Raw Materials Partial Anosmia, Olfactory Adaptation or Why I Do Not Smell

Partial Anosmia, Olfactory Adaptation or Why I Do Not Smell

06/23/16 09:24:43 (26 comments)

by: Matvey Yudov

The public outcry from the appearance of Escentric Molecules perfumes has surpassed all expectations. To be honest, Geza Schoen's idea is very appealing to me; I am sure he wanted to manifest austere elegance of individual synthetic materials. But marketers didn't find this idea very engaging; their lack of knowledge was the cause of silly, tongue-twisting "pheromone-aphrodisiac" incantations which all the same were extremely effective in the selling of "Molecules". I prefer to skip this part and dwell on a very common question: Why I (or my mother-in-law, my friends or colleagues) can not smell the scent of "Molecules"?

For example, in one glossy magazine I came across this persuading advertisement of Escentric Molecule 02, in which a usual aphrodisiac nonsense was supported by the statement that we can't smell it:


Fragrance-aphrodisiac. A new chapter in the history of human sexuality. A substitute for the animalic aphrodisiac amber. Pure and sheer, it is overloaded with animal sexuality. This perfume is a true love potion, a secret weapon of seduction. Fragrance free. 100% Ambroxan.
 

The first reason we do not smell some scents is called partial anosmia. Unlike complete loss of smell, partial anosmia is very normal and happens to many of us from time to time. It means that some people can't smell the scent of some substances. Why and when does it happen?

All human senses operate within a certain working range, just like any other measuring tool. For example, the human eye will respond to wavelengths from about 380 to 720 nm. Out of a big variety of vibrations, from radio waves to gamma rays, humans can sense only 0.01% of them. The same situation is with audible frequencies, a standard range our ear could accept is within 20 to 20,000 Hz, the older you get, the lower the upper threshold would go, approximately it lowers to 12000 for people who reach 50 years of age.

цвет и звук

What people see and hear
 

The sense of smell in humans also has its limitations. It has been researched that newborn babies have the most sharp sense of smell and lose 50% of this ability in the first year. We gradually keep losing the sensitivity of any kind during our life.

We smell the scent of a fragrant material when its molecules physically get into our nose, which means that the fragrance substance has to be volatile enough. The receiving receptors are not big, and could accept only smaller molecules. Molecules weighing over 350 Da do not smell at all, at least for us. The heaviest fragrant substance now available is Cyclopentanoate of helvetolide, this compound has a musk odor and looks like this:

самое тяжелое пахнущее вещество

Most often, partial anosmia is related to heavy compounds whose mass is close to the threshold of 350 Da. Usually they possess a musky woody or ambery odor. In the case with lightweight substances, like, for example, Citral or Eugenol, they can be sensed by all healthy people. Partial anosmia is not a disease, but a phenomenon that could happen to perfumers, too. Sometimes, even if a pure substance, due to its mass, couldn't be detected by our sense of smell, we could be possibly able to smell it in a mixture with other ingredients.

All three "Molecules" consist of quite bulky and heavy compounds, and it is likely that you couldn't smell them.

The weight of a compound is one cause of partial anosmia, which is not the only one. We can leave "fragrance-free Molecules" and consider other cases. Sometimes we do not smell fragrances because we adapt or get tired of them.

ADAPTATION is when people perceive odors as a background without paying attention to them. Often we are not aware of the smell of the room where we spend much time or the odor of our own body. The process of smell is a complex action: first, the substance hits the nasal epithelium, its interaction with our receptors causes an electrical signal which goes to our brain. The brain processes the received signal and compares it with familiar smells (we unconsciously collect our index of smells during the whole life). After that, our brain concludes whether the smell is of any interest or not. On the biological level, "the most interesting" smell to us is the smell of food, or danger. If there is no danger or food in the smell, the brain loses its interest in it and switches to something more important. Recently, results of one research project have been published: two focus groups were offered to smell the same material with a neutral odor. The first group was told they were smelling a perfume, another – a toxic solvent. The process of adaptation to the odor in the second group was much slower.


By the way, it is a good moment to note, that it is not correct to say "molecule" in the meaning of "substance, compound, perfume ingredient or fragrance." Molecule is the smallest amount of the substance. A molecule's structure reflects in the substance's chemical and physical properties. So when you read "this perfume contains the molecule adoxal, strictly speaking, it means that the perfume contains 0,00000000000000000000035 grams of adoxal."
 

ODOR FATIGUE occurs on the receptor level. A molecule of the substance causes an electric signal only once, when it gets into the nose and transforms receptors' configuration. Therefore, over time, there comes a moment when all receptors are occupied, no signals are sent to the brain and we stop smelling the scent. I can compare it to frog's vision, it sees only moving objects. If we smell the same odor for a long time, we stop sensing it. If you want to enjoy your favorite perfume, my advice is to wear it only from time to time. Do not block your receptors with it, otherwise you will not smell it after few seconds after applying.

