The science of smelling good

For perfume aficionados, there’s no greater compliment than, “oh, you smell good”. But smelling good to others is about more than just a good fragrance and personal hygiene.

In fact, it might even be hardwired in our DNA.

The way we smell to potential love interests is a huge selling point (just look at fragrance ads for proof).

But have you ever bought a fragrance that smells amazing on your friend, but disappointingly lacklustre on you?

It comes down to our unique body chemistry, pH level and skin type, which affect how fragrances react when applied to the skin.

A natural link

We all gravitate to different notes, sillages and fragrance groups, but scientists believe people subconsciously gravitate to perfumes and colognes that complement or enhance their natural scent.

While there’s still debate about whether human pheromones exist, it is widely accepted that animals use pheromones for chemical communication with members of the same species.

That may be for mating, but also to help mothers and their offspring find each other if they become separated.

Research suggests humans unknowingly communicate with each another in a similar way, unconsciously emitting chemical signals and scents to help us scope out potential mates.

It relates to major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a collection of proteins that regulate our immune system.

According to scientists, people smell most attractive to each other if their MHC is vastly different – because this will result in potential offspring having a stronger immune system.

How personality affects your smell

One of the most interesting findings about how humans perceive others’ scents has nothing to do with chemical attraction, but rather our personality traits.

One study found that people could guess someone’s personality just by smelling their T-shirt – particularly when it came to figuring out how outgoing, anxious or dominant they were.

Which fragrances match which personality traits?


Linked to high testosterone, outspokenness and confidence, people with this trait tend to gravitate towards unisex, woody/spicy fragrances that are long wearing.

We like: Si Giorgio Armani for Women (50ml, $89.99), Yves Saint Laurent Opium Black EDP (50ml, $89.99) and Dior Sauvage EDT (100ml, $140)


Self-confessed introverts approach fragrances cautiously, typically going for soft, inoffensive scents.

We like Stella McCartney for Women EDP (100ml, $89.99), Bvlgari Rose Essentielle EDP (50ml, $49.99) and Jimmy Choo Man EDT (200ml, $129.99) 


People who are generally upbeat and optimistic are attracted to notes of warm vanilla, honeysuckle and jasmine.

We like: Versace Eros EDT (100ml, $69.99), Monotheme Vanilla Blossom Pour Femme EDT (100ml, $19.99) and Vera Wang Princess EDT (100ml, $32.99)

Some scents have a habit of sticking around longer than others – check out seven fragrances that have stood the test of time.

Watch James Tobin discover the science of smell and why this sense is so powerful on House of Wellness TV:

Written by Charlotte Brundrett