Help me smell good
October 6, 2014 3:58 PM   Subscribe

My apartment and body smell like nothing. What kind of products should I use to turn my fragrance-free self and home into something pleasantly scented?

"Like nothing" is a bit of an exaggeration. My home often smells like lemons or lavender (because of cleaning products and air fresheners, respectively) and I smell kind of like milk (because ???), which is fine. But sometimes I will walk into a home or walk by someone who smells so perfectly pleasant and I become envious.

Here is what I would like to avoid:
1) Headache-inducing scents (what ingredients should I look out for? Most products that are alcohol-based or similar to vaporub induces this reaction in me)
2) Cloying smells (I am already one of the younger people at the office, I don't want to emphasize it)
3) Setting off someone else allergies

Here is what I would like to achieve:
1) Long-lasting scent (how many times should creams be reapplied per day? What can I do to get my place smelling nice from when I leave in the mornings to when I get home in the evenings?)
2) Smelling good after sweating (public transit likes to crank up the heat in the cooler months, plus sometimes I just get nervous and start sweating). What do I need - deodorant? Antiperspirant? Any specific ingredients?

Specific product recommendations, scent recommendations (example: vanilla yes, citrus no, or any broad suggestions along those lines), key ingredients to watch out for, and longevity tips are welcome.

Feminine smells only. Thanks in advance!
posted by rebooter to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
As someone who kind of hates strong smells on other people or in their homes, I'd just like to vote for staying as you are. I love lemons and lavender. You mention setting off people's allergies, and I think even a relatively mild scent can unfortunately be annoying to some people (like me). I think people also tend to get used to their own scent or their apartment's scent, and end up making it smell even more. I especially hate scented candles and air freshener. That said, one (not long-lasting) scent I like this time of year is apple cider spices simmered on the stove. And sure, deodorant is a good idea...I like Dove.
posted by three_red_balloons at 4:13 PM on October 6, 2014 [13 favorites]

I am very sensitive to smells (migraines), but I make an exception for the Neutrogena Rainbath shower gel. It's a very calming, delicate smell. You have to be right next to someone to smell it.
posted by heathrowga at 4:14 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am not a fan of antiperspirant underarm stuff. I'm really sensitive there. Also I sweat all over and it's a really limited area. I use a product that has really traditional scent elements and isn't overwhelming, but which soaks up sweat. It's called Schmidt's Natural Deodorant (I have the Bergamot and Lime.)

Before I started wearing niche perfumes and products (which tend to be lighter on alcohol and more 'chemical'-y smells), I found most fragrances headache inducing. Now, I wear several every day and use room spray and sometimes perfume candles. Which smells you would like and what you would identify as feminine is very subjective and different scents smell different on different bodies (also, re: smelling good after sweating, it's way easy to carry a roll on fragrance to touch up - likely to be much less offensive than putting on enough fragrance in the morning to last all day). For a line that is very tolerable to people who are sensitive to traditional perfumes, I'd check out CB I Hate Perfume, who sells room sprays. To me, CB I Hate Perfume's Black March is really great for this. It smells clean and refreshing, unobtrusive. Diptyque also sells both perfumes, lotions and candles.

You don't have to be matchy-matchy with all this -- and, man, I bet it would be seriously overwhelming if you were! I can't speak to what notes would be best for you. You should probably just take your nose out for a tour, maybe after you're all sweaty. There exist a bunch of perfume decanting services on the web, where you can buy samples of scented products and see how they work for you (or don't work for you). Here's Surrender to Chance, the one I buy from. One of the main qualities of a fragrance is how long it lasts and whether you have to reapply. There's a ton of information about how to get aquainted with scents including home stuff at perfume blogs like Perfume Posse and Bois de Jasmine.
posted by sweltering at 4:21 PM on October 6, 2014

For personal scents, I like some of the Fresh perfumes. They're light and non-offensive. If you favor vanilla, you can try the LaVanila line, which also has deodorant.

For sweating, I like Lady Speed Stick Stainguard formulations. They're an -antiperspirant and deodorant combination and I find that they're very effective. What I really love about them is that they don't stain clothing or create discolored patches in armpit fabric like a lot of other formulations.

For your home, beyond a higher-end candle (they tend to smell better), I wouldn't do much. Homes that smell like perfume or home scents can be a nightmare if you don't like the scent or are sensitive. If your home smells neutral, that's ideal in my book. Occasionally when I want a special scent, I boil some cut up lemons in a big pot of water. In the winter, I add some spices like cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg to the pot. I just add more water as it boils down. The scent is homey and natural and it's non-offensive.

Finally, the mistake that many people make with their personal or home scents is not understanding that, over time, you will stop smelling the scent as your brain tunes out the habitual sensory information. So, while the user no longer smells their own perfume or home air-fresheners, people who aren't smelling those things all day, every day do notice it and it can be overwhelming. With perfume, the response is often to apply more and more as you become desensitized. That's how you go from having an inoffensive, nice smell to being a noxious and overpowering cloud of cologne. When you first start wearing a scent, apply a small amount and then ask a friend to hug you and ask if they can smell the perfume. If they can just get a hint of it when they're very close to you, that's the ideal amount. Once you have found the correct amount, don't ever increase it.
posted by quince at 4:44 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

For home (copying my answer from another thread which seemed popular): I put a pot on the stove, add orange peels, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and any other compatible ingredients I have sitting around (e.g. cranberries, a dash of vanilla), fill with water, and simmer for anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple hours (making sure to add more water if it's boiled off). Makes the place smell great and has a cozying effect in cold weather. You could probably experiment with a bunch of different ingredients.

