The Science of Scent
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Scents & Scents-Ability1 of 10
By Shannan Rouss
It turns out that certain odors can take you back in time, change your mood and even lead you to Mr. Right. Discover what your nose knows!
Fragrance Flashback2 of 10
Wonder why the scent of firewood reminds you of summer camp or how a whiff of Goldschläger can still turn your stomach—nearly 20 years later? It's all in your head, literally. Scent is processed in the brain's limbic system, where emotion and memory also occur. "Consequently, there's a lot of cross-talk between these areas," explains William Horgan, CEO of Human Pheromone Sciences.
Sniff Test3 of 10
Something you never expected to read in a beauty story: When the U.S. military set out to make a stink bomb, it struggled to find a scent that was universally putrid. Experts say that most pleasant and unpleasant odors are learned, not hard-wired into the brain. "Two people may smell the same fragrance differently because of the emotions that are evoked by the scent," says Sephora fragrance expert Amy Cuadra. "In the fragrance world, the concept is called 'imprinting.'"
Going Gaga4 of 10
Your mother's pregnancy induced ice cream cravings could have shaped your preference for sweet scents. Still in the womb, a fetus develops an affinity for certain smells based on the diets of moms-to-be, according to a study from University of Colorado School of Medicine. And by two weeks, an infant can sniff the difference between Mom's breast milk and another woman's.
Scent Of A Woman5 of 10
Initially, fragrances were used to mask certain "human" odors. But now that we bathe on a regular basis (hopefully), women tend to use fragrances to enhance—not hide—how they smell. Researchers have found a connection between the scents we prefer and our own natural scent, which is based on individual genetics.
Opposites Attract6 of 10
Like other mammals, we sniff out potential partners, getting info on their immune system from scent, say experts. (And in the subconscious world of matchmaking, different immune systems mean healthier offspring.) In what is known as the sweaty T-shirt test, women preferred the scent of tees worn by men whose immune system genes were unlike their own. If you're having doubts in your relationship, then smelling the dirty laundry might help.
Sixth Sense7 of 10
More and more, perfume-makers are adding synthetic pheromones to heighten a scent's emotional impact. Although odorless, these chemicals may help trigger certain positive feelings. Paired with perfumes, the two work in tandem to boost your mood, which in turn can affect how others see you. "When a pheromone elicits an emotion," says Horgan, "the concurrent scent will be stored in your memory with that emotion."
Shop Around8 of 10
You may not have a degree in neuroscience (yet!), but now that we have an understanding of how scents work, the trick is to find one that works for you. For fragrance beginners, "It's a good idea to start by testing scents on blotter strips," says fragrance expert Jan Moran. This will help you eliminate definite dislikes, but to truly find just the right a fragrance, you'll have to eventually test it on your own skin.
Wait For It9 of 10
Too many fragrances can throw your nose into scent overload. Once you narrow down your picks to the top three or four, spritz them on both wrists and the inside of your elbows (pulse points where heat helps intensify the scent). After about an hour, take a whiff. Waiting "allows the middle and base notes to develop and gives a better idea of how the perfume will actually wear on your skin," says Cuadra.
Lighten Up10 of 10
"In warmer weather, our bodies produce more oil than in the winter and these body oils will create a stronger presence of fragrance on its wearer," says Cuadra. "This is why many fragrances released during the summer are eau de toilettes and body splashes, as they are less concentrated with fragrant oils than eau de parfums and perfumes."
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