From cinnamon buns just out the oven to freshly mown grass – imagine if your favourite smells drastically changed. In a new series, Stylist speaks to people with olfactory extremes.
“The smell of plug-in air fresheners can make me feel like I’m going to be sick”
“My amplified sense of smell is a relatively recent discovery. Up until a few years ago, I assumed everybody experienced the same intense reactions as me. When I started speaking to more people about it I realised that I have the ability to smell things before anybody else can. I’ve always been a massive nerd about perfume, and I always really enjoyed beautiful smells in nature – but I’m also really fussy.
Plug-in air fresheners can make me feel like I’m going to be sick, so if there’s one in the vicinity I have to find it – even if I’m in a busy pub – and turn it off. The gutters in London, especially in the oldest parts of the city, are also problematic – the smell rises and makes me want to throw up.
It can be helpful too – I always know when I’m going to get a migraine because my sense of smell becomes much more heightened and the smell of everyday cleaning products becomes unbearable to the point of nausea. There’s also weird objects that I can vividly remember the smell of, like saliva on the recorders we had to play when I was at school. It’s horrible to think about.
Sheer volume of smells is also tricky. There can be times when I’m in a public place like the showers at the gym with five other people, all of them using a different shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel, each with a strong smell. The overload is hideous. I have to get out as quickly as possible but I’ll usually be physically gagging quite obviously.
I do have some slightly odd favourite smells, too. I love unscented sunblocks – to me they smell like cottonwood trees. I also adore really stinky oudh fragrances: the properly disgusting ones that are a bit like manure or a really stinky Stilton when they’re first applied, but they smell incredible when they’ve melted into the skin.
Despite being self-diagnosed, I do think my hyperosmia is something to do with my genetic wiring. My family has always been one that would literally stop and smell the roses. My late dad had a more intense sense of smell, and so did my mum before she got concussion that resulted in total anosmia, so to me it’s just normal. It’s my normal.”
Main image: Getty