Have you ever had a fragrance that smells fantastic on your friend but not so good on yourself? Trust us, we’ve all been there, and it’s not pretty. It’s downright frustrating! The reverse is also true, people recognizing you from the lovely scent you emit, whereas when friends try to emulate your perfume of choice they just don’t quite get the same effect. Why does this happen? It all boils down to skin chemistry.

One of the most frequent questions we get here at LKNU is how personal chemistry interacts with fine fragrance, and how to enhance a fragrance’s appeal on skin, so we resolved to solve this problem for you.

Skin chemistry is not an arcane field of New Age stuff. It’s solid science, and therefore can be explained. The way your genes work, your skin’s perspiration levels, and whether it’s oily or dry, the way you eat (whether you’re an omnivore or a vegan), the prescription drugs that you might be taking, whether you’re smoking or drinking, all these factors affect the pH of your skin. And although you can’t change the way your genes work, you can definitely work around all the other factors, or make subtle changes that would ameliorate the way fragrances perform on your skin.

But what is pH balance anyway?

The pH is a numeric scale that indicates how acidic or alkaline something is. On the chemistry pH scale, which ranges from 1 to 14, 7 is neutral; below 7 it’s acidic, and above 7 it’s alkaline. What does that have to do with your skin? A healthy skin has a natural pH of 4.7, i.e. it has what is called an acid mantle. This helps keep moisture in and harmful bacteria out. Harsh soaps and detergents compromise that “acid mantle” of your skin, making it more susceptible to environmental sensitisation, which might also include some of your scented products. Therefore one simple method of making fragrance perform better is by taking care of your skin; a little TLC, so to speak, inspecting what you wash with, and how well moisturised it is. A healthy skin holds fragrance better and rarely gets irritated by scent. Which bring us to the next matter, sebum production.

Your acid mantle is made up of amino and lactic acids, in addition to sebum. Human sebum consists of squalene, esters of glycerol, wax and cholesterol esters, as well as free cholesterol and fatty acids.

According to how productive your skin is in sebum it’s categorised as oily, dry, or normal. The fun part comes when you consider that all these natural substances, as well as the odorous steroids from your apocrine glands (yes, those in your armpit region, ear, and nether regions as well), interact with your fragrance!

Simply put, an oily skin retains fragrance longer and it also gives it a “heavier” smell, whereas fragrance tends to fly off dry skin, because it doesn’t adhere as much, so you’re advised to supplement with some body lotion or oil underneath. This is also one aspect of why drier skin types benefit from spraying fragrance not right after a bath, but waiting for the skin to settle and start producing a bit of its own fatty acids. Drier skin types can also carry heavier or sweeter (gourmand) scents better, as these do not tend to overwhelm the way a very oily skin might. Therefore Crema di Latte (Hilde Soliani), Tihota (Indult), and Santal Basmati (Affinessence) are made for you, drier skin brigade! You can spray on that bit more extra!

Perspiration also has an impact. 

The heavier sweating individuals usually know it, and tend to religiously use deodorants, soap/wash, or antiperspirants. However by using such a product,  you’re essentially killing off the fragrance you put on later on. Some of the molecules in the scent formula are negated from the deodorant session, and therefore you’re missing out on part of the scent you bought with your hard-earned cash. If you perspire a lot, you might either try putting antiperspirant only in the armpit region, where the majority of the bacteria breakdown produces unwanted off products, or try using natural rock crystal for a deodorant which tends not to shift the scent of your cologne. 

Sweat, regular sweat, also makes some gender discrimination.

Some research in Switzerland involved taking armpit sweat samples from 24 men and 25 women, after they had spent time in a sauna or ridden an exercise bike for 15 minutes. "Men smell of cheese, and women of grapefruit or onion," said Christian Starkenmann of Firmenich, a company in Geneva that researches flavours & perfumes for food and cosmetics companies. According to the study women's armpit sweat contained relatively high levels of an odourless sulphur-containing compound - 5 milligrams per millilitre of sweat, versus 0.5 milligrams in men". Sulphur-rich materials include onions, garlic and grapefruit (which is why so often grapefruit scents can turn "garlicky" and sour on many women). It turns out that when this ingredient interacts with bacteria present in the axilla, it creates a chemical called thiol—which is the culprit for smelling like…onions. Men, on the other hand, showed increased levels of an odourless fatty acid, which gives off a cheesy smell once it mixes with the armpit bacteria. This indicates they might want to be careful with so called “creamy” scents, which by their correlation with milk might reinforce that cheesy impression. The ladies however are having a field day with them.

Citrus scents, apart from the sulphurous grapefruit, nevertheless, have traditionally been linked to warm climates, hot weather activities, sports fragrances, and wellness formulas. A component in their chemical makeup helps lessen the effect of sweat perception, plus they create a sense of elation and well-being, being uplifting scents. Lime is especially pleasant to almost everybody, as in Eau d’Été (Parfums de Nicolai) and Mon Vetiver (Essential Parfums), and so is mandarin. You can swoon in the refreshing Le Barbier de Tanger (MDCI) for the latter. A ray of sunshine and good will.

Cumin on the contrary is a spice that presents a bit of a challenge, as it can be excreted in sweat, both when consumed internally, and when used in a fine fragrance. It gives a wonderfully warm and intimate ambience, really sexy, and is considered a stabilising oil in aromatherapy. At LKNU we carry such delightful and naughty cumin-laced scents as Ambilux (Marlou). However cumin might turn off some over-sensitive noses, so discretion is advised, and you’d better withhold when out on your first date with someone new! The same goes for animalic scents, a category which can be subliminally erotic, but requires a bit of getting to know you first. Keep them for hot dates, intimate sessions, and wherever they might be appreciated in close quarters…

If you love the smell of a particular scent on another person or on a tester strip, but you’re still finding it just doesn’t work on your skin, there are some alternative solutions. Try wearing the fragrance in your hair, or on fabric such as a shirt or even a scarf if it’s cold enough.

Armed with all that knowledge, you’re now free to roam the jungle of aromatics, and spray till you drop, if you so wish. You’re set to come out victorious, with something complimentary to your skin.

©2023 Arlette - LKNU Parfumerie.