Fragrant Roots and Neroli Macaroons

essential oil macaroonsThe British Society of Perfumers Annual One Day Symposium was held at Whittlebury Hall in Towcester again this May and had an accidental theme of fragrant roots – with two of the presentations focusing on a different kind of scented root accord unbeknownst to one another. One of the suppliers, Albert Vieille, also went beyond scent and served us delicious macaroons flavoured with essential oils of neroli, rose and mandarin which were perfectly accompanied by the Arabica Coffee Salvador alcoholic extract we smelled alongside them.

There is a perceived danger to hosting any kind of raw material-focused conference on a World Perfumery Congress year because suppliers will inevitably want to save their new launches for that (who wouldn’t?), but this did not cause any difficulties for the BSP ODS as every session managed to find ways to showcase existing materials, new production methods, or to introduce new variants to the UK market. One of the best things about going to these is the group smelling – sitting at a table (or walking around interactive demo sessions) with seasoned perfumers and sharing observations is like gold dust; you learn so much and find all kinds of inspiration and insight.

Wolfgang from BASF showed us a very well-known material, DL-menthol, which he nevertheless felt was unfairly neglected in perfume creations, and called it “the under-estimated baby of the industry.” His quips and style had the room guffawing away and every time I hear him give a presentation I feel a little bit wistful that he didn’t become a chemistry teacher because he would have inspired generations. On the other hand, I’m glad he didn’t because now I get to listen to his presentations at BSP events instead. We also smelled dihydrorosan in demo formulas – it really boosted fruity notes in unexpected ways.

Symrise took us through an interactive presentation where tables were laden with demo formulas showing off Jacinthaflor – an interesting white floral-type material which can bring indolic aspects to fragrances without the discolouration issues, Nerolione – as the name suggests, a high-impact ingredient for orange blossom creations and Irisnitrile – a diffusive iris note booster. I have come to accept that I adore iris scents of all kinds (am yet to encounter one that I don’t love) and the accords we experienced here had interesting cucumber and fresh facets and bloom which can sometimes lack from iris-type notes. It seems clever use of Irisnitrile can really add extra dimension to these accords.

If you think you know what cedarwood should smell like, I wish I could send you some of the Firmenich cedarwood oil Alaska through the screen because it took many of us by surprise – a sparkling grapefruit top with lots of smoky and aromatic nuances and no ‘pencil shavings’ feel. I’d love to create a masculine scent just around this material and expand every aspect. We were also shown Pepper Sichuan supercritical fluid extraction, Lilyflore, Ambrox Super and a Honey Signature base which is a blend of natural materials and synthetic captives. The honey note was so realistic that some visitors were overheard asking for a slice of toast to go with it.

And, to the next fragrant root – vetiver. Emerald Kalama Chemical showed us Azuril, Osyrol and Vetimoss (there is a clue in the molecule names to which one went into the vetiver accord) and we smelled demo formulas including blackwood and fantasy citrus. Vetiver is another one of my absolute favourite smells and I’d love to get a chance to experiment with vetimoss – there were many nuances besides straight-up vetiver that came out at me from the demo.

Pierre rolling out the red carpet

I caught Pierre personally rolling out the red carpet for the winner just before the gala dinner

If any of you follow Pierre the Perfumer on Twitter, you won’t be surprised to hear that he would be up to mischief at an entirely serious event such as the annual Perfumery Excellence Awards, and, indeed, this year he launched a whole new award: “Pierre the Perfumer Award for Most Daring Fragrance (in any category)”. The idea being that at least one of the awards should be for risk-taking in fragrance creation; putting products on the market with scents that have the potential to be divisive (many legends have been born from love-or-hate fragrances; even entire fragrance families). We asked our members to nominate and vote for all the awards in advance of the symposium which meant the awards could be engraved in time for the gala dinner. Want to know who won? Check out the winners at P&F online.

 

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In futile search of the Bad Guys

EU regulations foot by Grant OsborneYou know what would be easy? If we could all join forces to fight the Dark Lord of Anti-Perfume and drown him in a special potion of oakmoss and alpha damascone.

Alas.

The reality is that the regulations squeezing the juice out of fragrances are complex, inconsistent, overlapping, hard to understand even for professionals and not black-and-white. They all stem from good intentions.

Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions. T. S. Eliot

Are fragrance regulations evil? They certainly seem to be if you’re a perfumer, struggling to reformulate a classic scent to fit IFRA or a perfume fan whose favourite fragrance has been discontinued because it could not be changed without destroying it.

It’s very easy to cast IFRA in the role of the Bad Guy, but it really is not that simple. It’s complicated and nuanced. Understanding what is really going on with the EU fragrance regulations is tough.

I’ve written a long piece for Basenotes about the topic. It came out of sheer frustration – as some Basenoters of old will remember, I’ve had a long journey from a perfume enthusiast to perfumer, much of which has been documented here and in various blogs and articles over the years. In the sorts of jobs I do now, I have to understand what is really going on behind the scenes and therefore attend training courses and symposiums and whatnot.

I went to an IFRA day a while back now (must have been 2013!), hoping I’d come out of there a little wiser. Well, I suppose I did, but I also came out of there with pages and pages of notes and more questions than I went in with. It was obvious that many of the industry representatives in the room were frustrated about all the restrictions; didn’t feel that the EU’s actions – while well-meaning – were really protecting consumers as intended and just causing lots of extra pressure… and nobody seemed to be able to present a comprehensive overview of how all these parallel regulatory requirements fit together. So I decided to have a go at gaining a better understanding.

What became obvious was that there are no “good guys” and “bad guys” and that there were lots of inconsistencies, even loopholes, and the whole thing seemed in parts to be over-protective but in others, curiously obscure. I needed to learn more for my work anyway, so read through everything I could, asked subject matter experts to help spot errors in my facts (hence the fabulous Penny – who since has offered me a job; nothing to do with this piece, just the fact we’ve had a growing friendship and mutual respect over time and I happen to have skills which she can use).

I held back from finishing the article until I’d attended lots of extra training and spoken to many people who know more than I do.

And yet, any failings (such as the sad way in which this piece seems to have come across as scaremongering or propaganda to some of the Basenotes readers – or most confusingly, as a piece advocating the use of synthetics over naturals… that’s certainly not the message)… any failings are mine alone, and it’s been an interesting education to see just how tough it is to communicate complex topics like this from an informed position. The irony is that in order to understand something like this, one has to get knowledgeable enough that to many people one can appear like an industry shill. That I am not. My desire is to understand and I certainly don’t speak for the industry.

I hope this piece will generate healthy debate and discussion. I’m not the slightest bit offended by some of the more frustrated comments on the article; it is to be expected and I understand.

What I’d love to hear is your take on the final question I pose. “So now what?”

What do you all think would be a reasonable and realistic way to protect perfumes from over-regulation while protecting the consumers? Is it a totally naive idea to reason with the giant bureaucracy monster? Who do you think would be in the best position to protect the industry’s interests AND reassure consumers that their products are safe?

 

Armpit sweat and Fragrancestein (or the 33rd BSP annual symposium)

BSP symposium PFW brains

Move over, scent strips! The new way to experience potent aroma chemicals in their pure state is…BRAIIIIIIINS!

The 33rd One Day Symposium by the British Society of Perfumers was unusually stinky this year: armpit sweat and skatole overdoses, oh my! It’s an important date in the UK perfume calendar and this year’s event was once again held at Whittlebury Hall in Towcester, to a full audience of perfumers, evaluators, sales and marketing people. I was lucky to be put in the same group as Karen Gilbert with whom we had only just sniffed some gorgeous Osmotheque recreations, so the day offered us plenty of opportunities to compare notes.

The first item on the agenda was a talk by a bright, young PhD candidate Caroline Allen, who, with the help of Kate Williams (who was elected as the new BSP president during the AGM that followed), has been researching the effect of artificial fragrances on our ability to advertise and judge body odour. A few years ago another talk at the BSP explained the human major histocompatibility complex and its role in mate selection, so Caroline’s research is a perfect follow-up. Since it’s been shown that we prefer the scent of potential mates with an MHC type that is different to our own, how does using, say, underarm deodorant affect this?

What seems to be happening is that when people are left to choose their own fragrance, they pick a scent which enhances (advertises) their natural body odour in a good way, meaning that potential mates will not be thrown off scent. If a scent is randomly allocated (you wear something your gran bought you for Christmas even though you don’t like it, for instance), our own odour fingerprint still comes through, but not as well.