For body: I seem to have the best luck in maintaining a nice smell by putting on a nice lotion right after I get out of the ALL over my body...neck, chest, shoulders, stomach, arms, legs, butt, feet. Because's it's lotion, it's not too overpowering--but it lingers well, and I feel like when I sweat, it's just reactivating the scent. (Plus the application process is sexy and it makes me feel all fancy and lady-like.) Scents I like (can only plug them--you'll have to check them out for yourself): Amazing Grace by Philosophy (clean and fresh), Ambre Vanille by Laura Mercier (sensual and delicious), and Beach by Bobbi Brown (smells like expensive sunblock and is best for summer, but also clean and non-offensive). Jo Malone makes some reallllly nice-smelling, interesting, feminine-but-not-grandma stuff too. None of these are cheap, but I have found that cheap products smell cheap and tend to be more noxious/headache-inducing. As for antiperspirants, I use Dove and I think most of them smell really lovely. (If I was riding around public transportation all day, though, I'd probably carry one around with me for a second application if I was going out after, because it ain't the strongest thing on the block.)
posted by lovableiago at 5:38 PM on October 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have multiple chemical sensitivities. I will suggest you avoid anything with synthetic smells/perfumes and go for the real thing. So you basically want to look for stuff made from essential oils. It will be more expensive, but it is much less likely to cause headaches or other issues.

A long time ago, I used to use rose oil as a perfume. A little goes a long way. It was expensive and came in a tiny tube, but you only needed a drop or so behind each ear (or whatever). Oil tends to be long lasting. I think it will tick both boxes of what to avoid and how to make it last.

I think there was only one other perfume I ever used. Most perfumes really bother me and always have. I have at times thought that I might someday like to go back to wearing a little rose oil. It smells lovely and I have no reason to believe it would be a problem for me.
posted by Michele in California at 6:59 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love perfume, but I've stopped wearing it when I'm going to be in close proximity to others (working at the office, meeting in a cramped space, etc) because even a little bit is too much for some people. And I'm a "cloud walker" when it comes to applying perfumes, so it's not like I douse myself with it.

We use all sorts of products (shampoo, body wash, deodorant (I'll nth Dove), fabric softener, Febreeze, other household cleaning products, etc) with fragrance, so I would focus on letting those subtle scents come through. You have some leeway with regard to scents there (for example, if a product has a lavender scent and that's something you enjoy). Aside from that, focus on keeping things as clean as possible so that there is no bad smell you need to mask with fragrance.

If you decide that you want to punch it up a bit, there are fragrances that give a boost to these scents, like the Clean line.
posted by jazzbaby at 7:04 PM on October 6, 2014

Hi, there! I asked a 50% identical question quite recently and got a ton of responses. You'll definitely want to check the thread out: "How can I make my apartment smell great?"
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:16 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Whatever you do, please keep it natural and please keep it light. Someone can flee from your home. But the overscented woman who sat next to me on the completely full bus this morning gave me a migraine that lasted all morning.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 8:58 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

On the home front, oh god, i briefly worked at a botanical store that sold essential oil(my brain shorted out, and i first wrote this as "smelled"). I feel like i worked at the drag strip of odors, and that i have the olfactory equivalent of slight hearing damage. I also have a good understand of what is and isn't overdoing it, though.

No air fresheners. Seriously. Stop. It's chemical warfare. And find the lightest scented, not lemony or citrusy and chemically cleaners you can. I like up&up, meyers, and some method cleaning stuff for not smelling terrible or contributing an offensive, lingering clearly identifiable scent.

Do you have hardwoods? in my experience places with hardwoods smell better and more neutral. If you have carpets though, only vacuum with windows open and good ventilation.(i try and do ALL cleaning with at least a window or two open unless it's cold as crap outside, and even then pop a window a little bit) This avoids that dusty gross musty laundry basket/vaguely wet dog and pus vacuuming smell that seems to happen even with a clean, higher end vacuum and regularly cleaned recently installed carpets.

Essential oils are ok if you don't overdo it or use an atomizing diffuser*, but the main way i put down a light, slight scent, and as i said i hate strong scents and have a good nose for this, is as such:

1. clean, with aforementioned neutral or not citrusy/acidic chemical cleaners
2. dry cleaning like dusting and sweeping/mopping/vacuuming to let that stuff all evaporate and settle down
3. light not particularly offensive, not flowery or sweet, not patchouli-hippie incense at two spaced out areas at the ends of the apartment in the public areas. I have ceiling fans, and i switch them on the lowest speed and just let them run.

