Wednesday, May 31, 2006

ASK MARLEN: Habituation

Hi Marlen,

Please can you explain a bit more about 'longevity' with perfumes: I've always understood that it is not the wearer who is the best judge - the wearer's nose is quickly saturated by the scent and can not judge its intensity after a very short time; it's the sniffers who could best judge longevity. It seems to me that the result is that the wearer applies more and more scent, and the sniffers are overwhelmed.....

PDear P,

This is a great topic of much debate right now as more and more people complain of fellow citizens wearing offensive fragrances that cause somatic reactions. In fact, my next Basenotes' 'Addicted' column will be on that very issue. But back to the matter at nose?

It's true, our own noses do betray us and cannot perceive our fragrances at the same intensity over time that other people we come into contact with can. This is why longevity is usually a matter of great subjectivity. However, there are some fragrances that for whatever reason - concentration of oils, specific compositions, reaction with the wearer's skin - that do have much better lasting power. When appraising fragrances, etxraneous factors abound; our health, competing aromas, how much fragrance is applied, etc. can all affect how we perceive a scent's longevity.

Here's some fascinating info and links:
  • anosmia - when an individual has the inability to perceive a specific odor.
  • hyposmia - not a total inability, but a diminished capacity to perceive an odor.
  • habituation - when we need more and more of something, in this case, an odor, in order to sense it. As part of our primitive fight or flight responses, our brains learned to diminish the perception of an odor over time so that other odors could more be readily perceived.
  • Kallman Syndrome - Now here's the super combo meal of odd disorders (notice the prevalence of 'micropenis'...there's a word you don't toss about in daily conversation): Hypogonadotropic hypogonadism (wait, wait...what was that? Ok...try saying it ten times fast) combined with Congenital (present from birth) anosmia or hyposmia.
Hope this helps!

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