Caroline roped us into helping her by making us smell cotton pads soaked in armpit sweat. By recording our impressions using descriptive words (musky, sweet, floral… or in the case of one of the samples, onion, cumin…), we were able to contribute to the odour mapping work that Kate and her team have been doing at Seven Scent.

BSP symposium Caroline AllenIncidentally, sample 32 (I think) smelled of sweet musk and fruit to me, and I felt very happy sniffing it – whereas others who sniffed it didn’t have the same reaction. Everyone’s impressions of each sample varied greatly, which in itself was fascinating.

These days follow a similar format – fragrance raw material suppliers present a selection of new materials or existing materials used in new ways. Presentations include demonstration formulae in various bases (candles, body creams, shampoos, detergents, fine fragrance and so on) and some go to great lengths to be creative with the way in which they show their materials off.

None more so than PFW who always seem to come up with an off-the-wall presentation. This year, their mascot Master Perfumer, Pierre the Perfumer was the star of a truly frightening film-slash-demo formula, FRAGRANCESTEIN.

BSP symposium PFW Fragrancestein
Keen-eyed readers will note the massive skatole overdose, and keen-nosed ones will know that it truly smells of excrement. Where indole has a mothball quality and flip-flops between poop and mothballs (and where with indole, once you’ve worked on enough floral accords containing it, your brain starts to construct a flower around it, so it no longer smells bad after a while)… with skatole, I am yet to arrive at such a happy state (and wonder if it’ll ever happen). It really does smell bad. So the challenge was – how to hide the ‘monster’ and create an accord that would not only be acceptable but pleasant and desirable to consumers.

Bit by bit, we followed Pierre on the silver screen as he tried to tame the monster. Body parts were replaced, the formula tweaked, and we could smell the transformation. Perhaps a little too influenced by the initial horror, many in the room did struggle to find the final accord pleasant, but that’s where being a trained nose can sometimes trip you up; if you smell the construction rather than the naive overall effect, you can sometimes miss an interesting piece of work.

BSP symposium PFW footBSP day PFW heartBSP symposium PFW hulk hand

BSP symposium PFW the man with two brains

I’d like to put in a request to PFW: could we see Pierre the Perfumer in “The Man With Two Brains”, please?

I missed out on a PFW goodiebag (what was in there? Dare I ask?) because there wasn’t one on my chair, but did come home with lots of goodies. BSP has its own tote bag now, too!

BSP symposium BSP tote
It wasn’t the only tote of the day; DRT, a company producing impressive volumes of a variety of chemicals all from trees gave us this lovely forest-themed tote:BSP symposium DRT toteBSP symposium DRT goodiesTwo materials which really stuck in my mind from the Nactis/Synarome presentation were Oudharome and Agarome (the former having a lovely orris-type character more so than oudh, really); both made me want to rush into the lab and use them in something.

BSP symposium goodiesIFF‘s presentation of Amber Xtreme was another highlight of the day for me – they’d gone to real effort to make the session interactive and demonstrate the material in use. We experienced a floor cleaning application, laundry care, hair care and fine fragrance – all at different concentrations; all very effective. I was a ‘volunteer’ (read: everyone else suddenly found the ceiling really interesting). My job was to cover a large floor tile with suds.

BSP symposium IFF volunteer

BSP symposium IFF buckets

At least it didn’t turn out to be an ice bucket challenge!

BSP symposium IFF laundryBSP symposium IFF hairThis material is POTENT. I see where the Xtreme comes in, really – a trace in fine fragrance still somewhat dominated the blend, and very small amounts had noticeable effects in other applications. I also love the jaunty whale illustration. It almost has a Japanese quality to it. “Here I am, sending my magic poop into the ocean!”

BSP symposium IFF hairWe were also given generous goodiebags with a new perfumer’s fragrance ingredients compendium, demo bottles of Amber Xtreme and a pen.

BSP symposium IFF goodiesBSP symposium IFF compendium

The day went by fast and I am already looking forward to next year’s symposium. There will be other BSP events before then, of course, and it’s worth keeping an eye out for additions to the calendar – even if you are not a member but happen to be interested in this crazy, poop and sweat-scented world!

Is it time we sniffed out the real human pheromones?

