Saturday, 9 August 2014

Nose in training: what you learn when you start noticing fragrances

(in the style of the famous 7 Quick Takes)

This week's Conversion Diary's 7 Quick Takes talk about fragrances! I cannot afford a set of essential oils like that "Oils of the Bible" one, but I have some samples/imps of BPAL's oils to be tested and some may have the notes/oils referred.

The "Oils of the Bible" are: 1) Aloes/sandalwood (Santalum album); 2) Cassia (Cinnamomium cassia); 3) Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica); 4) Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens); 5) Frankincense (Olibanum - Boswellia carteri); 6) Galbanum (Ferula gummosa); 7) Hyssop (Hyssopus officinallis); 8) Myrrh (Commifora myrrha); 9) Myrtle (Myrtus communis); 10) Onycha (Styrax benzoin); 11) Rose of Sharon/Cystus (Labdanum/Cystus ladanifer); 12) Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi).

Basenotes and Fragrantica are great sources of information. I have been taking notes of the classifications (floral, oriental, chypre, etc) and notes they refer in fragrances I have. The idea is to retry the perfumes with that knowledge and try to find the notes and understand the perfume family in a olfactory way, not just an intellectual way.

Speaking of Basenotes, the people in the forum are very helpful! I haven't tried the Fragrantica forum so that I do not overwhelm myself :)

So many smells in real life are more complex than they seem, if you pay attention! This week I ate an apple (I ate several, but this one is special) while paying attention to the olfactory experience. This particular apple is of a variety I hadn't eaten in a long time (this variety only exists in the summer as it doesn't keep well like other varieties).

Well, when biting into it, as I just cut the apple skin and the apple juice isn't yet coming to be tasted, I stopped. It smelled like dried mini roses, those very perfumed ones! Afterwards, when eating the apple, the perfume of the apple flesh (which in this variety is not so green, more of a warm fresh apple) covered this dried rose note, but if I bite slowly, there it is, just before the strong apple smell.

Other varieties of apple I tasted since then do not have a skin that is so fragrant, though.

I vaguely remember that in my mind Chypre (spelled like this or with an "i") has always been related to perfumes, specifically with high-end soap. Probably one of the "good soaps" that were used to perfume woolen clothes and avoid moths. I am sure we later used them as soaps. I am now curious about perfumed soaps, even though I am now a bit limited on their use.

The thing is: I have sensitive skin and in some skin areas I must be really careful on what I apply. I am lucky that it is not allergy per se, so as far as I choose the non-sensitive areas (I usually perfume my wrists now) I am OK.

In the matter of perfumed soaps and bath gels, unless they're specifically formulated for sensitive skin (and even in that case I have to test them carefully) I can only use them on my arms, legs and lower torso. My face, neck and upper torso (not all upper torso, just the front and back decolletage) are sensitive and lots of products that I can use elsewhere make me itch or make my skin red and scaly if I use them in those areas.

I miss being able to use perfume in my face and neck as I could before my late teens, when my skin changed a lot. But this is both an opportunity to enjoy perfume in a more deliberate way (wearing it on the wrists means I am not always smelling it, so I can re-smell it as it evolves with a "cleaner" nose) and also an opportunity to look into other sources of fragrance. And an opportunity to enjoy the very few perfumes which I can actually wear on my face and neck :)

Tricks I've learned from the few times I tried perfumes on my sensitive skin areas:

- The face is the most sensitive place, and the one where I've completely stopped using soaps and perfumes. I am lucky that some of the (expensive, alas!) face creams and specific gels and non-soapy cleaning bars have wonderful, non-sensitizing, natural perfumes. They usually do not last long (up to 30 minutes, except one or two cases which I can use as long as my skin is not breaking red, just the normal dryness and pinkness), but they do smell natural and great.

- I am also lucky that I like the smell of zinc oxide-based cosmetics (when my skin is better I could wear normal foundation, but I am lazy; when it is worse, it has to be mineral dry foundation and a spritz of chamomile water to set it).

- On my neck and decolletage I can sometimes wear alcohol-based fragrances, but the safest bet are usually oils or, even better, solid fragrances. I rarely wear any perfume there, though. But it is not impossible.

- I can wear perfume safely on my earlobes, but not always on my hair (some perfumes make my hair sting my upper back!).

- Finally, when you start using mostly unscented (the less-expensive products for sensitive skin are really unscented) products in an are so near to your nose, you start noticing your own smell. In a good way. I like my natural (clean) smell. And I found that in the summer, as long as you don't let sweat sit for too long and get rancid, it actually smells nice.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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