – smell different on different skins because of skin chemistry and factors such as fat content, diet and even medication. The more oil-filled your skin is (often helped by a Mediterranean diet), the more oil the perfume has to cling to, and last longer with. This skin type appreciates volatile citrus notes such as lemon and zesty orange.

If you have dry skin, your perfume will last longer if you moisturise it frequently. Remember, the warmer your body temperature, the quicker your fragrance will evaporate. In summer, buy a spritzer for frequent invigorating hits throughout the day. A current scent trend is basil notes.

Also remember that skin is an organ and it secretes through the pores. So if we eat spicy foods, some compounds from these spices will make their way out of our skin and mingle with the applied fragrance – and change the overall scent profile.

But there is more than just biology and chemistry at work. At a recent scentmaker session, one of my attendees exclaimed that she felt naked leaving the house without a perfume. The fragrance is her armour, her refuge, she said.

Scents affect our mood and emotions. Aromatherapy uses the art of harnessing fragrant essential oils to enhance how we feel. Peppermint makes us alert, sandalwood is grounding and floral notes such as rose are calming.

According to studies by psychologist and sociologist Dr Joachim Mensing at the Research Institute for Applied Aesthetics in Freiburg, Germany, extroverts look for stimulation from the environment and tend to find fresh, green fragrances activating. Introverts, who prefer less stimulation, find orientals harmonious, and emotionally ambivalent people – dreamers – prefer floral, powdery scents.

The study used a small sample, but its findings are intriguing.

Scent artist Sissel Tolaas suggests that the bacteria on our bodies may be a key ingredient in the smells of the future: “Recently products have utilised bacteria for producing food, so we made teas from human body sweat, and it got a lot of attention.

“The body is a big subject – what the body can do beyond what we think it can do. Science is so much further along than the commercial world, and our notions of ‘bad’ and ‘good’ have to be rediscussed and re-valued.”

For me, it’s rather simple. It makes me happy when I spend time considering not only what to wear, but also what scent to wear. The process of adorning myself with an oil for a purpose as dearly felt as my client’s need for “armour”, or for a whimsical reason such as “I want this pink nail polish to ‘pop’ when someone smells me” is an expression as valid as any avant-garde fashion and a form of communication as noble as any other creativity.

Wearing a fragrance is so intimate, and yet so exposing. Thank goodness scent is invisible – otherwise it would be too overwhelming for our conservative senses to bear.

Tammy Frazer wrote a weekly column for the Mail & Guardian. These are her words.

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