IrresistibleWould you like to spray on a potion that will make you instantly irresistible? Would you like everyone who gets a whiff of you to quiver with lust? Would you like to have an unfair advantage on the pull? Help is here! There are pheromone sprays which will do just that – fragrances and body sprays which will send people wild around you. Everyone knows that androstenone, androstenol, androstadienone, and estratetraenol are human pheromones and adding them to products produces very special effects.

Except, of course, all of the above is probably rubbish.

There are many products on the market which claim to contain human pheromones. More than that – there are research papers, books and scholarly articles talking about putative human pheromones as though they had been identified.

Amazingly, every one of these products, articles, books, papers and claims is based on dodgy science.

There are no real ‘putative human pheromones’, as they are currently presented. However, since we’re mammals, it’s highly likely we do have them.

Very early on in human pheromone studies, something peculiar happened to thwart the research, and we may have been chasing the wrong leads ever since.

Doctor Tristram Wyatt from Department of Zoology, University of Oxford thinks that we should start again. I recently attended his excellent talk at the Royal Society of Chemistry (a version of which you can watch on TED and was written up as a recent Proceedings of the Royal Society B paper) in which he systematically demonstrated that a) it’s likely that we do have pheromones; b) no solid evidence exists for what they might be; c) the research into this area is under-funded and based on dodgy science; d) it would be great if we could start again, as though human beings were a newly discovered species.

Why should we forget everything we think we know and start from scratch?

Because we’re animals, we give off hundreds of odours just by being. Other animals have pheromones and it’s likely that we have them, too. While we don’t have a functioning vomeronasal organ (it does develop in-utero but regresses) this is not a problem as we now know that pheromones are detected by the main olfactory system in many mammals such as sheep. However, smells play a very big role in our lives and especially in sexual selection. The mechanisms for this are still quite fuzzy and hotly contested. We simply don’t understand just how much of human sexual behaviour is influenced by smell and what the pathways and biological processes are. We know that we’re highly influenced by our experiences, emotions and context, and while there have been some studies on the so-called ‘putative human pheromones’ which seem to demonstrate pheromone-like effects, no clear evidence exists to show how they are supposed to work in humans.

It’s clear that human beings give off, and react to odours – but it’s important to realise that not all odours are pheromones, and that we don’t know much about human pheromones at this stage.

Our personal body odour fingerprint has been found to influence mate selection. We seem to prefer the smell of partners whose immune system gene expression differs from our own (with the biological benefit being that if offspring are produced, their immune systems will express genes from both partners and therefore be stronger). Immunotypes from both partners would be incorporated into the offspring. It’s also been shown that women on the oral contraceptive pill can prefer the odour of partners whose immune genes are similar to their own (and subsequently experience a loss of sexual attraction to the partner they chose whilst on the pill when they come off the pill to try to conceive!). I attended a fascinating talk by Professor Craig Roberts about this topic a few years ago and it’s very interesting to think about how our natural body odour affects our fragrance selection – we’re better off wearing scents which we are instinctively drawn to because they are most likely to be the ones which enhance our natural body odour.

According to Dr. Wyatt, “We do seem to be obsessed by body odour – billions of dollars are spent on removing it and putting it back on again.”

There are so-called ‘pheromone parties’ which should really be re-named to major histocompatability complex parties, but that wouldn’t sound nearly as sexy. Participants wear a t-shirt for a while before the party, place it inside a plastic bag, and the bags are given numbers. The t-shirts are sniffed by other partygoers and if they like the smell, a photo of them is taken with the bag and displayed on a screen during the party.

Of course human pheromones could also be at play here, but we genuinely have no clue yet what those might be.

What are pheromones?

Bombyx Mori

  • Pheromones are a chemical signal between members of the same species.
  • They are same across the same species (e.g. all males of the same species, but possibly appearing in different amounts).
  • They are usually a combination of molecules and can be short-range.

The first pheromone was identified in the Bombyx mori silk moth in 1959 by Adolf Butenandt & team. It was named Bombykol after the moth. In Dr. Wyatt’s opinion, the way in which this research was conducted represents a gold standard for pheromone identification and should be followed in other similar studies.