I try and do all this HOURS before anyone would come over. Like lunchtime if they're coming over in the late evening, or otherwise as part of my general cleaning routine. My place always smells very slightly of incense with a background of wood. I've found that not-scented-flowering indoor plants also increase the indoor-good-scent-index.

The majority of people who come over to my place for the first time comment on it smelling nice, and then when asked can't pin down what the scent is and describe it as subtle. I try and do a clean/burn incense cycle about 3 times a week.

When i moved in the apartment was extremely musty smelling, like old furniture. It smelled like a musty old armoire. I've lived in at least 3 places like this, and made them all smell nice exactly the same way. The only place i never successfully conquered was a 2 story+basement fair sized ancient house.

I'll also note that i have never had a good experience with candles. I've never found one that could offer enough of a scent to make a good background, that didn't create an overpowering scent that was plainly evident even when the candle wasn't lit, if it previously had been. The reason i like incense so much is that if you aren't burning it, it's off. This sort of applies to essential oils, but not as much. Once you dial in the amount of incense you need to properly set down a basal layer of low profile background scent, you're set. You burn that 1.5 sticks or whatever, let it settle for a couple hours, and your place is great. The rest require more dialing in, and the failure mode tends to be more "my house has too much of a scent but i have olfactory fatigue and don't notice it". It's great if you can have someone who regularly comes home to the place but is out for hours at work/etc to verify that you're not overdoing it, as well.

As for personal scent, i'm in camp "not really having a scent". I'm also a guy though, so i defer to others seeing as how you're a lady. You seem to have gotten some good advice on that front though, some of which is sort of... in line with my thoughts on the matter.

*A basic one is ok, don't get sucked in to the woo. This is a black hole of stuff that can very easily start costing more than apple products. It's like an unholy mixture of high end marijuana glassware and audiophile bullshit.
posted by emptythought at 4:32 AM on October 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm really sensitive to smells and can get wicked migraines from some products, but I like things to smell nice. I've had very good luck withe Tru Melange candles- they smell great when they're burning and leave a faint scent behind for a few days after I burn one for a couple of hours. I really love this vanilla and peppermint candle. My mom smelled it and and said it reminded her of thin mints :) The previous tenant in my apartment was a smoker and this masks the smell without being obnoxious. For some reason the ones I have bought in the tin have been better than stand-alone pillars.

Another poster mentioned Philosophy products up thread. I like the Grace body wash because it's a very clean smell. If you go to Sephora, you could get samples of some of their products to try out without committing to a whole bottle of something you end up hating. However, I prefer salt or sugar scrubs. My local organic/trendy/health food store has a salt and sugar scrub bar where you can smell, test, and buy scrubs. I like them because my skin tends to be dry, they usually use essential oils, and they don't give me headaches. All of this is trial and error, though. Get samples when you can to try, use a little to start out, and change it up so your nose doesn't get too used to the smell.
posted by Mouse Army at 4:53 AM on October 7, 2014

Please, please, please, not scented air fresheners, diffusers, candles, laundry products... (especially scented laundry products, as they vent to the outside and get into your neighbours' yards and open windows).

Lately I want to go live in a cave to escape all the scented stuff. Don't get me wrong; I love real smells--flowers, cooking aromas, the forest floor--but all the chemical crap out there makes life very difficult for people with scent sensitivities.

Of course, I can't go to someone's house and complain about the smell. So if you do decide to use scented products, pay attention to whether certain people decline your invitations to visit, or leave very early with some excuse. They're probably like me, and feeling ill from the smell.

Rant done. Thanks for the opportunity to get this off my chest!
posted by LauraJ at 10:16 AM on October 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab makes gorgeous scents that use essential oils and no alcohol. They have atmosphere/linen sprays that aren't cloying that you can spray in your home with a light hand, either into the air or on your sheets.

Their perfume oils are also lovely as personal scents -- also essential oils and no alcohol -- although some of them can be a bit heavy. The good part, though, is that there's a forum with a lot of very loyal customers and they review every scent; the reviews will give you a very good idea of what's a heavy scent, a light one, etc. (For specific recommendations, I'd try Embalming Fluid [weird name, I know]; it's a light citrusy scent.)
posted by holborne at 11:25 AM on October 7, 2014

To avoid smelling too young you might choose perfumes that are not "fruity florals" which read as very youthful to me. "Skin scents" are those that cling closely to your skin and scents that have great siliage are those that announce your presence. If I were trying to avoid annoying people, I'd go for a skin scent. Others have mentioned Sephora. Sephora and Ulta sell many mainstream perfumes and have testers out for most of them. You can spray on the little pieces of blotter paper (test strips) that they have there. Bring a pen to label them to avoid confusion. Wave the test strip around to get rid of the volatile alcohol before you smell it. Smell again a few times after they've had time to develop -- sometimes it smells great at first but later, ugh. After you've found a few you like that way, you can spray on your skin -- some will smell different than on paper. To make a perfume last longer, put it on after using moisturizer. Personally, I think it is best to apply lightly and not to reapply because it is easy to overdo it, and if you keep applying you will not smell the whole development of your perfume over time.
posted by SandiBeech at 1:49 PM on October 8, 2014

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