The same situation happens to many of us, when we step into a perfume store. Shop assistants spray perfumes into the air, in such a polluted atmosphere, the nose gets tired and we are not able to give a perfume justice. Perfume stores are not the best place to smell perfumes. I suggest you to spray perfume on a blotter and go outside to smell it in the fresh air. Or, better, try and smell blotters or samples in a relaxed atmosphere at home. Here we would like to address our readers who sell perfumes in stores. It would be better and healthier for you and your customers to spray a perfume once and on the blotter from a close distance.

Sometimes our receptors, already tired of one substance, lose sensitivity to other, usually, similar scents. It is called cross-adaptation. For example, Benzaldehyde lowers your sensitivity to Acetophenone and Nitrobenzene, they all have an expressed almond aspect.

This characteristic of our sense of smell, sometimes is used in a popular method of recognizing fragrant parts of the perfume composition. You can block the leading note by smelling it individually for a long time. Blocking it you get an ability to smell the rest of the fragrance much more clearly. This method was uses to analyze perfumes before chromatography and other technological tools were invented.

Another thing to be aware of while smelling a perfume, is ethanol, a solvent which is used in a majority of modern perfumes. It readily blocks your receptors for a couple of minutes. It would be wise to let it fly away before you start smelling a perfume.
 

Трое из ларца

 

But, anyway, what do "Molecules" smell like?

01 Iso E Super: a dry woody smell, close to cedar, with amber nuances and a slight phenolic aspect (tarry sweet). It is very diffusive and perfectly blends with a majority of other perfume materials. Read about Iso E Super here.

02 Ambroxan: a smell of ambergris. This substance has a sweet dry smell, reminiscent of old paper and cardboard, with a sensible marine accord and nuances of cedarwood, pine needles, and musk (close to ambrette seed). To some people it also has a green nuance of tea, as well as labdanum and even nuts.

03 Vetiveryl acetate is a semi-synthetic material, a vetiverol derivative, which is the core material responsible for the vetiver smell. Vetiveryl acetate is warm, spicy and fresh, it smells like wood (relatively close to sandal), with noticeable powdery, earthy/rooty and sweet lactonic and nutty nuances.

 

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).

BW

MEH



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kapted
kapted

Thank you, Mr Yudov. Always informative and reader friendly. I look forward to your articles. I gain an appreciation for the composition of fragrances beyond the emotive.

Jan
09
2017
miracleborgtech
miracleborgtech

Xxxxxcellent article! Learned a lot, and a new tactic for not smelling odors I don't like! The people in the experiment mentioned had a tougher time ignoring a smell that they were told was a "toxic solvent" vs. a "perfume". Just tell myself that it's a perfume ingredient and it smells better already!

Aug
01
2016
Pappy00
Pappy00

Great article.

Jul
31
2016
Hazazi91
Hazazi91

Very informative article I enjoyed it and learnt a lot

Jul
31
2016
smellysmellerson
smellysmellerson

Yes, I enjoyed reading this again.

Jul
31
2016
CherriedEmpress
CherriedEmpress

Thank you so much for this article. I think this article is an important read for so many.

I knew odor fatigue and sensory adaptation were extremely common and happens to all of us, but I didn't know they had separate processes.

So many accuse a fragrance of having no longevity/sillage, or "wearing off an in hour", without actually asking other people if the smell is there. Then, once in a while, they seemed shocked when someone tells them their perfume is nice, or it is too strong.

Last year I went on a huge gourmand kick and was losing my sense of smell for vanilla, almond, and chocolate. When I just couldn't smell a notoriously strong vanilla/chocolate fragrance, I knew there was a problem. Taking a 2- or 3-month break solved the issue.

Jul
31
2016
fyrewoman
fyrewoman

I love Molecule 01 & Molecule 02 worn on their own. Also, i love layering them under other scents. Especially, underneath my lighter aquatics in order to give them a foundation to achieve more throw and longevity. When i layer these formulas, i just use my discretion to decide which perfumes will pair well with either iso e super or the ambroxan. Since my partner and friends wear Molecule 01 and Molecule 02, i prefer to layer this way. Beware of layering under strong scents such as Womanity, Alien, etc. as the projection will throw people out of the room. However, i have great experiences combining iso e super with other woody perfumes like Burberry Body edp but only when spraying each sparingly.

Great article.

Jun
27
2016
ezequiel91
ezequiel91

Excellent, thanks for the article!

Jun
27
2016
Arbre Amer
Arbre Amer

I think it has been established that Molecule 01 is not iso-E-super but iso-gamma-super which is much more refined lacking the harsh invasive aspect of iso-E

Jun
26
2016
nikhilsharan
nikhilsharan

Lovely article. Really a rewarding read. Thanks for this.

