The sense of smell is an emotional and experiential one, as opposed to survival-based or biological. Our perception of what smells good and what smells bad is determined through context and the power of suggestion; as much as enjoying things that smell pleasant is a learned behavior, so is enjoying things that do not. Nobody is born craving durian, and people do not choose their skin-care products based on which ones smell the worst. All I’m saying is that… maybe they should?
Most people, when looking for something with which to slather their faces, opt for something that smells nice, whatever “nice” means to them. For me, a product that smells “nice” is an instant red flag. It’s Gandalf with a big stick in one hand and a sword in the other, telling a demon, “You shall not pass.” And he’s right, I won’t pass, because in my experience — and I have had a lot of experience — there is nothing more likely to rile up my highly reactive skin than to put something that smells like a flower or a fruit right on it.
Artificial fragrance or bespoke concoction of five carefully-chosen essential oils, it doesn’t matter. Lab-grown lavender listed as “fragrance (parfum)” or freshly-harvested orange flower blossom essence extract water, my skin can’t seem to make the distinction. I have been forced to unlearn the very foundation of what product formulators and my 10-to-20 million olfactory receptors have both been trying to tell me for a very long time, which is that good-smelling things are good on my face. They’re not.
And really, which would you prefer: smelling the potent, results-driven ingredients that are doing the work to give you better skin but might sort of smell like a foot, or an aromatherapeutic “blend” that’s in there for no reason other than to trick your brain into thinking you’re relaxed? I know where I stand. When I stopped asking myself, “Does this serum make me feel like I live in a spa?” and started asking, “Will this toner make me gag a little when I’m hungover?” instead, only then did I see real results.
These are the products that have worked wonders for my skin, and you better believe they don’t smell very good. I know what that means (and you will, too, soon enough): It’s working.