The criteria for identifying a real pheromone should be:

  • To isolate a specific compound or a mixture of compounds (all compounds in the mixture should be necessary)
  • There should be a clearly identifiable response to the pheromone(s) (in the Bombyx mori, scientists observed increased wing fluttering of the male moth in the presence of bombykol)
  • Synthetic compounds should elicit the same response as real pheromones
  • Realistic concentrations must be used in experiments
  • There must be a credible pathway for evolution

We should expect humans to have pheromones because other animals do, too. Pigs, mice; rabbits all have them.

Humans can distinguish between a trillion different smells and though we might not rely on our sense of smell quite as much as some other animals, it’s wrong to think of our sense of smell as insignificant.

So what’s wrong with ‘putative human pheromones’?

There is simply no evidence for them.

The history of putative human pheromones can be traced back to the discovery of ‘copulins’ in monkeys (1970), and the idea of ‘menstrual synchronicity’ which was put forward in 1971 (the menstrual synchronicity thing is not proven, though – and looks like it might not be real). Androsterone and androstenal was discovered and researched in pigs around 1970-1980.

In 1991, a symposium sponsored by the Erox Corporation was held in Paris and many leading scientists were invited to attend. Slotted into the procedings was a paper about ‘putative human pheromones’ which also claimed that humans have a functioning vomeronasal organ: “Effect of putative pheromones on the electrical activity of the human vomeronasal organ and olfactory epithelium”. Erox Corporation had supplied the ‘putative human pheromones’ androstadienone (AND) and estratetraenol (EST) for the study, and had a clear interest in patenting them.

However, the study has no details of how these molecules were extracted, indentified, bioassayed and supposedly shown to be human pheromones.

In 2000, Jacob and McClintock published a paper “Psychological state and mood effects of steroidal chemosignals in women and men” and used the same ‘putative human pheromones’ in their experiments. This gave the putative human pheromone myth credibility.

Since 2000, there have been more than 40 studies (about 4-5 a year) using androstadienone and/or estratetraenol and these studies have been cited hundreds of times.

How is this possible? Aren’t we supposed to be evidence-based? One of the toughest things about researching human pheromones is the identification and extraction of them. So since it’s easy to purchase AND and EST, researchers seem to default to these. The literature has become self-referential which creates a closed loop of evidence. It’s easy to confuse the volume of work with quality, and in this case there is no lack of literature – just a lack of original evidence. In fact, it is now a commonly held assumption that there really are ‘putative human pheromones’, but nobody seems to have looked at the 1991 source critically.

All fields in science also suffer from positive publication bias (where only positive studies are published and negative ones are not). The worst area for this is psychology, at about 90% of the published work being positive. Since the research into human pheromones falls into this field, and since there have been no Bombykol ‘gold standard’ studies, everything we have on the ‘putative human pheromones’ seems to ultimately rest upon the original rather questionable study.

Now what?

According to Dr. Wyatt, we should approach human pheromone study as though we were a newly discovered species. We should look for ways in which to identify and bioassay pheromones – and he thinks that there might be something in how human babies seem to recognise the odour of their mothers. More importantly, when the scent produced by special glands on the areolas of lactating mothers has been collected and presented to babies, they react to the smell by starting to suck even if the scent was not from their own mother. There could be a mammary pheromone at play. Other things we could do is to compare people pre- and post puberty, but the main problem with all of this is how much more complex human research is, and the desperate lack of funding for olfactory research.

It seems that olfactory research has not been thought of as important even though research for our other senses is. Although we are really looking at fields of biology and psychology, this area is under-funded and could do with a boost. Perhaps it isn’t thought of as vital because people with olfactory disorders can still work and survive in society – or perhaps is seen as too frivolous and unnecessary. It doesn’t bode well for stronger studies in this area and Erox corporation will probably carry on doing quite well out of AND and EST.

Further on the topics discussed:

The Smelly Mystery of Human Pheromones TED talk

The search for human pheromones: the lost decades and the necessity of returning to first principles

MHC-correlated odour preferences in humans and the use of oral contraceptives

The Scent of a Man: to attract a woman by wearing scent, a man must first attract himself

Sexing up the human pheromone story: how a corporation started a scientific myth

Pheromones and Animal Behavior

How animals communicate via pheromones

Pheromone parties

Bombykol

Disclaimer & credits

Any mistakes in this text are mine. Getty Images pictures used under their free embed scheme. Sorry about the ads you might see below (this blog is hosted on the free WordPress servers). This post is based on Dr. Tristram Wyatt’s talk at the Royal Society of Chemistry, arranged jointly by the British Society of Perfumers and Society of Cosmetic Scientists.

