Why Perfumes Smell Different on Different People


Woman smelling flowers
Credit photo: Chermiti Mohamed on Pexels
Have you ever smelled perfume on a friend or on a test strip at a department store, only to find it smells different when you wear it on your skin? This may have to do with your unique and complex body chemistry interacting with a particular fragrance.

The Influence of Skin Chemistry

Our skin is a delicate ecosystem of oils, bacteria, and pH levels, all of which play a pivotal role in how fragrances develop and interact. When a perfume is applied, it doesn't simply sit on the skin's surface; it undergoes a process involving the interaction between the fragrance's volatile compounds and the skin's unique chemistry.

One of the primary factors influencing how perfumes smell on different individuals is the skin's pH level. The skin's pH can vary from person to person due to factors such as diet, genetics, and even medical conditions such as eczema or diabetes. Fragrances react differently in acidic or alkaline environments, which can subtly alter their scent. For example, a perfume might smell sweeter and more floral on someone with acidic skin, while on someone with alkaline skin, it might come across as more musky or woody.

Moreover, the natural oils produced by our skin, known as sebum, can either enhance or diminish the longevity of a perfume. Sebum acts as a carrier for fragrance molecules, releasing them gradually over time. Individuals with oilier skin may find that perfumes linger longer and develop more intensely, while those with drier skin might experience a quicker fade as drier skins are thirsty and absorb substances faster. This is why moisturising the skin before applying a perfume is recommended to prolong the longevity of a scent.

Individual Biology and Genetics

Beyond skin chemistry, our unique biology and genetic makeup also contribute to the way perfumes react with our skin. Our individual body odours can subtly alter the scent of a perfume. These underlying odours, further influenced by factors such as diet, hygiene, stress levels or even environment, will bind with the fragrance, creating its own distinct aroma. In some cases, a perfume will blend harmoniously with an individual's natural body scent, while in others, they may clash, resulting in a discordant mix.

Is it different for Natural Perfumes?

Due to our bodies’ unique response to a perfume, it is always a good idea to do a patch test when selecting your new fragrance and there may be some significant differences if you are looking at a synthetic versus a natural perfume.

Synthetic perfumes are usually formulated with consistency and stability in mind. They often contain chemicals to preserve particular scents as well as prolonging their lasting power.

Natural perfumes will mostly use botanical ingredients in their blends. Such ingredients can already display slight differences in scent due to environmental factors such as soil quality, weather and harvest conditions. Moreover, no chemical fixative is added to the perfume formula, making natural perfumes susceptible to higher variability than their synthetic counterparts. This allows natural perfume wearers to create their own unique blend of natural perfume and individual body chemistry.