In 2003, every single one of my favorite fragrances smelled like a mixture of Baby Bottle Pops, vanilla extract, and gummy worms. Basically, if they weren’t fully sugary and sweet, there’s no way I’d spritz that stuff on my wrists. Now, a concoction that’s way too saccharine without any type of balance gives me a headache, and I’d rather be wrapped up in a spicy musk or a fresh, clean, and floral scent.
But why is that? I was obsessed with the fact that my Art Stuff body glitter gel smelled like Fruit Roll Ups, and now that makes me gag. I know I’m not alone in this fragrance revelation, either. My friends and coworkers have all attested to their scent preferences drastically changing throughout the years, trading in their Pixy Stix-smelling body mists for Tom Ford Black Orchid or Gucci Bloom.
And on top of all that, it seems like fragrance that is of the sugary variety is often marketed to adolescents, teens, or young adults.
"My feeling is that fragrances that are fruity and sweet tend to go a little more youthful due to the energy, luminosity, and playful spirit they represent,” Mark Knitowski, the Senior Vice President of Product Innovations at Victoria's Secret Beauty, said when we asked him about the phenomenon we noticed, and if there was any science behind it.
"Those sweet, sugary notes represent things they can relate to whether a place, time, or something they may enjoy eating.”
That’s not to say that older age groups don’t like notes like cotton candy and praline, though. In fact, Knitowski told us that at Victoria Secret, the top-selling scents all have heavy doses of gourmand notes. "There isn’t a science behind it as much as a trend that connects with an age group—from the way the fragrance smells to the projection they represent,” he added. "At Victoria’s Secret, the science is knowing the customer well enough to know who she is and where she is in her life, and what she wants to smell like at those times. It’s important to connect emotionally and transform her through scent."
But one reason that your scent preference might change is because the inside of your nose is physically changing as you get older, and you might be really mistaking your scent likes and dislikes as switches in your taste preferences.
"They may start liking more salty and sweet tastes, but what they are likely experiencing are changes that are occurring to their sense of smell,” Sara Panton, the co-founder of vitruvi, noted on the connection between age and scent profile preferences. "As we age, the number of cells that detect aroma in our nose start to diminish, the nose lining begins to thin, and hormonal fluctuations influence our scent preferences. This decrease in smell capability limits our ability to taste as well as changes the aromas we prefer.”
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This also might explain why your grandma sometimes overdoes it on the perfume.
"As we get older our perception of the strength of a scent is not as acute as it was in our youth, and there is a tendency to wear stronger fragrances, or douse yourself with more fragrance than you did when you were younger thinking it may not smell strong enough,” said Knitowski.
In general, though, there are some known scent trends within age groups. Panton has found that women in their late teens and early 20s tend to gravitate towards candy-like scents, while women in their 30s or 40s prefer fresh and herbal scents like peppermint and citrus oils. The 50s? She said powdery and feminine notes like lavender, geranium, and ylang ylang come to mind.
I definitely don’t think I’ll ever switch back to candy corn note compilations, but who knows? I do have a sweet tooth that has persisted.