Why can't I smell my own perfume?

Conversations in the IMAGE canteen can often get you thinking about an idea for a piece. In between loading the dishwasher and boiling the kettle this morning, CARA editor Lucy White breezed in, in a cloud of Le Labo. Promptly deducing it was their infamous Santal, we got talking about why you can't smell a fragrance on yourself.

Ironically, we spend a lot of money on it, only for others to be able to smell it and not us. Frustrating, no? Often this results in us applying a lot more than needed in the hopes of a whiff throughout the day.

Related: What fragrance does a perfumer wear
on their wedding day?

All this does is A) ensure you zoom through the bottle, and B) everyone else will be able to smell the amount you applied, which can be overpowering, to say the least.

Why does this happen?


When you first apply scent in the morning you can smell it. However, as the day goes on your nose becomes accustomed to it (so much so, you'd think you hadn't applied it at all). This is called Olfactory Adaptation – or 'nose fatigue' – and is all to do with how our body senses danger. Once we become used to a smell, and our body decides it isn't threatening, it blocks it; making our nose available to new scents and anything potentially harmful.

At the same time, our sense of smell is the biggest pull for nostalgia. It can bring us back to different times in our lives and conjure up strong memories. For me, Burberry Weekend was the first 'grown-up' perfume I ever owned and it always reminds me of a very specific, happy time (also of the Leaving Cert, but I mostly try to blank that out).

A fragrance wardrobe

Ideally, this is why I would love to have a 'fragrance wardrobe'. Instead of sticking to the same perfume until it runs out, I would like an array of different perfumes for different moods.

This is certainly one way to combat not being able to smell your fragrance; as you wear a different one all the time, your nose can't get used to it as quickly. That way, I can waft around smelling like Chanel all day – to me and everyone else. If you like having a signature scent this wouldn't be for you, but I quite like the idea of dipping in and out of different scents for whatever vibe I'm feeling that day.

Obviously, this wouldn't be great for your bank account, but on a grey Thursday afternoon, one can dream.

And, in the spirit of day daydreaming, here is my ultimate list of scents for my fragrance wardrobe; some of which I have already loved and owned, and some to be added to the wish list...


For when you need to be in charge

CREED Green Irish Tweed 30ml; €125 at brownthomas.com

This is outrageously expensive for just 30ml, but it's absolutely worth every penny. Although it's actually a men's fragrance, I personally love it. Described as being as classic as a 'perfectly tailored suit', this is one of their best selling scents. It smells woody but also fresh, and I adore how masculine it smells (which can be quite sexy when worn by a woman). Keep this one for days when you need to be strong and in-charge, such as during an interview, presentation or big event.

When you want to be girly but still grown-up

Chanel Coco Mademoiselle Eau De Parfum; €89.00 at arnotts.ie

Fragrance can be such a difficult thing to write about as it's so personal, and for me, I'm not a fan of overly sweet or girly scents. That being said, Coco Mademoiselle is one of my all time favourites. To me, it is feminine and flirty but never veers into girly territory; with oriental notes making it smell quite fresh, rather than sweet. I would save this one for date night or a special occasion, such as a wedding.



When I want to feel put-together and professional

Jo Malone London Amber & Lavender Cologne 100ml; €109.00 at brownthomas.com

For me, I have never smelt anything like this scent from Jo Malone. One I continuously go back to as I never seem to get bored of it, so much so that I have this in the bath oil and the candle. The scent of this deepens as you wear it, smelling more of amber throughout the day, a great one for when you want to smell clean, put-together and polished.

For when you're feeling moody and mysterious

SANTAL 33 Eau De Parfum 50ml; de parfum: €152.00, at lelabofragrances.com

This is the fragrance that inspired this piece (and also the saddest to be unable to smell on yourself), so it's advisable not to wear it every day. Santal 33 is a unique scent. It's completely unisex; containing spicy, leathery, and musky notes that are quite hard to describe when it all combined together. Good for lovers of Black Orchid and for when you want to feel a little mysterious and different.


For when you want to feel sexy

Chanel Coco Eau De Parfum 35ml,  €65.00 at boots.ie

Is it cheating to have two Chanel perfumes on this list? Maybe, but I couldn't resist adding Coco by Chanel. This is her first fragrance, and one that (to me) smells womanly, grown-up, glamorous and sexy all at once. Wear this when you want to feel your very best (so all the time?). Best paired with a black dress. 

For when you're missing summer

Tom Ford Neroli Portofino 100ml; €262.00 at brownthomas.ie

Definitely not one to buy whilst waiting for January payday, this fragrance from Tom Ford is summer in a bottle. Inspired by 'the cool breezes, sparkling clear water and lush foliage of the Italian Riviera', we can see why this is such a big seller. It sounds positively dreamy.


As winter is when we miss the long hazy days of summer the most, perhaps it's worth the investment to get you through the January Blues.

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