Fragrance Jargon: Anosmia

It's pronounced like this: an-ohz-me-ah.
It means
the inability to smell.
Editor's note:
This is kind of a weird place to start, but I think in the end it will make sense. I think.

It's a fascinating concept, isn't it? Anosmia impacts about 14 million Americans, to some degree or another. Bill Pullman, Stevie Wonder and Michael Hutchence (INXS, anyone?) were anosmic. Apparently, most people with the disorder can still distinguish between salty, sour, sweet and bitter, but since smell impacts taste so much, anosmiacs (?) can't pick up the nuances of taste.

One can be anosmic from birth, or lose all or some of the ability to smell through disease or trauma or even temporarily, like with a cold.

I bring this whole thing up because I believe I am fairly anosmic. Weird to develop an interest in fragrance, huh? Well, I have noticed my sense of smell is... "quirky". Yeah, let's go with that. I am fairly immune to some scents. For example, I have a hard time smelling a dirty litterbox. Yeah, that one comes in handy! I also wonder if my tolerance of odd smells  - like skunk! - is because I'm anosmic to some of the nuances of that musk?

That's right - one may not experience the same scent the way another person might. The senses are subjective, sure, but it may be more involved than that! If you and I see differently (you need glasses, I don't), and I don't hear as well as you do (what?), it's logical to assume we don't perceive odors the same way.

When reading about perfumes, I occasionally see someone's reference to being anosmic to certain notes. I think it's so neat to realize that what one person senses one way, another may experience completely differently. When we say to take a fragrance review with a grain of salt, it's really good advice! Maybe this is why some scents like Thierry Mugler's notorious scent, Angel, create such extreme reactions? Maybe some of us are anosmic to something in  it, or others are picking up nuances the rest of us can't sense, sort of like a dog barking at a high-pitched whistle that a human simply can't hear.

I am intrigued by this thought and hope to find out how much of these variations are from natural differences (including the inability to smell certain odors) and how much is nurtured (simply paying varying degrees of attention to scent). I just read a fascinating snippet in which Erwin Creed describes how his grandmother taught him to notice scents as a child. Granted, as he is in the seventh generation of a perfuming legacy, it can be argued that he also won the genetic olfactory lottery!

So, can my nose be trained? And how much is my particular brand of anosmia going to impact my scentual explorations? I what do you think? Do you suspect you are anosmic to certain odors or notes?


Related terms:
Dysosmia - an altered sense of smell; impairment of the sense of smell.
Hyposmia - a decreased sense of smell but not a complete lack of it.
Phantosmia - olfactory hallucinations.

Related reading:


  1. I have the some anosmia, I think, it's hard to know what you don't know, you know? But In some perfumes there seems to be a hole, or a wall. I can smell some notes peeking around the edges, but the middle seems empty. I always figured it was a musk in there that I couldn't smell, obscuring everything. I think it can get better though. With Natori, which ws supposed to be very rich, I swear I couldn't smell a thing the first time I tried it, it was like water. Now I smell a bit of plum and some almond-sweetness, but faintly, like from behind a veil.

  2. Wow. A comment! I hadn't even checked for them, since I only just started the blog. Thanks, kjanicki. I wish I had a "first commenter prize". :)

    You give me hope about my anosmia. I have noticed an increased appreciation of some scents, too, and maybe it's those bits of our noses coming to life!

    I haven't tried Natori. I need to sample it and see what I can sniff. :p


  3. My MIL frequently experiences phantosmia. She smells cigarette smoke late at night sometimes. She says it is a ghost. I think it has something to do with the fact that she was a smoker some 30 years ago...Who knows?

  4. How cool to find your site! I suffered a mild head injury 15 months ago and lost my sense of smell but now blog about macarons. I'd love you to visit me at

  5. I once bought a perfume that I couldn't smell. At all. It was Bulgari Omnia. Why, might you ask, did I buy it when I couldn't smell it? Good question. I was trying out several perfumes at a counter and ended up choosing this one. Obviously, I must have meant to buy another one, but which one, I will never know.

    I guess the partial inability to smell certain notes exists. It's a neurological phenomenon, I suppose. But there's also another aspect of this, and that is experience. The more different smells one comes across and identifies in one's mind, the more one's ability to detect certain notes becomes, I think. It's like building a vocabulary in some sense. Perhaps.


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