at 11:43 PM
Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Recently in my local physician's office, I noticed a large sign asking folks to not wear any perfume or strong scents.

I jog on a nature trail near my home every morning and as I pass other people I play a game. I try to smell them. Not surprisingly fellow joggers often have a pungent, musty smell. Teenagers often smell like gum or rarely marijuana. And many of the women, rarely men, have the strong whirling odor of perfume. I can still smell them long after they have passed me by.

Mammals mostly communicate by smell. Foxes urinate to define their territory. Deer use special glands between their toes to lay down a scent as they walk along. House cats use glands located under their eyes and along the rear flanks to rub and mark their owners. Your cat owns you; you don't own your cat.

Humans have lost the excellent smelling ability of our ancestors but it still plays an important, albeit subtle, role in our lives. We have special scent glands located in our armpits and in our genital area. The reason we have axillary hair is to trap and enhance the odors emitted by our own bodies. These glands must be important. They respond when we are frightened, aroused or excited. The smell of competition, nervousness and sexual arousal are all distinctly different odors. Research indicates smells are intimately involved in mate selection. The chemistry of love is just that.

These odors can be strong and the advertising industry has convinced us that our own body smells are evil, nasty and must be washed away or disguised. One irony of perfume is that one of the common chemicals used by the industry is musk oil from other animals. We cover own scent with compounds collected from the anal gland of the Abyssinian civet. I did not make that up!


Personally, I prefer the smell of a sweating jogger and bay-scented air to the smell of someone drenched in Estee Lauder. Let's leave perfumes for special occasions and celebrations, not for daily strolls in the forest or in waiting rooms.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.