Post-Halloween fright: What’s your scent nemesis?

nemesisWell, Halloween may be over, but there are still a few things floating around of which to be a little afraid, even in the fragrance world. What’s your big, bad scent nemesis? What strikes fear into your perfumed heart? The note that sends you running for cover when you get a whiff of it?

For the most part, mine is cumin. Although surprisingly, I can wear and enjoy MFK Absolue Pour le Soir and Neela Vermeire’s Bombay Bling lightly applied with no ill effects. My theory is that either the amount of cumin in these is so well-blended that the cumin somehow enhances, rather than overpowers, the other notes. Or perhaps I just enjoy those two so much that it’s mind over matter — my nose simply ignores the cumin in favor of the delightful whole.

When cumin gets a bit more heavy-handed such as Alexander McQueen’s Kingdom (and perhaps the old Serge Lutens’ Fleur d’Oranger), I have to offer a hearty “no thank you” and back away quickly, lest someone think I haven’t showered in days. Even when not a starring player, I still have to beware of the beast. I wanted to love Roja Dove Nuwa and tried it, despite seeing cumin way down in the notes list. But as I’ve written about before, my skin seems to amp cumin, and so with Nuwa it almost seemed as if it reached down into the pack of notes, and pulled the cumin out front and center for nearly the whole life of the fragrance, drowning out most of the other players. Several of you had commented on something similar, so I know it’s not just a quirk of my oddball skin.

But somehow, I have unearthed an even deadlier nemesis over the past several years, one that makes even the unpleasant aura of B.O. pale in comparison. And that is the ill-making, queasy-stomach-inducing, metallic effect that I’ve come to find out that Ambrox/ Ambroxin (and I suspect even some ouds) has on me. Byredo’s M/Mink has that ick factor in spades on my skin. In fact, so much so, that I couldn’t even bring myself to use a photo of it to accompany this post. (Which explains why I decided to use a positive photo today, instead of a negative.) This nemesis also is present in several other scents that put me off, including Amouage Opus VII, which, when sampled recently, had me moving pretty quickly toward the laundry room.

Nowadays, before sampling anything, I’m much more careful to look over the ingredients very carefully, in case a scent nemesis of mine is lurking somewhere among the notes.

So please share with me –- what note is likely to send you running for the liquid Tide?

  • stina says:

    I found a new “frightener” recently in the form of So Pretty; the instant it hit my skin, it turned into the most horrific stinky aged cat litter imaginable. I haven’t scrubbed that hard in quite some time. 🙂

    Which jogged my memory back to when I tried Une Fleur de Cassie a year or two ago and had the same result… the penny dropped and at least now I know that anything containing blackcurrant/cassis is a no-go for me.

    Yep, money saved!

    • Ann says:

      Stina, it sounds like Cartier’s So Pretty was a No-No Pretty for you — ughh, aged cat litter, so sorry to hear this. But good at least that you know what is the culprit now, thank heavens.

  • I don’t have many notes that I absolutely don’t get along with at all, ever, but I think violet leaf may be one. I’m not sure I’ve ever liked a fragrance in which I’ve encountered it. It smells like swamp water on me, and sometimes like canned green beans.

    I think some aquatics might not sit well with me either. I tried a spritz of a sample of Aerin Lauder Gardenia Rattan that I got as an extra in a swap package, and I did not like it. The marine notes in it kind of made my stomach turn a little. I haven’t smelled Calone in isolation, so I don’t know if it’s got that in it.

    • Now that I’m thinking about it, I think violet leaf can be fine on other people, just not on me. I was in a shop not too long ago, and I smelled a cologne on a man nearby that clearly had a violet leaf note. I found it surprisingly pleasant in the air.

      • Ann says:

        Hiya, Jennifer! Too funny — swamp water and canned green beans — none for me, thanks! 🙂 Violet leaf does not agree so much with me, either, but as you say, it might be fine on someone else.

  • maggiecat says:

    Tuberose is my nemesis – it literally makes me back away. And I like patchouli and cedar, but my skin seems to magnify them so much (or perhaps I;m simply more sensitive to them) that if they’re present to any degree in a scent, it becomes all I can smell.

    • Ann says:

      Isn’t that always the way, maggiecat? A perfectly lovely scent can have that one note in it and it’s like it just gets bigger and bigger, ruining the whole thing. I feel much the same way about cumin. I do hope that perhaps one day you can find a tuberose to enjoy and won’t scare you off, though.

