Did you know that your sense of smell is even more unique than your fingerprint? No two humans are alike in their sense of smell.

This explains so much when I ask my husband “does this smell good?”. The sense of smell or olfaction, is our body’s process of detecting chemicals floating in the air.

This is the most primal of all of our senses and it is believed to have had great importance for early humans to detect dangers, fear, and even sexual attractions.

Learning the proper way to smell can stretch our fragrance dollars and help us to refine our fragrance choices.



Chemicals enter the nose and dissolve in a mucous membrane called the olfactory epithelium which is made up of about five or six million cells. The olfactory epithelium is located about 2.7 inches up into the nose from the nostrils opening.

Humans have about 40 million olfactory receptors. This may sound like a lot, but some animals have many more olfactory receptors.

The elephant is the king of animal sniffers with almost 2000 olfactory receptors they can distinguish odor molecules with very subtle structural differences that humans and other primates completely miss.

Modern science actually does not know what causes the olfactory receptors to work. But it is known that the electrical activity produced in the hair cells transmit to the olfactory bulb.

From here, the olfactory tract transmits signals to the brain; the brain, being part of the limbic system, is involved with emotional behavior and memory. This is why the sense of smell can make you feel a certain way AND evoke memories, this is called Scent Memory!

Our human noses are also the main organ of taste as well as smell. The taste-buds on our tongues can only distinguish four separate qualities; sour, sweet, bitter, and salt. Refinement of taste happens in the olfactory receptors.




Learning to smell happens gradually but often peaks around the age of 8 years old but some people retain smell sensitivity well into their 80’s.

The refinement of the sense of smell is associated with each individual’s mental and physical health. Many perfumers are actually trained in detecting specific molecules in order to refine their trade.

Part of the training is learning to not over tax the scent receptors by smelling directly or for too long a period of time. Training happens gradually and relies heavily on scent memory and association.



The condition of having no sense of smell is called Anosmia.

About two million people in the U.S. have this condition. Anosmia  is the inability to perceive odor or a lack of functioning olfaction. Anosmia may be temporary such as with a bad cold or sinus issues, but traumatic anosmia can be permanent.

Anosmia due to an inflammation of the nasal mucosa,  blockage of nasal passages will often correct itself when the condition changes.

Certain types of scents can also produce anosmia; musk’s, violet notes, and other aroma compounds may not be detected by one person but clearly recognized by another.

Traumatic brain injury from accident or stroke, causing a destruction of one part of the temporal lobe, is often permanent and cannot be undone and is considered permanent anosmia.

Over-taxing the scent membrane can also lead to temporary anosmia making it difficult for bath and body manufacture’s, like soap makers, to detect the potency of their fragrance.

Learning how to smell the right way is very important for those people who work with fragrance.


NO Bottle Smelling

There is much to learn about our ability to smell and to choose our fragrances for our products.

Smelling “out of a bottle” is never recommended as it overpowers and bombards the olfactory receptors. Instead, use a fragrance test strip specifically designed for this purpose.

It is a common misconception that using Q-tips, blotter paper, index cards and other paper products are acceptable, unfortunately this is not the case.

All the above mentioned contain bleach and chemical treatments and will alter the chemical composition of the scent. Also, fragrance test blotters, are designed to slowly release the scent to allow judgment of natural diffusion or fading of the scent.

When testing, it is advised to name, date, and time stamp your test material and then record the scent changes as they naturally occur.

Record scent strength and changes over time, record particular notes (herbal, floral, spice, etc.), ask others for their opinions as we now know that everyone smells differently.

Keep a journal, the supplier, the cost, the performance and your opinion from testing can go a long way in stretching your fragrance dollar.



Choosing a fragrance can prove a difficult choice for the soap maker. It is often one of the more expensive materials that are included in our production of quality hand crafted soaps.

Fragrance descriptions are often written to entice the buyer with fantasy notes and whimsical pictures that are often subject to interpretation.

Like with any of the chosen materials we use in our creations we should be selective as to our fragrance choices. Test the fragrance from an olfactory point of view but do so with an understanding of how the process works and remember don’t just get the sniffies, test the sniffies too and do so with the correct methods.

Remember, you are unique and so is your sense of smell. What works for you may not work for others. Expand your knowledge of fragrance and your ability to smell. Then go out and scent the world with your unique soaps and products.

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