Stop what you’re doing and give ODOU your support right now!

Let’s not be coy – I want you to help my friend Liam realise his dream of a high-quality magazine, all about our sense of smell. If you are into olfaction, perfumes, or well-designed, intellectual magazines, you should be reading ODOU.

Obviously this encouragement is partially self-serving – I write for ODOU – but so could you if you have something to say on the topic. Liam is always looking for new voices. So writers, poets, photographers – take note, too.

The magazine has been entirely self-funded so far, and Liam is now hoping to take it beyond that; to a more serious project with a wider distribution. Will you help him?

ODOU KICKSTARTER

Long Lost Smell

Long Lost Smell

If you’ve been reading perfume forums, you’ll have seen the word ‘anosmia’ used casually (a little bit like a sad person might use ‘depressed’ or someone with a headache might use ‘migraine’). There are, of course, specific anosmias (many people can’t smell certain synthetic musks, for example). Total anosmia is a complete loss of smell. Being truly nose-blind.

The scary thing is that it can happen to anyone. A head injury, car accident, bad cold – and your nerves could get so damaged you lose your sense of smell permanently (or worse: get parosmia, where all smells are distorted so that food might taste of excrement and common smells like coffee might make you feel sick, so being in public places suddenly becomes pure torture). Smell and taste are part of the same system – when we eat, the majority of what we think of as taste is actually smell. Aromatic compounds are inhaled through our nose and throat. You can get a glimpse of what eating with no sense of smell feels like if you think back to a time when you had a very bad cold. The loss you experienced temporarily was not complete and that was bad enough to make all the food you ate taste bland.

Why don’t we see sniffer dogs like there are seeing-eye dogs? Why aren’t there TV ads for smell disorder charities? Smell has traditionally been treated by society as banal and unimportant. It has been thought of as ‘animal’ – ergo, not civilised. It has been ignored by governments because if a person loses their sense of smell, they can still work (whereas a blind or a deaf person might not be able to without special help).

Most of us are not really conscious of our sense of smell and even in the perfume communities where people have started thinking about smells more actively, we tend to focus on the hedonistic side of the sense – comparing our impressions and trying to work out what our favourite perfume is made of.

You know that smell they add to gas so humans can detect a leak? An anosmic person would not be made any safer by that. You know how you sniff milk before you pour it into a cup of tea? An anosmic person would not be able to tell if it’s off.

When I was a little girl (6 or 7 years old), I was playing in the second floor bedroom of my friend’s house while her mum was supposed to be watching us. For some inexplicable reason she decided to pop to the shops while we were in her care, and accidentally left a pot boiling on the gas stove.

I suspect that I’ve always been hypersensitive to certain sensory stimuli because there have been many times I’ve smelled or noticed something before anyone around me has. This was luckily one of those times. I smelled smoke and told my playmate about it. She didn’t smell anything and didn’t want to take a look. I insisted, and went downstairs. There was smoke billowing from under the kitchen door. I screamed for my friend and we ran out of the house, leaving the front door open. A neighbour called the fire brigade and took us in.

There are people who are anosmic from birth. Someone with this condition would have been trapped on the second floor of that burning house and may not have made it.

It is said that when we fall in love, we really fall for someone’s smell. Our sense of smell is very important in mate selection. When we kiss, we’re smelling each other. Imagine – what would it be like to never to be able to smell your partner? Your children?

Fifth Sense Logo

There have been charities and support for other sensory loss for decades. Fifth Sense, a charity for people with smell and taste disorders was founded in 2012 and is working to raise awareness of the impact that such conditions have on people’s quality of life and support further research in this area.

Obviously I think this is very important work – not just because of my profession, but because I think there needs to be more awareness of this issue, and much more help for those affected.

Fifth Sense is running an awareness campaign, and they have declared 27th of February as Anosmia Awareness Day. Basenotes will be participating on the day, The Perfume Society‘s Scented Letter has featured Louise Woollam who lost her sense of smell following a cold (and the Guardian will be interviewing her on the 28th of February).

