the science behind fragrance and smell

Understanding the Fascinating Science Needed to Create Body Sprays

April 1, 2016 - Emily Newton

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Smell is a powerful sense. Humans can recognize thousands of fragrances with a pair of small odor-detecting patches consisting of five or six million cells in nasal passages. Although humans possess the ability to smell, how each person perceives a fragrance can vary widely.

Perfumes and body sprays are no exceptions. You take part in mini science experiments every time you spritz on your favorite scent. How? Different scents and colognes smell wildly differently to different people. It all depends on how the product reacts to your body. Let’s take a closer look at the science behind these smells.

Body Chemistry & Fragrance

When you add a perfume to the skin, it interacts with the body and the chemicals in it. Although it might not seem like there’s much to interact with, there is much more than meets the eye.

The outermost layer of skin on the human body is the epidermis. It is made up of a variety of molecules. The most common molecule is water, which is very prevalent in the body. In fact, 50-70% of body’s weight is water.

The other molecules present are organic molecules. Carbohydrates are sugars used by the cells for energy. Lipids are fats, and there are proteins, which include hormones and enzymes.

All of these molecules interact with substances that come into contact with the skin. Depending on the quantity of each molecule, a variation on the original scent will result. No two bodies can or will respond to a fragrance in the same way.


What and how much of a scent can be detected is dependent upon age. It’s believed that smell is most accurate in adults aged 30 to 60 years. After that, the ability to pick-up odors begins to decline, resulting in elderly individuals experiencing a weak sense of smell.


Regardless of age, women possess a more accurate sense of smell than men. A study at the Monell Chemical Senses Center found that women have sharper noses and can distinguish more smells.  They tested the ability of a fragrance to block out the smell of sweat.  The results: nineteen versus two for men and women respectively! So next time you yell at your man for smelling or having a smelly room, remember he might not be able to notice.


Think about the last time you had a head cold. Your ability to smell is almost, if not entirely, depleted. Infections and injury to the head can cause olfactory problems, as can hormonal imbalances or dental issues.

Exposure to some chemicals including insecticides can cause a diminished smelling ability, too. You can include smoking as part of these compounds as well because it impairs sense of smell and the ability to identify odors.


Perfumes can expand in hotter temperatures and contract in the cold. The same scent may present itself differently depending on the atmospheric conditions.

For instance, when the body is in hotter climates, its natural mechanisms kick in to cool down. This results in the pores opening and sweating begins. This change in the body affects the scent. It can boost the fragrance to become more noticeable.

No two people possess the exact same sense of smell, and no two bodies interact with a fragrance in an identical way. Multiple factors influence what scent a perfume, body spray, or cologne will create. These factors also affect an individual’s ability to detect each of the scents.

Don’t rush out and purchase a perfume because you like it on someone else. How it responds to your body may not produce the same resulting scent. Avoid buying a fragrance impulsively. This would be comparative to a mad scientist mixing chemicals in a lab. Disaster could strike at any moment; in your case, you could walk around smelling worse than you intended.

When testing a fragrance, don’t put it on a blotter and take a sniff. Spray it on your skin and see if and how it comes alive. You need to know how it will react with your personal body chemistry, as well as your body temperature. Do this throughout an entire day and observe how the scent develops over time. Keep this in mind next time you go to the store. If you still enjoy the scent after that, go back and buy it. Your friends will thank you.

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.


Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the Editor in Chief of Revolutionized. She manages the sites publishing schedule, SEO optimization and content strategy. Emily enjoys writing and researching articles about how technology is changing every industry. When she isn't working, Emily enjoys playing video games or curling up with a good book.


  1. Syed Aashir Hussain on May 18, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    informative article i like it.

    • Emily Newton on May 19, 2016 at 10:50 am

      I’m glad you liked it! That last tip from the Reddit user was my favorite find. I literally use that all the time now and tell anyone I know who has a smartphone.

    • Emily Newton on December 20, 2016 at 11:29 am

      I’m glad you like the post! Thanks Syed!

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