Does our taste in scents change with the change?

— by Alyson Walsh

Grey hair, floral wallpaper, Tanyac6b37e470f20f6006939ae9fcc92940

Photo of Tanya Drouginska: green

It’s a funny thing. I used to adore woody, spicy, leathery scents laced with dirty old patchouli. But since the menopause, I’ve gone lighter and – whisper it – floral – says Vicci Bentley.

Am I getting frilly in my dotage? If I am, I’m not alone – friends keep mentioning this is happening to them, too. I’ve tried to be rational about this fragrant aberration. It’s well-known that our sense of smell loses acuity as we age, but my nose seems sharper if anything – if there’s the faintest whiff of gas or damp I’m on it like a sniffer dog. I’m well aware that my favourite old scents themselves have changed, too. So many of the traditional ingredients that made the heart-stopping beauties we used to adore have either been banned or restricted as putative ‘allergens.’ (Don’t get me started on this, I just get arsy). This has hit the classics badly and the vast majority of older scents have had to be rebalanced. So your faithful No.5, Mitsouko, J’Adore or even Angel for heaven’s sake won’t smell the same as it did 10 years ago, let alone when it was originally made. The times I’ve ripped the cellophane off an old love I haven’t sniffed for a while, only to feel let down and cheated. But is my nose the real trickster, this time?


Photo: Getty

I had a hunch that hormones might be to blame (well, menopause….it’s a no-brainer really). Could it be that the raunchy, gussetty, frankly ‘fuck me’ animalic ingredients like civet (wild cat’s pee) and castoreum (leathery beaver’s balls) have taken a backseat now babies are out of the question? I put this to Professor Tim Jacob, a neuroscientist specialising in the sense of smell at Cardiff University. ‘Our perfume preferences are related to our immune system and our immune system determines our personal body odour,’ he tells me. ‘Our noses sniff out the best mate for optimising disease resistance in offspring, in order to preserve the species. This system seems to go AWOL after the menopause,’ he concludes. In short, our appetite for sexy scents takes early retirement.

Has your scent taste changed with the change? Have you gone off old favourites – or prefer not to perfume at all? We’d love to hear about it.


First photograph:  Styling & production: Lidewij Smeur Photography: Linda Stulic. Make-up: Sjardé Kirioma.

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It’s a funny thing. I used to adore woody, spicy, leathery scents laced with dirty old patchouli.