Olfactory fatigue – or the sensory adaptation of your nose to block out familiar scents – can occur when you are overexposed to the same scents for a long period of time. It’s a challenge for those of us who work with fragrance and essential oils every day, particularly when we are testing new scents and fragrance blends. But it can also result in purchasing a candle or fragrance from a store that you find you don’t like much when you get home. So, how can you fight olfactory fatigue and keep your home smelling beautiful? Read on.
The coffee bean Myth
While working the market booth one day, someone advised that I should keep a small bowl of coffee beans available. Intrigued, I asked why? Apparently, when trying on perfume, she was told that coffee beans would “cleanse the nasal palate” and allow her to distinguish the fragrances better. Curious, I looked it up.
According to several sources (here, here, and here) a research study by Dr. Alexis Grosofsky disproved this misconception through her research on olfactory adaptation. I have not been able to find an abstract or copy of the case study (the links on each referencing page appear to have been compromised). However, I did find a copy of Dr. Grosofsky’s latest research (2022) on how the scent of lavender improves the trust factor of robots (Cool!) However, some comments state that coffee still helps them to distinguish between fragrances even though it doesn’t provide a reset.
While the coffee bean idea may be an urban myth, additional research on olfactory fatigue suggests sniffing an elbow may reset the nose. This is because your nose is very accustomed to how you smell and most definitely has become adapted to it. This more “neutral” scent may provide a closer approximation to a nose reset than coffee and allow you to better differentiate between different home fragrances.
How do you avoid Olfactory Fatigue?
The truth is, it’s hard to avoid olfactory fatigue. In workplaces where hazardous chemicals are present, to ensure that workers don’t become “nose blind” to high levels of chemicals is to put systems into place that can sense them and warn workers with a light or alarm. That seems a little overboard for simply trying to keep your home smelling delightful! The solution, at least for you in your own home, may be to rotate scents.
Instead of burning though the same large candle day after day, try rotating to a new scent each day. Small candle sampler boxes or wax melts can help keep new scents on rotation. Don’t like that much variety? Purchase scents that are in the same “family” – such as citrus, woodsy, or floral – or have the same fragrance oil as part of the blend – ie, lavender, lemongrass or vanilla. Teasing your nasal palate with a slightly different scent may help keep your nose interested in the scents around you.
Discussion: How about you? Have you had any experience sniffing coffee beans between candles or perfumes? Did it work? How about the elbow trick?