Have you ever sprayed perfume on yourself, and then later a family member comments on how strong it is, but you can’t even smell a whiff? What is this nose blindness, and why can’t we smell ourselves as well as other people can?
The world is a smelly place, and we often are overcome with the scent of BO in a gym changing rooms or the minty freshness of someone's breath. That is because humans have great noses – maybe not as great as other animals, but it is better than you may think. In one study from 2014, it was revealed that humans can discriminate over a trillion smells.
Despite having hard-working noggins, humans can become desensitized or nose blind to a particular scent. It is known as odor fatigue. Our sense of smell is just so exhausted by all the familiar odors that it decides to stop detecting it.
There have been studies where people place air fresheners in their rooms, and after a few days, they can no longer smell that tropical summer breeze scent.
“What seems to happen in long-term adaptation is that the receptors that would normally respond to these smells almost turn off after being bombarded for a few weeks,” Pamela Dalton, psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, told the Washington Post in 2016.
“You don’t see that in vision or hearing. You can be adapted to a sound or sight, but generally the systems recover pretty quickly. The fact that it takes two or three weeks to regain sensitivity is very unique.”
There are cases when people may be able to smell themselves, this is because we are so attuned to our unique body odor that any slight changes can be a bit like a slap in the face. Such as, if you have had a sweat-filled day, occasionally you may get the smell of BO drifting to your nose receptors. Although, caution must be stated, if you catch a sudden smell of yourself, it is likely to be extremely more pungent to strangers nearby.
It is not entirely understood why nose blindness happens to humans. However, if you want to smell yourself once more, there are ways to overcome this. This may include smelling your clothes away from your body, running clean hands along your scalp and smelling your fingertips, and doing some breath tests like the classic hand test (where you hold your hand up to your face and give it a good sniff).
Or, if you have some close and trusted friends, you can always ask them if you smell.