Jun
26
2016
Lyndale
Lyndale

My mother-in-law has almost complete anosmia. The only scents she can pick are animal excrement and similar odours. She has to have a smoke detector on its very lowest setting, whenever she cooks, because she can't smell smoke if something starts to burn. I can't imagine living life without my sense of smell but I suppose you adapt to it, just as you adapt to being hard of hearing or visually impaired.

Jun
26
2016
Mary-Jayne
Mary-Jayne

Some very interesting information in this article.
I find that Iso E Super has a very potent and strong smell when used alone or in certain blends, but there are other scents that I know contain large quantities and yet I cannot pick it out as a distinct note itself.
I don't know if that is because it is well blended and so the same effect as with so many other well blended fragrances/notes where they are combined so smoothly and balanced that picking out individual notes becomes difficult,or whether it recedes in certain blends and is more difficult to discern because smaller more lively molecules are getting to the receptors sooner or in greater volume? (I might not be quite understanding how this works in which case anyone with greater knowledge or understanding is welcome to correct me).

Used alone though, or in many scents I smell Iso E Super as being very potent, strong, long lasting. I purchased a small bottle of the stuff cheap off ebay fairly recently, as I was curious to smell it alone, but without the expensive cost of the Escentric Molecules, and I was surprised at how strong the scent was. I put a few drops on a ceramic bisque tile I have that I sometimes use for home fragrance and put it in the hallway, and every time I come downstairs I can smell it, it fills the whole downstairs of my house. Maybe as it has only been a couple of weeks I have not yet become accustomed to it as part of my home odour? I often wonder how my house smells to other people, because you can't really smell your own home except when something changes. Same with myself, I wonder how do I naturally smell to others?

As for the fatigue thing, becoming accustomed to and unable to smell familiar smells, I always find it hugely disappointing when a fragrance "disappears" on me. I want to be able to smell it! There are times I wonder, has it worn away or is it there and projecting out but I just cannot perceive it? I find this often happens with Amouage scents - everyone talks about mega longevity and massive sillage but with many of their perfumes usually after 3-4 hours I cannot smell them anymore.

Jun
25
2016
HeidiLynn
HeidiLynn

Very interesting and week written. I know I'm anosmic to certain scents--I can barely detect any scent in SJPs Lovely, while my daughter accused me of dousing myself in it! I always wonder what I'm missing, and wish my nose were sharper!

Jun
25
2016
socorrosouza
socorrosouza

Thank you, Max , for this and the Iso-E Super article. Very enlightening !!!!!!!

Jun
24
2016
ComfyCat
ComfyCat

"The first group was told they were smelling a perfume, another – a toxic solvent. The process of adaptation to the odor in the second group was much slower."

You can take this even a step further to explain, why two people can experience one perfume extremely different. If you don't like a note, you will perceive it as much stronger in a perfume, than someone to whom it is neutral :)

Jun
24
2016
MeThePerson
MeThePerson

Lovely article, and much needed.
As a fragrance seller, I have rallied against pressure to assault my customers noses and have always encouraged them to walk away to experience the full life of a fragrance I have suggested, after learning from THEM what they require.
I may not always be right, but I give the customer the confidence and knowledge to choose.

My pleasure comes from them returning at a later time and saying "you were right, thank-you so much".

Jun
24
2016
RubyBirdy
RubyBirdy

Very interesting article, thanks so much for making it so straightforward!

Personally I never saw the appeal of Escentric Molecules...plain old ambroxan is so cheap, why pay luxury prices for it?

Jun
24
2016
milkyway
milkyway

beautifully written, very accessible science. Thank you!

Jun
24
2016
samuelgustav
samuelgustav

Nice article!

Jun
23
2016
SayakaP
SayakaP

Excellent article. Thanks Mat!

Jun
23
2016
glitteralex
glitteralex

Superb article! Thank you.

Jun
23
2016
NebraskaLovesScent
NebraskaLovesScent

Very interesting, Mat!

After sampling Monoscent G, I've discovered I'm among the 29% of the population who cannot smell Galaxolide. :-( (This stat is from Twisted Lily, based on a 1986 odor survey from National Geographic Society.)

But Iso E Super? I can smell it and I love it.

Jun
23
2016
wesleyhclark
wesleyhclark

"The same situation is with audible frequencies ... the older you get, the lower the upper threshold would go, approximately it lowers to 12000 for people who reach 50 years of age."

OR LESS.

Jun
23
2016
Bruno Nóbrega
Bruno Nóbrega

Excellent article, Mat. Very clarifying. You are good with words.

Jun
23
2016
Sanskilainen
Sanskilainen

Love your articles! Keep then coming!

Jun
23
2016
hellovascent
hellovascent

Thank you very much again, Matvey, for such an interesting article.

I have just dug out my Escentric and Molecule samples:
I can hardly smell Escentric 01, and cannot smell Molecule 01 at all.

Now I finally know why.

All the other escentrics and molecules reach my nose, and I have to say I like Escentric 03 best. This seems to be some kind of woody oriental.

Jun
23
2016

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