Raw Materials Metallic Scent In Perfumery

Metallic Scent In Perfumery

08/10/16 15:20:59 (25 comments)

by: Matvey Yudov


From time to time, when experiencing perfumes or household product smells, we notice a metallic aspect. People often call it a "metallic" smell, saying it smells like metal or steel. But does metal have a smell? To perceive a smell it has to be volatile; molecules have to physically fly into your nose, come into contact with a receptor and launch a chain of biochemical processes that the brain interprets as a certain type of odor. But it does not seem that metals are excessively volatile, with the exception of mercury. Besides that, smell is a characteristic of substances with a molecular structure, but substances with an ionic lattice (for example, inorganic salts) or a metallic lattice (iron) should not smell.

Liquid Mercury

Wait a minute, you say, but metallic things do smell! They have a very specific and very recognizable smell which is hard to misinterpret. Door handles, swings, coins, keys, screwdrivers, spoons... Now take a good look at the list, do you see a certain pattern? Yes, all of these metallic things get in contact with our skin! That is the secret of a metallic smell.

Coins

The main cause of a metallic smell is hidden in fats, which are oxidized under the impact of oxidoreductases (a group of enzymes which catalyze the transfer of electrons from one molecule to another, which is called oxidation for losing electrons, and reduction for gaining them). Iron cat-ions Fe2+ decompose lipid peroxides, producing intensively smelling substances. Only a small amount of iron ions is needed to produce such an amount of volatile substances which we are able to smell.

Hemoglobin

For the same reason, blood has a characteristic metallic smell; iron contained in hemoglobin launches a similar reaction. During evolution we have acquired a special sensitivity to this smell: some predators can sense it miles away.

Shark!

What are these substances which cause a metallic smell? Usually, these are unsaturated (often conjugated) aldehydes and ketones. One of them, oct-1-en-3-one, or amyl vinyl ketone you can meet in the perfume lab. In its pure form, it has an earthy metallic smell with mushroom and vegetable nuances, and some kind of fishy note, a similar smell you sense while preparing freshly caught sweet water fish. 

Fish Octenone

The smell of unsaturated aldehydes is also very common. There are many of them in nature. The specific smell of cilantro is caused by conjugated unsaturated aldehydes (E)-2-Decenal, (E)-2-Dodecenal, (E)-2-Tetradecenal and others. Some insects use similar substances as their protective chemical weapon. For example, more than 50 years ago, (E)-2-Decenal and (E)-2-Octenal (a lighter homolog of the named compound) were isolated in stink bug secretion.
 

Coriander BugRecently, scientists of the Linkoping University in Sweden lead a comprehensive research on the smell of blood. They distinguished the key component of the smell of blood, it appeared to be trans-4,5-Epoxy-(E)-2-decenal, a "bloody aldehyde". Our sensitivity to this compound is extraordinary – it could even be sensed in the dilution of 0,07-0,3 ppt (part per trillion). Similar compounds, – trans-4,5-epoxy-(E)-2-octenal, trans-4,5-epoxy-(E)-2-nonenal, trans-4,5-epoxy-(E)-2-undecenal, – have a similar smell to blood.

Epoxy Blood Aldehyde

In the perfumer's palette, there are many materials with a certain metallic character. Many would agree that you can find a certain metallic nuance in Rose oxide, a minor component of the rose smell. Geranium contains an even bigger quantity of rose oxide, that is why geranium oil smells metallic at some point. Rose oxide participates in the forming of a characteristic green-metallic note in the aroma of the white wine Gewürztraminer.

We can find rose oxide as a chemical defense in the Aromia Moschata, or musk beetle. Mark Buxton loves using rose oxide in his works: Comme des Garçons 3 has a serious overdose of it.

Rose Oxide

Nitriles are another group of substances which smell kind of metallic. Nitriles are quite stable and inert, and often used as odorants for bleaches and aggressive acids for household use. Sometimes nitriles are used for adding a specific metallic context to a perfume, like in several provocative creations by Antoine Lie.

Nitriles

Some people smell a metallic nuance in lavender. In a classic fougere, a cool lavender metal very often comes along with a metallic nuance of geranium, and balanced with the warmth of coumarin and balsamic materials. In fougeres of the  new generation, conceived by Davidoff Cool Water, the metallic context is enhanced by additional Dihydromyrcenol and Allyl amyl glycolate (the latter smells like a can of pineapple preserve).

