The Nose Knows
Smell is our strongest sense, and the scents we wear are much more than frilly enhancements or attraction tactics. Inhaling fragrance induces a physiological effect in the body and the brain, and studies show that certain scents can reduce stress and enhance performance.
But if you’re like me, you recoil at the mention — and whiff — of most perfumes. While scent certainly has its benefits, it can also distract and repel. Here are five alternative approaches to try if you hate traditional perfume.
Ditch Gender Norms
Western consumers typically assign a prescribed gender to scent (and call the exact same thing by two different names: perfume or cologne), but there’s no absolute definition of what a “masculine” or “feminine” scent is. Scent doesn’t have to be gender specific — anyone alive and spritzing during the ’90s will recall CK One, the groundbreaking unisex scent (with a sexually charged, androgynous ad campaign to match) that flew off the shelves.
If you don’t want to limit yourself to traditionally “feminine” scents, gender-neutral scents have come a long way since Calvin Klein’s first foray.
Think Outside the Bottle
One of the great aversions to conventional perfume is the spray-on method — it covers your clothes and body, as well as your surroundings and anyone in your path. But many fragrance companies are solving that problem with roller balls, liquid balm, dropper dispensers, and solid perfumes. And sometimes their uses are as varied as their formats: Some scents multitask by crossing over from your body into the domestic terrain, allowing you to add a signature scent to every dimension of your life.
- Byredo roller ball scents, $65-$175
These roll-on fragrances, like Oud Immortel, infuse unusual ingredients and unexpected pairings, like tobacco leaves and moss.
- L’Occitane solid perfume, $12
L’Occitane creates affordable solid perfumes that fit in even the smallest evening clutch for touch-ups. I love the simple freshness of the rose scent.
- Dyptique Multi-Use Eaux, $80-$135
You can use this line of sprayable fragrances on your body as well as in your home or as a fabric refresher for clothes or linens.
Push Your Scent Limits
We all want to stand out. If you want to make sure your scent doesn’t blend in with everyone else’s, there are lots of inventive fragrances that don’t immediately scream “perfume.”
- Demeter, $6-$39.50
You probably never thought that dirt, crayons, or condensed milk would be bottled and worn, but Demeter distills these objects’ scented essence and serves them up in sprayable potions.
- Malin + Goetz, $50-$150
Malin + Goetz offers plant-based scents that are lighter than the typical cologne. Try the new Cannabis Perfume Oil for the ultimate anti-perfume scent.
- Min New York, price varies
If you’re feeling daring, look to Min New York’s 1st Dibs section to be the first to sport a new scent, or shop from the Scent Stories section for luxury in a bottle.
Our personal scent is as unique as our fingerprint, so it should come as no surprise that what smells good on one person doesn’t always play nicely with the body chemistry of another. More than a third of consumers prefer custom products over mass-produced perfumes.
- Fragrance Shop New York, $46 and up
You can choose from more than 200 scents (and an oil or alcohol base) to make a custom fragrance, and they’ll note the “recipe” so you can re-create it in the future.
- Jo Malone, $60 and up
The British fragrance house produces clean, unexpected scents and encourages scent layering by mixing and matching within its line. Stop into a counter at a department store to experiment, or use the interactive site to transform and customize.
- Le Labo, $70 and up
Le Labo may not allow you to customize the scent, but the company does customize the bottle by printing a unique label with your name plus the date and location of preparation, and its expiration date. Try Ambrette 9, which is intended to subtly mimic the scent of a baby … because who can resist that?
Go All Natural
Many conventional perfumes contain toxic ingredients, making the hunt for natural products a worthy quest. One option is to make your own fragrance using essential oils. Some essential oils smell heavenly; have antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties; and can calm nerves.
Mix the essential oil with a base oil and dab on. Or for a more complex scent, experiment with multiple base and top notes. Try lavender — it’s particularly soothing for the nerves, and a hint of lemon facilitates concentration and clarity.
For those less inclined toward the DIY approach, there are several companies committed to both organic ingredients and appealing scents.
- A Perfume Organic, $65
These perfumes are certified organic and come in ecofriendly packaging. The bottles look like traditional perfume bottles, but feature a roll-on application.
- Pour La Monde, $82
Pour La Monde is one of only two companies with fragrances certified by the Natural Products Association. It’s a splurge you can feel good about: 10 percent of net sales go to charity.
- Tsila Organics, $44-$125
These organic flower- and plant-based perfumes are made of fruits, vitamins, and minerals, and are cruelty free and vegan. The company’s ingredients list helpfully details all the mental and physiological benefits of each ingredient, so you can choose your perfume based on ailments and goals, not just scent preference.
Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is a sociologist, entrepreneur, and the "thinking person's stylist." She is the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image and culture-related issues and offers holistic image consulting and life coaching services. Find out more and follow her on Twitter.