Research shows that to a large degree it’s shifting hormone levels that dictate scent preferences over the course of our lives.
There are five stages of one’s life that can mark a significant shift in perfume choices.
Fifteen is the average age for girls to get their first bottle of scent, according to market researchers. But teenagers’ favourite scent will be down to more than an attractively shaped bottle or celebrity ad campaign. Puberty triggers sharp rises in the levels of estrogen, and this can disrupt levels of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin as well as increase sugar craving. This may be why so many perfumes aimed at young women are sweet-smelling. Many of the most popular in this category include the ingredient vanilla. Vanilla is the closest smell to breast milk – and may evoke memories of security in the most primal part of the brain, perfect at the time of life when girls are feeling self-conscious and insecure. Also, it may evoke happy memories of childhood treats such as sweets and home-baked cakes. Women’s tastes tend to become more sophisticated as they grow older: ‘Not many young people start out liking olives. But later in life, they might be drawn to more complex tastes. The nose’s “palate” also becomes more sophisticated with age.’
The PMS blues
At this time a woman may feel like toning down her perfume, being found to become averse to bitter smells like coffee and camphor. Being more drawn towards the odours of fatty, rich foods. Scientists believe this could be the body’s way of nudging a woman towards more calorie-dense foods to prepare her body for a baby. Research has shown that smelling lavender for just ten minutes can relieve moodiness, aches or tension in women suffering from PMT. Lavender contains linalool, found to calm the heart and breathing rate.
Expecting a little oneFor many, it’s not a pregnancy test that first alerts them to the fact they’ve conceived, it’s their heightened sense of smell. About two-thirds of women rate their sense of smell as stronger when pregnant. They are also much better at identifying subtler odours such as watermelon and clover than women who are not expecting. However, 75 percent of pregnant women say their favourite smells, even the scent of flowers or perfume, aren’t as enjoyable as before. As a result, many women ditch their usual fragrance in the nine months they are expecting – except for peppermint or mandarin scents, which have been found to relieve feelings of nausea.
The change of life
Menopause can make a woman super sensitive to smell again, attracting her to more subtle scents. Women who suffer hot flushes may also feel like avoiding spicy or musky scents. That’s because when the skin is hot and moist, the top notes (the scent you smell first) tend to evaporate quickly, leaving the heavier scent behind. Women may also be drawn to fragrances that make them feel younger than their years. Research by U.S. neurologist Dr. Alan Hirsch discovered that for unknown reasons, the fragrance of grapefruit makes men rate women as five years younger.
The golden years
As we age, our sense of smell gradually declines because we all lose nerve endings in the nose and produce less mucus to ‘suck’ smells up. By the age of 80, 75 percent of women report difficulties identifying scents. So older women tend to opt for stronger perfumes. Now that sex hormones no longer play such a part, they also gravitate towards grassier, or woody scents, such as sandalwood and patchouli. Perfumes might also evaporate faster when you’re older because your skin is also becoming thinner, and the loss of estrogen slows down the sebaceous glands which oil the skin. For this reason, older women may want to choose oilier, heavier concentrations of perfume. These can last for 24 hours, compared to other versions.