Cool Water Fougeres

Do you like metallic notes in perfumery? Are they addictive, irritable or frightening to you?
 

Mat Yudov

Mat Yudov is a chemist, perfumer, and musician. Mat is a researcher and specialist in the chemistry of aromatic materials. He graduated from Moscow State University "Lomonosov" in 1999. He writes for the popular perfume blog leopoldray.blogspot.com (in Russian).



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MichelleAntonia
MichelleAntonia

I don't know if I'm correct on this, but I venture to say that Byredo M/Mink has a bit of this in it....

Aug
30
2016
gordbrad
gordbrad

these raw materials columns that isolate notes and look at the organic chemistry are some of the most interesting anywhere--thanks so much!!!@!

Aug
14
2016
Arabian Knight
Arabian Knight

Love the metallic edge to "Eau du Protection" by ETLDO. It gives the rose a vibrancy and sense of thorns.

It's also used well in Amouge "Opus X", along with an intoxicating varnish note.

Aug
14
2016
missveronica9
missveronica9

Wow - what an incredibly interesting review! More please, Mat (I second Vegas Pauli's suggestion to investigate plastic notes in perfumery). Personally, I don't like metallic smells in perfume because the blood association is too strong and unpleasant. Thanks for the detailed explanation :-)

Aug
13
2016
Thomaso7
Thomaso7

There is a perfume Azzaro Chrome which I think is supposed to smell like metal. I smelled Azzaro Chrome United, and man is that stuff nasty.
If I want to smell like metal, I want to smell like silver, or gold. lol I think neither has a smell, but if they did they would smell shiny and luxurious and gleaming and expensive.

Aug
12
2016
aprylwebb
aprylwebb

Brilliant article. Very well researched and written.

Aug
12
2016
ekoeko
ekoeko

Secretions Magnifiques has been my all time favorite and it was very interesting to sense it smells a bit different in dry and in hot and humid climate. Humidity rounded up all edges that this perfume had in dry climate. Either way, on my skin SM smells lovely and I've never noticed disgusted faces around :) I guess it is a perfume for my skin :)

Aug
12
2016
perrfumefreak
perrfumefreak

I like the metallic scents Gucci Envy and Chrome by Azzaro( original). Unfortunately, the Gucci Envy is discontinued and very hard to find but it was a lovely 90's perfume.

Aug
11
2016
rickyrebarco
rickyrebarco

Wonderful article. My favorite metallic scent is Lutens Iris Silver Mist.

Aug
11
2016
jeca
jeca

Thank you, Mat! i can't get enough reading your great articles!

Yes, Romance is super metallic, as well as Gucci Envy and 5th Avenue Elizabeth Arden.

Aug
11
2016
Tam
Tam

Agree with Piahelgreen about getting metal notes from Romance and Stella. I have a stock of the now discontinued Metal from the 70s by Paco Rabanne - a very green herbaceous metal. A stunner which is quite unlike anything else and certainly not like anything knocked out today. To me it smells of wealth -possibly a connection with coins?

Aug
11
2016
xoxoMyke
xoxoMyke

Womanity has a shrilling metallic accord. When it's coupled with the super sweet "fruity" notes and the menacing varnish/lacquer undertone, I love it.

Normally, metallic notes ruin a fragrance for me.


Azzaro Elixir & Chrome.

Dunhill Desire.

Black XS L'exces.



I've learned to enjoy metallic notes such as Happydisiac's metallic musk (it's coupled with very fruity and sweet notes) and JLo's Deseo for Men (metallic tobacco).

Aug
11
2016
hellovascent
hellovascent

I completely agree with wesleyhclark.

Thank you very much.

Aug
11
2016
wesleyhclark
wesleyhclark

Best writer on Fragrantica!

Fascinating article...

Aug
11
2016
vbjanos
vbjanos

Wow
Answers my question I always wanted to ask but never knew whom.
I appreciate metallic notes because I do not get them often. Nothing from Cool Water, nothing from Platinum Egoiste and only a hint from Azzaro Chrome.
My only metallic experience, apart from licking coins, is from freshly picked rosemary with dark blue flowers and FCUK Him by Geza Shoen.