Fifth Sense Founder Duncan Boak is delivering a talk at the ‘Body and the City’ symposium at Goldsmiths College on 27th February. His talk, entitled ‘Connecting Through Smell’, will focus on how the sense of smell forms a crucial emotive connection to the world around us.

Volunteers are also delivering Anosmia Awareness Day leaflets to doctors’ surgeries.

What can we do?

Please donate (even a small amount) on the Fifth Sense donation page.

Please tweet, InstaGram and Facebook about the Anosmia Awareness Day and what you would miss most if you lost your sense of smell, using the hashtag #LongLostSmell – some of your posts will appear on the Fifth Sense Storify page.

LongLostSmelltag

Let’s raise awareness of this important issue!

Ditch the coffee beans – why the popular perfume sales meme is wrong

Coffee beansOne of the most persistent myths in fragrance sales is the ‘coffee bean’ one – you’ll have seen pots of coffee beans on perfume counters to ‘cleanse your palate’ between trying out different scents. Turns out, sniffing coffee is just ‘another smell’. You’re better off popping out for a bit of fresh air, or sniffing your own, unscented sleeve (or skin).

There was even a study to check whether sniffing a) coffee beans, b) lemon, or c) air improved odour identification afterwards:

Fragrance sellers often provide coffee beans to their customers as a “nasal palate cleanser,” to reduce the effects of olfactory adaptation and habituation. To test this idea, college students smelled three fragrances multiple times, rating odors each time. After completing nine trials, participants sniffed coffee beans, lemon slices, or plain air. Participants then indicated which of four presented fragrances had not been previously smelled. Coffee beans did not yield better performance than lemon slices or air.

Avery Gilbert wrote about the coffee bean meme in his book, What the Nose Knows:

…the two founders of DigiScents, Inc. Joel and Dexster had come up with a small unit that could release innumerable combinations of scent when activated by a digital signal from a personal computer. Stanford graduates, with degrees in bioscience and engineering, respectively, they had previously started a successfull genomics company. Neither of them knew beans about smell. That’s why I had been hired a few months earlier – to bring a working knowledge of sensory science and the fragrance industry to the new venture. I thought their coffee stunt was silly. I’d seen beans at a trade show, but had never heard of a perfumer using them. Still, Joel and Dexster had an unnerring sense of publicity – a useful talent for founders of a Silicon Valley startup. So I sat back and watched with inward eye-rolling as the meme of a “reset button for your nose” was launched into digital culture.

The bean meme is now a fixture in perfume retailing. I toured the Mall at Short Hills, New Jersey, recently and marveled at how thoroughly it has taken root. At the Angel counter in Nordstrom a glass cone full of coffee beans was held aloft on a brushed metal stand. In Bloomingdale’s the beans were in a cocktail glass. The Jo Malone display in Saks had them in an apothecary jar with a metal lid. It’s all good fun and marketing, but there is not a jot of science behind it.

Read more in What the Nose Knows, and Avery’s excellent blog.

Have you ever noticed how you don’t smell what your home smells of until you come back from holiday? Have you ever wondered how people can work in smelly jobs – hauling refuse; at a fishmonger; in a fragrance factory…? Our brains are wired to mainly detect differences in our environment. So when you smell a particular smell for long enough, our brains decide that it’s safe and can now be ignored. In that sense, the idea of sniffing something other than perfume is actually not a bad punt for ‘cleansing the palate’ between trying out perfumes.

If you want to smell more than a couple of scents in one go, you could try to alternate between the types of scent you’re smelling to avoid encountering similar notes. So switch between citrus scents and oriental scents, or fougeres and fruity florals.

Drinking a glass of water and going for a bit of fresh air are probably your best bet.

Perfumers use ‘nose-blindness’ as a technique to decipher the structure of a fragrance they are trying to analyse. This can be done in a number of ways – one of which is taking a material you know to be in the scent, smelling it until you go ‘nose blind’ and sniffing the fragrance immediately afterwards – that note will appear ‘deleted’ from the scent. Another way is to sniff scents during different points in their evaporation curve.

When shopping for scent, go in with enough time to dip in and out of sniffing, and don’t let yourself be pressured into making an instant decision.

(Photo via MorgueFile).