I was thinking about smells the other day, while taking a shower. I had washed my hair with a “freesia” shampoo and then used a “passion flower & vanilla extract” conditioner. I had a new perfumed body wash from a Promise Me giftset. Once I got out, I followed with some Imari deodorant (a stronger smell), because that’s what I had opened, and then applied the Promise me lotion from the set. I finished with some body powder (light scent of pine needles) and face cream (L’Oreal Advanced RevitaLift Complete, which smells just like face cream). By the time I was done – and before I actually applied shampoo – I had covered my newly washed body with six different scents. What did I smell like? I have no idea.
One of the fascinating things about our sense of smell is that it can be quite acute when expose to a new scent, but becomes quickly accustomed to it. That’s true of our other senses as well – we are able to tune out background noise and images in our field of vision so as to pay attention to a particular sound or sight and we can zoom in on a specific touch -, but what makes smell different is that once we have (automatically and not necessarily willingly) tuned out a smell, we can no longer distinguish it, at least until it once again becomes novel.
What this means is that by the time I applied the last product, I could no longer smell the first ones – so, all in all, I have no idea what I smelled like. Did all the fragrances fight or helped one another?
Some smells seem to be more enduring for our noses than others. Today I got a new perfume in the mail, Far Away from Avon. The first spray was rough and alcoholic, but it quickly became soft and subtly, powdery and feminine yet grown up. I loved it. Five hours later, I can only smell the occasional harsh vanilla overtone, it’s not very pleasant. I had my husband smell me, however, and apparently to him I do smell flowery and light. He liked the fragrance quite a bit. Whether I continue using this perfume – enjoyable at first but then unpleasant for me alone – is an open question.
What I find more worrisome is all the bad smells that I have become accustomed to but other people do smell. A few weeks ago my washing machine broke down and while researching what could be wrong with it, I learned that front-loading washers like mine often have a mold problem. As they are often kept closed – the doors get in the way otherwise -, they are often wet and mold loves moisture. It didn’t take me long to realize that, indeed, our washer was suffering from that issue and our clothing was showing it (or, rather, smelling it). If I smelled nasty to you in the last six months, you now know why. We have a new washer, but the mold smell is only slowly going away.