Perfume and Our Compatibility: Why We Like Other’s Smells - Or Not

Perfume and Our Compatibility: Why We Like Other’s Smells - Or Not

Did you know that the first impression is guided by the sense of smell, the tiniest, subliminally perceived scent trail can affect the sympathy value of a person? However, if you perceive this smell clearly, then the consciousness immediately counteracts it, and reason gains the upper hand.


Perfumes are among the most ephemeral of all luxury goods. The story ranges from fragrant smoke to appease the gods to sensual aphrodisiacs to the fragrant accessory of our times.

The word “perfume” comes from the Latin per fumum (through smoke). Fragrant smoke was supposed to appease the gods and make people's prayers heard more quickly.

Perfumes: Luxurious Memories

Plants from the root to the flower and animals (musk, ambergris) were the original main suppliers of the fragrance. Due to the finest ingredients such as rose oil, the production of which was extremely complex and therefore very expensive, perfumes have always belonged to the category of luxury goods.  

Due to the expensive production costs and also because one kilogram of rose oil costs more than $7,000, not a single perfume is made exclusively from natural substances today.

Pure perfumes can cost up to $500 per 50 ml. Above all, it is the mix that makes the difference. What applies to the caproic acid of the billy goat also applies to the most expensive perfume: in small doses it is wonderful, but too much of it stinks very badly. 

30 million olfactory cells, which transmit their impressions to the brain in fractions of a second, ensure the impression of smell. There, feelings such as affection, rejection, appetite, or disgust are then triggered. Scents are primarily responsible for evoking memories. Every scent triggers unconscious emotions in us.


Sniff Out the Right Partner

Our choice of partner is also strongly influenced by our sense of smell. Women, in particular, have the ability to literally "sniff out" a partner who has a genetic makeup that is as contradictory as possible. This happens unconsciously but ensures that the children have the best possible conditions for a healthy life.

However, the hormones that are responsible for individual body odor are often disrupted by the medications that someone is taking, for example, antibiotics, antidepressants, or contraceptive pills, so wrong decisions often happen.

What Science Says About Perfumes and Compatibility

Everyone smells differently, but what exactly do you smell on someone else? The answer lies in the genes. These are the genes of the MHC, the major histocompatibility complex.


In humans, there are more than a hundred variants of almost each of the nine MHC genes, also called MHC alleles. Since every human has at least 12 MHC alleles, it is almost impossible for two unrelated humans to have exactly the same MHC protein pattern.

This is very important for potential mating partners because it influences body odor. The ideal partner brings along genes that you don't have yourself. And this otherness is signaled by body odor.

A study in the mid-1990s looked at men's and women's preferences for different perfumes. Interestingly, those individuals who possessed a similar collection of immune genes also chose the same scents.

Here's how science explains it: "While choosing our own perfume to have 'genetically appropriate makeup' that amplifies our body odor messages (the very 12 MHC alleles one has should be signaled), we choose the partner because of his optimal otherness - he should just bring genes that we don't have ourselves (and is accordingly afflicted with a different scent)." 

And nature has taken good care of that because the purpose of reproduction also lies in the new combination of genes in the offspring. 

The Perfume Fragrance Is More Than a Luxury Trend

In a study at Duke University, scientists found that no two people on earth perceive a specific smell in the same way. A difference at the smallest level of DNA—an amino acid in a gene—can determine whether you find a specific smell pleasant. This depends on the receptors, which are activated differently in each person.

There are about 400 genes for these receptors in the human nose and more than 900,000 variations of these genes. These receptors control sensors that determine how we smell. A certain scent activates a number of receptors in the nose and sends a signal to the brain.

These receptors work differently in each person, explains Hiroaki Matsunami, a professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University School of Medicine. 

"If you compare the receptors of two people, they differ by about 30%," explains Matsunami.

To determine what drives the receptors, his team cloned more than 500 receptors from 20 people each. These receptors showed a slight deviation of only one or two amino acids. They were then systematically exposed to odor molecules to stimulate the receptors.

The amazing result: Not even two people in the world perceive a scent as the same. According to Matsunami, this research could have a major impact on the flavor, fragrance, and food industries.

Treat Your Perfume Like a Treasure

If you want to choose from hundreds of natural fragrances and designer perfumes, it's not that easy. Once you found the one that resonates well with your body and soul, you want to use it to the last drop. How do you make the most out of your perfume investment?

  • Most fragrances consist of a sequence of top, middle and base notes. What you smell when you first spray it is the top note. If it slowly fades away, you approach the heart note, which in turn merges into the base note. 
  • For this reason, perfume can offer very different aspects. A pure, concentrated perfume lasts longer on oily skin than on dry skin, but your own body oils can also change the scent significantly.
  • You should know beforehand on which occasion and at what time of day you want to wear the fragrance. Then you should try three fragrances on a Kleenex and only test it on your skin after making such a shortlist. 
  • When perfume is dabbed on, you get more character on the skin rather than spraying it on. More than six fragrances can be distinguished by the human nose at most. With perfumes of a similar type, the nose goes on strike after a maximum of three scents.
  • Perfume lasts at least half a year in an opened bottle. When the liquid changes color and becomes viscous, the scent fades and the luxury is spoiled.
  • You can still put an empty perfume bottle to good use. Simply place it open in a closet so that it can continue to gently exude its fragrance.

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