Why You Secretly Love Weird Smells

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I’m just going to come out and say it: I like weird smells. When I was younger I loved the scent of rubbing alcohol, so much so I’d sometimes pour a little on my pillowcase (My Strange Addiction style) and fall fast asleep. While I’ve since grown out of that likely unhealthy phase (hand sanitizer still gets me every now and then, though), there are a few other unusual scents that I secretly crave.

After bringing up the topic to friends, family, and fellow InStyle staffers, I realized I’m far from alone. Many confessed to enjoying the smell of everything from Play-Doh to raw meat and gasoline—probably more than they should. This left me wondering: How and, more importantly, why does one develop a fondness for weird aromas? I talked to a couple scent experts to find out some answers.

For starters, there is no such thing as a good or bad smell, says Rachel S. Herz, PhD, author of The Scent of Desire and proud fan of the widely rejected skunk odor. “We come to form an opinion about a smell as a function of our experiences with them and a lot of times our culture will dictate that a certain smell is supposed to be a good smell,” she explains. Emotions also play a big role. “Odors don’t have meaning prior to us forming an association, specifically emotional associations,” Herz adds. “When we make an emotional association, that’s what sticks and that’s what determines whether we like the smell or not.” If you loved swimming pools as a kid, for instance, the smell of chlorine might be one of your guilty pleasures. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of—one whiff can immediately evoke happy, positive feelings that can easily leave you yearning for more.

When I mentioned something that doesn’t naturally conjure up childhood memories, like, say, my addiction to sniffing new shoes (if I could wear it as perfume, I would), Herz offered a different explanation. “Some odors don’t have a connection. New shoes, leather specifically, is often a positive smell associated with luxury—and buying new shoes is always great, so you’re already in a positive state—and the feeling that you’re having while you’re experiencing the scent is influencing your perception of the scent,” she says. Good to know.

But if I ever needed further proof I’m not going crazy, all I’d have to do is take a peek at Demeter’s Fragrance Library. In it are all kinds of wacky yet wonderful scents I still can’t believe are actually bottled, including nostalgia-inducing fragrances like Grass, Graham Cracker and Sunshine—and other more interesting options like Dirt (it smells better than you think) and Funeral Home. “One thing we’ve learned over the years is that there seems to be no limit to the scents people want us to make,” says Demeter CEO Mark Crames. “Things like gasoline, blood and gunpowder are scents that are regularly requested, although they’re not typically scents thought of as desirable in a wearable fragrance.”

So, which weird scents do you secretly love?

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