Why can one perfume produce different scents on the same person?

Perfume bottle.
How does one scent smell so great one minute and so different the next?
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There you are in the store, trying a variety of fragrances, looking for the one that could become your signature scent. You find a lovely perfume, one that evokes happy memories or a feeling of bliss. Then you get it home and discover you don't love it quite so much – in fact, you kind of hate it. What happened? How can one perfume smell so different on the same person?

Before we explain, let's discuss how smell works. In order to smell anything, the odor receptors in your nose must latch on to the scent. Not only do different people have a different number of receptors, but people also have a varying number of types of receptors. You may have more receptors for certain smells (lilies, for example), which means you smell even the smallest whiff of lily aroma in the air. Someone who has more receptors for other smells and fewer for lilies may only detect the lily smell at levels that would overwhelm you.


That tells you why different people smell things differently, but what about you? Why does the same perfume smell differently on you at different times? It's all about evaporation and notes (perfume-speak for individual scents).

Most perfumes have a three-part smell that reveals itself as the perfume evaporates from your skin. You'll smell the top notes first, within about 15 minutes of application. Middle notes appear after about two hours because the chemicals that create those scents evaporate more slowly. Base notes linger and you'll begin to smell them within five hours of your first spritz.

The perfume chemicals that stay on your skin longer mix with your own skin's chemistry, which changes all the time due to things like heat, humidity, sweat, medications, diet -- even age.

The other big factor in how you perceive perfume is environment. Mix the scents of your perfume with the background smells of a forest or an Italian restaurant or your dog and the odor receptors in your nose respond differently, leading you to experience the perfume in a different way.

So, remember: When you're testing scents at the store, try them on your skin, and give them a little time to develop. Perfume can change a lot between the bottle and the curve of your neck.

Explore the links on the next page to learn even more about how perfume works.


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  • Ziesmann, Jurgen. "Why does Perfume smell differently on different people?" MadSci.org . (Aug. 26, 2012)http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/nov2001/1006805763.Gb.r.html