2011 National Sense of Smell Day

1920's actress Mary Astor

Sense of smell. I know that all of my readers are “sensory” people. We all understand descriptors like “damp”, “bitter”, and “dry” when we speak of fragrance. I find that many of my readers are also foodies and can equally “read” a description of a flavor/taste and understand. As a sensory person, I thought all people had this skill. I spent childhood rubbing various leaves between my fingers, sniffing them, and “filing” those smells in my brain. I spent adolescence sniffing every bottle of perfume I could get my hands on, keeping a journal of scents in a teal composition notebook. I also enjoyed unpleasant odors (sulfur water, mildew) and realized that the sense of smell increases our safety. I thought everyone could detect the smell of a wood fire versus an electrical fire, etc. I thought that we all had smell. I mean they don’t do a routine “smell” screener at the pediatrician like they do with vision and hearing. I believed this until my late teens when I started working at a perfume counter.

I realized that not all people enjoy scents. They don’t wear perfumes and often dislike “smelly” foods and environments. I suppose these people have hyperosmia, an increased ability of smell and this causes them to be easily offended by odors. Others have a “weak” sense of smell, hyposmia, usually describing scents as “good” or “bad”. Some people have temporary or permanent anosmia, an inability to smell. I have been asked by people to help them choose a perfume because they can’t smell. They listed their personality traits and how they would like to be perceived and I would help them find a match. This is when a good looking bottle really pays off in the industry. 😉

Leaving the perfume counter after college and working as a speech therapist, I was introduced to a new aspect in the world of smell and taste. Many of the children I work with have autism or spectrum disorders. Most of these children have sensory integration disorders. This makes the world an even more confusing place for these kids. They avoid foods because of taste and texture. I’ve done no formal research (yet) but most of these kids dislike chocolate, peaches, and most fruit because the “flavor is too strong“. I work on introducing flavors and controlling reactions to these flavors. In extreme cases, when the child doesn’t eat anything, I usually the numb the mouth with ice, decreasing taste, with the hope to diversify diet. These children also need “trained” on smelling, for example, the smell of a fire, for safety. Think of it like a fire drill for the nose. Some of the kids are very aware of smell, others not. I suspect synesthesia in many but they lack the verbal skills to communicate that at this time.

Working with this group, I’ve heard some interesting comments, the sort of comments that only I, a fumehead, would understand:

I’m not going outside. Do you smell the mushrooms?!” – Yes, I did but nobody else could smell the mycelium. That’s in touch with nature, especially for a 5 year old.

Motor group smells like Blue crayons and you smell like Peach.” – Peach. Really? That’s the ugliest crayon in the box. I need to rebrand myself. I want to be Robin’s Egg Blue.

Chocolate melts my face.” – I completely understand. I avoided chocolate 90% of my life because it made me feel uncomfortable. It’s a drug. 🙂

Peppermint makes the best sound. Lavender is too quiet.” – What does civet sound like?

National Sense of Smell Day is a day to think about and use our sense of smell. My sense of smell is dear to me. It’s my way of exploring and enjoying the world. It’s my hobby; I cook and write about fragrance. All of the things I love to do involve smell: perfume blogging, mushroom hunting, blending spices, cooking, and drinking tea. And my sense of smell has helped me out professionally, never expected that. I often think about going back to school for chemistry. I’m finding myself obsessed with the science end of it all.

Other fragrance bloggers are participating today. Google “Sense of Smell Day” and hopefully, they’ll be there. For more insight of my scent memories and sense of smell, here’s my post.

1920’s era picture of Mary Astor from

4 thoughts on “2011 National Sense of Smell Day

  1. This is such a cool post, and I really loved reading about your students’ comments, and their unique challenges. My favorite is “chocolate melts my face”. I grew up not caring for chocolate all that much (and even now, it takes some unique kind of chocolate to hold my interest… Ramen chocolate, anyone?). When I was a kid, I remember complaining to my mother that certain foods made my salivary glands overreact, and it would be painful. Doesn’t happen as much now, but to this day I have no idea if that’s normal or not.
    Carrie Meredith recently posted..Fifi Awards Consumers Choice Voting Now Open- and a brief review of Aftelier Honey Blossom

    1. I didn’t eat chocolate until my early 20’s. I never enjoyed the way it made me feel, like my face was melting off! I don’t know if it is normal or not, I’d say no 🙂 But, we turned out OK, right?

  2. What a beautifully said post. I always knew your knowledge of scents is amazing, but the how and why behind them is even more fascinating. I often feel like I have what I call a “super sniffer” (which I curse because it holds me back from many a lip gloss!) but thinking about it in scientific terms is interesting. What am I smelling? Mineral Oil. Mineral oil = bad! Don’t put that on your lips!

    Plus, I know now that I truly enjoy my face melting off!
    Stef | we heart this recently posted..Bobbi Brown Peony and Python palette – review- photos & swatches

    1. Glad you enjoyed the read. I often think that I’m hyposomia since I love strong smells (and flavors) but that I’m “in touch” with notes. Or maybe I have hypersomia but I’m not easily offended…I just know that I’m “in touch” with smells.

      Mineral oil is icky and I bet having a super sense 😉 does make cosmetic choices more difficult!

      I know understand the pleasure of a melting face!

Comments are closed.