  • Eloquaint says:

    Calone, the driver behind L’Eau d’Issey (his and hers) and Davidoff Cool Water…it’s supposed to smell like water, but to me it smells like some sort of horrible metallic leakage. Just vile.

    The worst scrubber I’ve encountered in the last six months was Lalique’s L’Amour. I don’t know what was in it that was so horrifying, but it was cloying and chemical and nauseating.

    • Ann says:

      Eloquaint, I think there’s a pretty good-size group of perfumistas for whom “calone” is a dirty word. I can only take it in very small amounts, and only where it’s well-surrounded by other notes. And so sorry to hear about the Lalique — that sounds awful for you.

  • MikasMinion says:

    Ha! The tolu was my suspect as well. Glad I’m not the only one.

    • Ann says:

      You were spot-on there, dear. I think it’s a culprit for a number of folks. I need to do some research and see which scents have large amounts of it.

  • Maya says:

    I think it’s Iso E Super, but only in large amounts. A friend had a sample Molecule 01 and she smelled absolutely nothing and neither did I. She put it on her skin – nothing. I didn’t bother so I didn’t realize what it could do to me. But I understand that in the last years some houses, including Guerlain, have been using it a lot and a lot of it. I’m fairly sure that Iso E Super is what causes me to start sneezing like crazy and sampling one pretty Guerlain caused my eyes to tear up and my tears to start flowing profusely for several minutes. It was almost funny – like crying hysterically without the screwed up face. 🙂

    • Ann says:

      Maya, I think you may be right about Iso E Super; it does seem that it’s turning up more these days. And sorry that it prompted your “waterworks.” Do you recall which Guerlain caused the trouble?

  • Hey Ann,
    My last partner of many years wore L’eau d’Issey Homme in such large quantities that if we’d been out drinking and got home for some playtime I would be made so queasy that playtime often had to stop. In small doses I love it but that close and so intensely, mixed with the booze; not friendly.
    Portia xx

    • Ann says:

      Oh, no, dear Portia, so sorry that the scent made you queasy. Perhaps it’s a blessing that you don’t smell it so much anymore.

  • Le Feu d’Issey smelled like the juice in a jar of pepperoncini to me, which is kinda strange because I like the listed notes for that one. Maison Margiela untitled smelled like a dirty ashtray. Again, weird because I thought I liked the notes…maybe too much galbanum, or the boxwood…? There are a lot of things I like to smell (gardenia, tuberose, etc.) but might not wear. I wouldn’t call them nemesis, though.

    • Ann says:

      Queen, it’s so funny that you mention that d’Issey; I was just thinking about it, and it always reminded me of the smell of B vitamins, but it didn’t really agree with me either. And although I like the MMM Untitled, I could see how it might veer into ashtray territory.

  • Lynley says:

    Oakmoss. Sorry. Often galbanum too. I can do Bandit- love Bandit- but the old school chypre-y thing either just smells musty or swampy to me.

    I like the smell and idea of leathers, but there’s an ingredient in most of them that makes me wheeze, and salbutamol inhaler does not remedy.

    And whatever the hell spawned Secretions Magnifiques. That metallic vileness in it. I think it’s also in Monegals Mon Patchouly- that made me yelp in fear too..

    • Ann says:

      Howdy, Lynley! Oh, no, two of my faves don’t agree with you; so sorry. But I’m right there, yelping along with you on that metallic chemical thingy in SM — I think maybe they put some of that in Byredo’s M/Mink, too.

  • helen says:

    That sour note of Chanel Chance, it makes me sick. I smell it a lot in a lot of midern fragrances lately. Interesting, what it is. Somebody knows?

    • Ann says:

      Hi, lady — nice to see you! I’m not sure what note/component that is, but I know what you mean, especially in Chance. That’s one Chanel to which I give a fairly wide berth. 🙂

  • Some of the Big White Florals get very high-pitched, screechy and metallic on me. Especially Lilly of The Valley, Hiacynth and Jasmine. In the very near past I made some friendship with Tuberose. But it is still a kind of “On the edge”, dramatic and dangerous affair… 🙂
    When blended into a composition, I can go on with them, but when it is a very strong dominant WF I get the vibe of BO, or urine… and nausea.
    Another NO-NO-NO are the aquatic-ozonic things – let me say “Skin” by Trussardi, and the pink Boucheron (forgot the name- some Mademoiselle or so) , and the few “Eaux” from Serge Lutens (including Laine de Verre)
    And please no overtly synthetic musky and sweet and Fougere men’s colognes. I could run away from a guy wearing that kind of perfume, no matter how handsome and nice….