Aug
11
2016
smellagent
smellagent

One of my favorite "cold" fragrances La Vierge De Fer by Serge Lutens. I have not smelled a huge amount of others but I think I like the metallic note enough. Like any other note out there it just depends on the way it is used. Good article and it makes me want to explore more frags with this note.

Aug
10
2016
StellaDiverFlynn
StellaDiverFlynn

Thank you for this enlightening article! Metallic note is quite delicate to handle to my taste. A minuscule amount to add some edge or contrast like in L'Artisan Parfumeur Déliria or Serge Lutens Baptême du Feu is definitely interesting, but it can also make me nauseated because of the association of fish and blood.

Aug
10
2016
piahellgren
piahellgren

Great article! I always found the metallic smell utterly fascinating and am looking for more of it in perfumes. Not in the Secretions Magnifique way, though, I don´t want that sour, barfy milkiness. Anyhow, enough of that one- I alway thought that the metallic smell had to do with skin or bacteria or something from our own bodies and it is interesting to see that it certainly is so. However, when I have deected what I find metallic it has always been in otherwise very fresh perfumes! It´s hard to describe it as something, but metallic! I definitely smelled it in the perfume called "Dazzling Silver" by Estee Lauder (it´s a 90ies perfume, discontinued and hard to find) and I am REALLY trying to think if it was because of the name I thought so- people DO get more affected by names and colours of perfumes than they think! (There are not blueberries in all blue bottles or violet/grape in purple juices, but many people tend to think so). Anyway, the "Dazzling Silver" was bright, sharp, tingly and almost cold in feeling. I also smelled the metallicness in the original "Romance" by Ralph Lauren and nowadays I smell it in Stella 2014, quite a lot! I´ve heard others that agree with me on the Stella 2014. I adore it (even though that version is very weak in longevity). At one time someone mentioned the expression "dry amber" about the Stella and I sometimes wonder if that maybe can have something to do with the metallicness? I´d also love to smell the Comme de Garcons one that supposedly smell metallic.

Aug
10
2016
the big totoro
the big totoro

Great article, I really enjoyed it! To answer your question, yes I do enjoy metallic notes in several perfumes. One of my favorites is Deliria, an exceptional perfume that I adore but many people do not share my love of it due to the metallic note. To me it smells of the midway at a carnival, others say it smells like blood. To each their own..

Aug
10
2016
matty64
matty64

I've noticed that the human body gives off metallic smells all by itself due to biological makeup of chemicals inside and outside of our human vessels.

Aug
10
2016
protosv
protosv

Hey Mat great article! I always learn so much from your pieces, and love learning about the chemical aspects of perfumery. Really demystifies things, and lets me think in a rational way about what aspects of a fragrance speak most to me. I am eagerly looking forward to your next article!

Aug
10
2016
Vegas Pauli
Vegas Pauli

Good article. As a rule Ive never liked a metallic note in fragrance. In someways it reminds me of being at the dentist. I always thought Cool Water smelled metallic and I always chalked it up to the lavender/citrus combo. In fact anything with this combo I immediately associate with Cool Water and metal. Not a favorite I must say.
Same with Egoist Platinum (and its clone Bond No.9 Bleeker Street). The lavender/citrus mixed with jasmine (gag) strikes me as really metallic too.
Im surprised Comme des Garcons 8 88 wasn't mentioned, as it is marketed as smelling like molten metal. The tumeric in it makes this a spicy metal and it intrigued me at first, but still not something I would wear.
Nice job, write an article on plastic smells next please, that would be cool.

Aug
10
2016
Labaloo
Labaloo

Metallic notes can definitely add interest when handled skillfully. Enjoyable article.

Aug
10
2016
fcirone1
fcirone1

Mat you rock! I so love your articles on perfume from a chemistry perspective and look forward to reading them always! You are a fantastic addition to Fragrantica!

Aug
10
2016
UnearthlyApothecary
UnearthlyApothecary

I am not a huge fan of metallic notes in perfume. There is something unsettling, like it upsets the balence in the scent for me.

Aug
10
2016

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