What if you weren't blessed with a thick skin like most of us? How can you keep scent in your life yet keep skin rash out of it? I was approached by a customer who happened to develop a nasty rash to her favourite perfume (Immortellle l'Amour, thanks for asking). No matter what, she still wants to enjoy it (which makes me equally sad and flattered). It suddenly dawned on me that she may not be the only one who could benefit from tips for how to enjoy scent without ruining your epidermis.
There are several alternatives for wearing scent that I highly recommend you try experimenting with. They can be divided into three major categories: Scenting the hair, scenting the clothing, and jewelry. The methods that can be used also can be further divided into application of liquid perfume (either oil or alcohol based, which you would spray, dab or splash on another object that is worn close to the body but not directly touching the sensitive skin); scenting through incense smoke; or taking advantage of your own body's warmth to coax the scent out of a piece of jewelry it's encased within; and lastly - saturation or immersion by proximity, as with placing scented sachets among the objects you'd like to scent.
Hair holds great potential for those who can't enjoy it on their skin. There are ancient tradition world-wide for scenting the hair. Its ability to retain scent makes it especially appealing. In Arabia, women use incense smoke to scent their hair after washing. And in India, women scent their hair with fragrant oils, such as sesame oil from seeds that have been saturated with the scent of jasmine petals, Monoi de Tahiti (coconut oil infused with the island's native gardenia flower) to scent and nourish the hair and protect it from the sun. And if you live in a tropical country - tucking a flower behind your ear is all you'll need - be it a champaca flower as they do in India, or plumeria or gardenia in the tropical islands (i.e. Hawaii and Haiti).
Liquid Perfume Application: Dab a little of perfume on your fingertips, and work it into strands of your hair. Avoid the scalp to prevent skin reaction. It's better to use oil-based perfume on your hair, especially if your hair tends to be dry and frizzy. Scented nourishing hair oils are another great way to enjoy fragrant without affecting your skin, and give your hair an extra boost of nutrients and lock in moisture. If you are using hair oil, it's best to apply them on damp, towel-dried hair before you style it.
Incense Method: Burn your favourite incense, and surround yourself with smoke for 10 - 15 minutes so that your hair will absorb the scent. Be extra cautious that the ember at the tip of the incense stick (or hot bowl and embers if you are burning loose incense on a charcoal) do not touch your hair - it will burn and smell awful!
SCARF or SHAWL:
First of all a word of caution: if your skin is very very sensitive, you might not want to use this method on a scarf you are worn directly on your neck. In this case, a shawl might be a better idea - or a handkerchief (see more below).
Another thing to keep in mind is that perfumes often can stain. So it's best to use this method with dark scarf. Also, natural fabrics from animal origin such as wool and silk retain the scent better than cotton or linen.
Spray: To scent your scarf, spray your favourite scent into the air directly above it. This will reduce staining, and distribute the scent evenly on a larger area of the scarf.
Handkerchief perfumes were very popular, especially among men, in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. They would carry one, neatly folded, peaking from the jacket's pocket. They were scented with specially formulated "handkerchief perfumes" - usually a bouquet of several floral notes, or soliflores. The advantage of a scented handkerchief is that if you go through a very stinky part of town (or are stuck on a stinky bus) - you can bring it to your nose and escape the stench... In addition, you needn't worry about your skin getting any rashes, but will still enjoy the perfume as it drifts up from your pocket.
Liquid Perfume Application: Dab some perfume or apply a few drops on the handkerchief and place in your pocket.
Saturation Method: Such handkerchiefs can also be placed inside drawers or between your sweaters and clothing or even stationary so that they can absorb their pleasant scent.
The result of adding scent to clothing is usually quite subtle, and I won't lie to you and say it's the same as applying it directly to your skin or hair. It's not as intimate. However, it is a wonderful and inoffensive way to add scent to your life, as well as joy. The Japanese, whose scent culture does not include much of skin-application of fragrance, would tuck sachets of fragrant woods and spices into their kimono sleeves (which are very wide, and were used also as pockets of sorts). Another less known fact about scenting clothes is that while you move, it also moves the scent molecules around, leaving a pleasantly fragrant trail in your wake...
Liquid Perfume Application: Spraying fragrance in the air is usually more effective (see above re scarf). But even a little dab on your jacket's collar or on the sleeves near the wrists can add some scent to your daily life.
Saturation Method: Place sachets or scented soap between your garments. You can purchase high-end Japanese sachets, that come in either paper bags or fancy silk pouches - or sew your own simple linen sachets of single notes such as lavender buds, patchouli leaves, liatrix leaves, etc. Even whole spices such as star anise, vanilla beans or cinnamon sticks can be placed in drawers or shelves to scent clothes. Some herbs and fragrant woods, such as patchouli leaves and cedar blocks (or balls) also will protect your wool and silk from greedy moth.
Women in biblical times (and till this day in Ethiopia) would wear a chunk of myrrh on their neck that would warm up against their body to release its delicate scent. This is what the Song of Songs is referring to "A bundle of myrrh is my beloved unto me; she shall lie all night betwixt my breasts" (Song of Songs 1:13 based on the King James Bible translation). While wearing it directly on the skin might be too risqué for a person with sensitive skin - if it is enclosed in a pouch or a container, the damage may be minimized. Same for solid perfumes: they will warm on your body and release the scent so that you can smell it rising from your chest - even if you can't wear it directly on the skin.
If you have any other tips for enjoying scent without coming into dermal contact with it - please do post a comment! And this is also an opportunity to remind you that we do have a monthly contest here on SmellyBlog. All of your comments during the month will be entered into a draw come February 1st, and the winner will receive a set of vintage minis from the 80s.