    • Ann says:

      I hear you; we have to pick our WF friends with care. And there are a lot of us out there who do very poorly with those aquatic-ozonic numbers; some of them are way too much.

  • mikasminion says:

    I’m not sure exactly which note it is but whatever is in the Youth Dew base gives me such a headache and makes me super queasy. I actually don’t dislike the fragrance, in fact I have been known to spray blotters and slip them under the liner of my leather tote, but spray the stuff on my skin and I’m runnin’ for the shower. As far as I’ve been able to tell it must be one of the balsams ’cause I’ve met it elsewhere too, but I’m still not 100% sure.
    Also, that awful dry wood scent that seems to get slipped into the dry down of several otherwise nice scents. It is like the olfactory equivalent of being sandblasted. Scratchy and uncomfortable and makes me choke, yick.

    • malsnano86 says:

      Me too. Youth Dew and Opium and Tabu and Obsession, things of that ilk, just Kill.Me.Now. I think it is tolu – or possibly tolu in certain proportions, or tolu plus the dry-dusty-earthy kind of patchouli. Seriously, cannot manage it.

      • Ann says:

        I must agree with you both, something in many of those is painful. So tolu may be the (partial) culprit? I will be on the lookout for it.

  • Eleebelle says:

    Gardenia is definitely my public enemy #1. I also realized I often have issues with cedar in perfume. It’s like a Wilhelm scream in my nose, which is funny since I like real cedar.

    • Ann says:

      Eleebelle, you are certainly not alone regarding the cedar — it seems to disagree with many folks! I keep hearing “hamster cage” a lot 🙂

  • Marion M says:

    Anne I’m with you on that chemical in MMink…it reminded me of the burning hair thing I get in Serge Noire…just must react now and again with other ingredients, especially if it’s ambroxan, which I am sure is in many of my favorite orientals. I classify SNoire as my only genuine scrubber!!????

    • Ann says:

      Amen, Marion, it was rough! I haven’t tried Serge Noir and will give it a wide berth for sure. I’m now thinking that maybe it was another chemical in the M/Mink that reacted badly with the Ambroxan and made me so queasy. I need to poke around and see if Ambroxan is in any of my previous faves. Maybe it’s just the company it keeps that’s the deal-breaker. Chemistry (skin and perfume) really makes a difference.

  • Ncmyers says:

    Cumin is bad on me as well. That Rubj edp decant will never get used up, I’m afraid. Iso E Super in large doses is my worst though. I had a horrible sinus burn from Imaginary Authors – all of the four I tried gave me the same reaction. Toxic!

    • Ann says:

      Welcome to the cumin haters’ club! 🙂 I had one tiny dab of Rubj a while back and that was all she wrote. Poor baby, so sorry to hear about the awful sinus burn. But now you’ve got me wondering if the Iso E Super doesn’t agree with me either. Sure wish I had paid more attention in chemistry class, ha!

  • wefadetogray says:

    I am not sure what’s the note I hate but to me Escape by CK and L’Eau de Odissey by Miyake have that thing I hate. They smell pretty similar to me and I load them with a fury unknown to me otherwise. I HATE THEM. I have had the misfortune of having people too close to me for comfort wearing any of these two and I feel like puking. Victoria Minya Hedonist has some of that too. I cannot wear it for the life of me. Not to the degree the previous too punch me in the face, but Hedonist also makes me suffer. Ayyyyyy.

    • Ann says:

      Hi, dear! I’m wondering if it’s some kind of aquatic thing that sends you around the bend. A scent by Hermes (can’t recall the name) has an aquatic note and also something melon in it, and it very nearly killed me. But thankfully neither of your nemeses seems to be quite as popular as they once were. Whew!

  • I don’t know if it’s my skin, my nose, or childhood memories of my grandma’s bathroom freshener, but if there’s an atom of lily of the valley in a scent it eclipses every other note for me. I had a three-asprin disagreement with Piguet Fracas but I love Dior Poison so I’m still working out if tuberose is going to be my friend or not.

