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Is it citrus or skunk? :)

It’s been a busy week and I’ve not done much blending, but this evening I’m finally working on the woodsy amber. I plan to work on Bouquet Blanche tomorrow.

I always find it interesting to see the variation in how people perceive aroma ingredients, so I enjoyed reading Luca Turin’s October Duftnote about an aromachemical he worked on that was meant to be like dihydromyrcenol but more lasting. Dihydromyrcenol is a pleasant, fresh, citrusy topnote that is often used in men’s cologne (and in fact is so common that people may be tiring of it, at least when used in the standard ways). The idea was to try to manipulate the structure of the chemical to create a citrus note that lasts longer than a typical citrus topnote. They succeeded in making something that smelled very much like the dihydromyrcenol chemical they had altered but with excellent lasting power. The problem came when they gave it to ten perfumers to sniff and although eight of ten loved it, two thought it smelled of skunk instead of citrus! The genetic differences in how people smell things caused two of eight to smell it differently. To create the new chemical they had added sulfur to the structure and some people were able to pick up on the sulfur in the form of a sulfide and interpret it as skunky (sulfides are typically described as smelling of rotten egg or skunk). Interesting!

I’ll never forget a camping trip we took to the Mt. Lassen area when I was young. We visited Bumpass Hell and I loved seeing the rnudpots and interesting geologic activity, but I held my nose the whole time, lol, because the sulfur-rich fumes were so powerful.

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  1. Hi Laurie!

    I had to chime in when I read your mentioning of Lassen. I camped there with some friends the summer of ’93, following the break in the string of droughts from the late ’80s. I remembered hiking up Mt Lassen with the trails still covered in snow and ice, and the sulfurous odours in Bumpass Hell. It was a fantastic place and I want so much to go back. I didn’t mind the sulfur after I got used to it, but it did smell like rotten eggs!
    Glad we’re all smelling nicer smells these days, though. It is interesting how different the range of perception different individuals derive from the same formula.

    Happy blending!


  2. Hi Ann,

    That’s neat you’ve been there! It was a fascinating and fun spot. We hiked up Lassen peak too, but one of my favorites was Bumpass Hell. I used to drag my family to watch all the volcano movies in the nature interpretative centers in those parks. Great stuff for kids. 🙂

  3. That’s funny about the skunk smell. Whenever I smell grapefruit notes in perfumes or lotions (or, especially, shampoo), I think it smells a bit of cat urine. I’m not sure if that’s due to some sort of chemical tinkering or just my whack nose.

  4. Hi Andrea,

    You’re normal, lol! That’s quite common for people to get cat urine or BO smells from grapefruit notes in scents. The aroma ingredients used in grapefruit notes can have sulfur in them and that’s the culprit again. Natural grapefruit oil has sulfur too.

    Fragrance companies try to come up with synthetic alternatives that don’t have the off smelling notes and try to combine things in ways that work, but the results seem to vary from person to person. I like Hermes Rose Ikebana and the grapefruit note in that one works for me, but I’m sure there are people who would say it doesn’t work for them.

    Cassis notes can also have this problem of smelling like cat urine to people and some of them contain sulfur too. There are other things besides sulfur that can cause off odors though.

    Anyway, what you’ve noticed about grapefruit is very common!

  5. Hey Laurie!! Long time, no see 🙂

    I have a skunk smell-alike too! Every now and then, lemon verbena smells skunky to me. No one around me has ever gotten that from it, but I swear it’s there!

    Happy Halloween!

  6. Hi Gail! Hope all’s well with you! Good to see you! 🙂

    I’m not a big fan of lemon notes in perfume, though they can be nice for their freshness. For use in tea, I tend to prefer lemongrass and lemon balm (melissa) to lemon verbena. I’m not using any of those right now in my perfume formulas. Lemon verbena EO (Lippia citriodora) is prohibited by IFRA but the absolute is allowed at low levels. It has some green and herbal aspects to it and some sharpness (camphorous) so I wouldn’t be surprised if people got off notes from it sometimes.

    Happy Halloween to you too!

    1. That’s interesting that they allow use of lemon verbena for direct consumption, but not the EO in perfume. Granted, I realize that the concentration in the leaves (no matter how much is used) is significantly lower than you may find in the oil. I do like the smell of verbena leaves. I once tried to grow it in the pot, but I just couldn’t keep it going indoors in the winter… Not enough indoor light, I guess.

  7. hi Ann,

    Yes, it does seem odd that some things are ok for food and/or drink but found to be skin irritants when in perfume. Sometimes, as with citrus oils, it is the combination of the oil with the sunshine that concerns them about the perfume use.

    I like the smell of verbena leaves fresh from the garden too. You could always get a little one to start each spring from the nursery and treat it as an annual.

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