Does this smell off?
Have you noticed that the perfume you have worn forever just don't do anything for you anymore? If yes, then rest assured you're not alone. And yes, this is yet another trick that our wayward hormones play during our tumultuous middle years.
Interestingly a study published in the journal Hormones and Behaviour (2013) concluded that a woman's sense of smell sharpens as fertility peaks in the latter half of her menstrual cycle. This might explain why some pregnant women become nauseous smelling their preferred perfumes and indeed why menopause brings such massive changes too (although I realise this was not part of that particular study, or indeed many others it seems).
Scent and memory
"Perfume is, neurologically, a sensory trigger of buried memories," explains Master Perfumer Roja Dove. "By our early teens, the bulk of our olfactory ‘fingerprint’ is formed. It’s not a definitive pallet, as there are still many odours to be encountered throughout the rest of our lives, but as we develop we begin to understand varying degrees of subtlety and sophistication in smells."
The hormonal-induced drying of the skin during menopause can alter the way perfumes interact with the skin because the natural oil content is reduced. "Because oil acts like Velcro for perfume to stick to, it will evaporate from a more mature woman’s skin at a faster rate and make due cause for a change to more potent perfume options," he explains. This said, Dove feels that it's mostly our life’s experiences which that add nuance to our olfactory fingerprint, rather than our hormones as scent is processed in the primitive part of our brain – the limbic system.
What I find more worrying is the natural dwindling of our ability to smell, a process that apparently begins in our mid to late 50s (in men and women) and becomes more noticeable from mid to late 60s onwards. A scary thought for sure, but on the flip side, another excuse to make the most of these Middle Years!
Jo Fairley founder of the UK-based The Perfume Society says that everyone’s body chemistry is different and is influenced by hormones, skin type, what you eat, medications and more. "Even adding a new vitamin or supplement to your well-being regime (if you have one!) can change how a fragrance smells on your skin. Several factors can alter a perfume; it might become more sour or more sweet. The deeper, richer notes – woody and ambery ingredients, for instance – don’t change as much from person to person as fresher, more volatile ingredients like citrus or lily.
What to do
The bottom line is: never buy a fragrance without trying it on your own skin – full stop. And if you can’t tear yourself away from a favourite scent that seems to have ‘gone off', Fairley suggests some alternatives: "Spray it onto hems, cuffs and collars or onto a cotton wool ball to be tucked inside your bra. (Do be careful it isn’t going to stain if you’re going to use it on fabric; spritz it onto a white Kleenex, and if it doesn’t leave a mark, it’s safe to use on pale clothing.) Or try a ‘voile’ of fragrance (as the French so romantically put it): simply spray fragrance into the air and walk through it, subtly perfuming your hair and your clothes. I’m also a big fan of spritzing my scarves and pashminas, creating a sort of personal ‘smellprint’ via the fragrances I love."
There is hope, as once the menopausal years are over (and before your sense of smell starts to deteriorate!) you can go back to wearing old favourites – if you still want to.
Linda Rodin (now 68) attests to this. The New York-based former model, stylist and founder of cult beauty brand Oiio Russo (the famed face oil and now perfumes, lipsticks and more) says her sense of smell hasn't changed since starting her business when in her late 50s. "In fact, it has just gotten more acute and refined.," she assures me. " I've always loved certain scents--in perfumes and naturally but now I am more focused on what they are exactly. Where they come from. The alchemy of putting certain scents together."