    • Ann says:

      So sorry to hear this about the LOV, but I can certainly understand it, as it was quite overused there for a while. Not to laugh at your discomfort, but you had me chuckling about the “three-aspirin disagreement” — Fracas is quite the demanding lady, isn’t she? Although those who love her, really love her. I adore Poison as well (in small doses). I think we just have to pick our tuberose friends carefully to find those that compliment us.

  • audrey says:

    Violet. I love violet but it shrieks on me…..if it’s tamed with rose or iris or another note sometimes I can pull it off but it’s pretty rare. Honey……Pour Le Soir is one that I can only use once in awhile because again, it’s all HOONNEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEY and nothing else gets a chance to come through. Opoponax is a note I love but smells like a powder bomb went off every time I try to wear something with it…..Shalimar, unfortunately, is a no-no on me except for some of the flankers because one tiny spritz and my skin will amp it to the point of discomfort.

    • Ann says:

      Oh, no, Audrey — heaven save us from the shrieking violets! Some violets I’ve sniffed don’t shriek but have that Choward’s violet chewing gum vibe to them that sets my teeth on edge. BTW, I’m right there with you on the Shalimar; the original queen does not like me one bit either.

    • Amy says:

      Violet is mine too. Sharp and stabby. It smells like the meanest girl in eighth grade.

  • tammy says:

    I have several, but tuberose is the biggest, No Can Do, ever. It makes my throat feel scratchy, too.

    Musk also a no go, but I’m anosmic to some, because I adore MKK and Yatagan!

    If orange blossom and sandalwood are blended into fragrances without being the star of the show, I’m okay with them, but orange blossom gets very screechy, very quickly on me, and sandalwood makes me nauseated.

    • Ann says:

      Howdy, Tammy! So nice to see you.Sorry to hear about the tuberose, but glad you can at least enjoy a couple of musks. And yuck on the sandalwood then — nothing worse than your scent making you feel ill.

  • leenie2 says:

    Rose and/or soap! I know, it’s crazy.

    • Ann says:

      Leenie, I hear you, especially on the roses, as I was a rose-phobe for quite some time (a roommate got waaay too happy with the Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose and nearly scarred me for life). But maybe there’s a different breed of rose fragrance out there that you can wear.

    • malsnano86 says:

      Soap’s a big deal-breaker for me, too.

  • allgirlmafia says:

    Jasmine. She does not like me and in turn I’m not wild about her. She screeches from my skin and makes me feel awkward and put upon. No Jasmine, please.

    • Ann says:

      Oh, no, not lady jasmine. But I can see how on some skins it might turn screechy, as you say. And it’s in so many scents these days; it pays to read the notes lists to avoid trouble.

  • eldarwen22 says:

    Greetings from Virginia! Needed to take a break from my vacation. My biggest nemesis is tuberose because it’s too overwhelming to my nose. Citrus is iffy because it either turns sour of makes me sick to my stomach.

    • Ann says:

      Oooh, I love Virginia! So sorry to hear those notes do not agree with you, and especially the citrus — it’s no good getting nauseous. What scents do you find are soothing and comforting?

  • Jackie b says:

    I have always wanted to wear girlie perfumes, but I find those big white florals just send me off to scrub. I love the November lilies in my garden but cannot stand that kind of scent on my body. Or tuberose gahhhk.
    Recent nose wrinklers have been Do Son and Wit by Delrae.

    • Ann says:

      Hiya, Jackie! I know so many of those BWFs are just way too much sometimes, and the headaches they can induce make them a no-no for many. Enjoy what you do love and as we’ve said above, count it money saved, right?

  • Civet says:

    Uch, karanal I think it’s called, a raspy woody amber aromachemical that vacillates between corn chips and chlorinated hot tub for me. It’s like having my nostrils assaulted with sandpaper. It or a chemical relative is in the majority of Amouage men’s fragrances, as well as the two Opus’s I’ve tried, VI and VIII. Good, saves me some money.

    • Ann says:

      I’ve not really heard much about that chemical, Civet, but the way you describe it, I’d like to steer clear of it as well. And yes, hooray for money saved!

  • solanace says:

    Can’t think of a note that I really dislike, but I have my nemesis. The cumin in Guerlain Pamplelune smells like I took a 36 hours bus trip with no ar conditioning. And Amarige, the tuberose from hell, of course.

    • Ann says:

      Solanace, you’re not alone on the Pamplelune — I seem to recall many folks not doing well with that one. And you had me laughing out loud about the Amarige; it really could be the Godzilla of tuberoses, couldn’t it?