Women's psychology of fragrance: A lifespan study
A Sense of Smell Institute White Paper
Women’s psychology of fragrance: A lifespan study
Rachel S. Herz, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
Contact information: Rachel_herz@brown.edu, T: 401-863-9676, F: 401-863-1300
Prepared Exclusively for the Sense of Smell Institute
The Research & Education Division of The Fragrance Foundation
Women’s psychology of fragrance: A lifespan study
Methods and Findings
Demographics and Methods:
One hundred and thirteen women across six different age groups, from teenagers to women aged
60+ (between 17-22 respondents per group) were interviewed using the “Fragrance Questionnaire” that
was developed for this research. Please refer to the tables for details concerning age, occupation,
education, partner status, and place of residence. All respondents except for one 20 year old stated that
they believed that their own sense of smell was average or better. Most of the respondents from all age
groups stated that they never smoked; only 5% of the sample overall reported being regular smokers.
The only age group with more than 1 regular smoker were women in their 50’s (3 respondents).
Basic responses to odors:
Almost all respondents stated that they generally noticed smells. The only age groups where this
was not at 100% were among the teens (2 respondents) and the 60+ age category (1 respondent). The
majority of respondents also stated that they generally considered smells to be good (80%). Women in
their 50’s all agreed that smells were good. Forty year olds and teens had the most respondents to say
that they considered smells to be bad (approx 30% of the sample). Despite the fact that 1/3 of the 40
year olds considered smells to be bad, women in their 40’s listed the greatest number of different types
of favorite smells; teens reported the fewest different types of favorite smells.
From the responses obtained to the question what are your favorite smells, 11 major favorite
odor categories were defined. They were: sweet foods, savory foods, baked goods, vanilla, fruits,
flowers, perfume, outdoors (general), fresh-cut grass, ocean, and rain. An “other” category was also
included for responses that did not fit any of the pre-defined categories. The most popular smells in the
“other” category were: laundry/clean clothing, fresh clean scents, baby, tropical, leather (over all age
groups) and paper (only listed among teens and 20’s). Apart from these scents the “other” category was
Over all age groups, flowers were the smells that women liked the most, “other” (idiosyncratic)
responses were also given frequently. The categories with the fewest nominations overall were ocean
and rain scents. However, favorite smells varied by age. Teens reported favorite smells in all the odor
categories, but the majority of ratings fell in the sweet foods and baked goods categories (2/3 of teens
cited at least one of these categories). Sweet foods in particular were given more nominations by teens
than by any other age group. A quarter of the teens also listed savory foods and flowers as their favorite
scents. Categories with the fewest nominations from teens were water scents (ocean, rain) and outdoors
Women in their 20’s had favorite smells in all the odor categories. The overwhelming majority
(78%) listed flowers as their favorite smell. In fact, flowers received more nominations from this age
group than any other. Over 1/3 of women in their 20’s also listed baked goods as a favorite smell,
which again was more nominations than this category got from any other age group. A quarter (25%)
of the 20’s also listed sweet foods and fruits. Of all the age groups, women in their 20’s had the fewest
“other” odor nominations (1 respondent).
Half (50%) of the respondents in their 30’s named flowers as their favorite smell and 40%
reported fruits, which was more than any other age group. Over one third of the women in their 30’s
named an odor that was allocated to the “other” category. The sweet and savory food categories
received fewer nominations from women in this age group than any other (only 2 respondents).
Perfume also received fewer nominations from this age group than any other (only 1 respondent).
Outdoor and water smells received few nominations, and no one in this age group listed fresh-cut-grass
as a favorite scent.
Over half of the women in their 40’s listed flowers as their favorite smells. One third of the
respondents listed savory food and fruits as their favorite smells. Perfume was also listed by nearly 1/3
of the respondents. More women in their 40’s listed an odor that was assigned to the “other” category
more than any other age group. No one in the 40’s group listed rain as their favorite smell, however,
women in their 40’s listed fresh-cut-grass as a favorite scent more than women in any other age group.
Half of the women in their 50’s listed flowers as a favorite smell. One third of the respondents
listed savory foods and fruits as well as odors that were assigned to the “other” category. Perfume and
baked goods were also listed by nearly 1/3 of the respondents. This age group also tied with women in
their 20’s for nominations in the sweet food category. No one in the 50’s age group listed ocean as a
favorite smell, but rain was given more nominations by women in their 50’s than any other age group.
Slightly over half of the women in the 60+ age group listed perfume as a favorite smell, indeed
perfume got at least 2x as many nominations from the 60+ age group than from any other. Almost half
of the 60+ age group also listed flowers as a favorite smell. Notably, women in this age group listed
savory foods as a favorite smell more often than any other group (41%). Sweet foods received a
comparable number of nominations as given by women in their 20’s and 50’s, and odors that were
assigned to the “other” category were given by 1/3 of the respondents. Fewer women in the 60+ group
gave nominations for vanilla (only 1 respondent) than any other age group, and no one in the 60+ group
listed fruit or rain as a favorite scent. However, general outdoors smells were listed more by women in
this age group than any other (nearly 25% of respondents).
Some general trends that emerged when comparing across age groups was a tendency for the
smell of sweet foods to be liked most by teens and smells of savory foods to be liked more as women get
older. Preference for flowers was high for all age groups, but appeared to spike among women in their
20’s, who also appeared to be the least individualistic in their scent preferences. Preference for
perfumes increased as women got older, and was particularly appreciated by women who were 60+. In
general, listing nature smells (outdoors, rain) as favorite scents was more common for women 40 and
older. Women in their 40’s also appeared to be the most individualistic in their scent preferences.
All the women in their 40’s and 20’s stated that they wore fragrance. In the other age groups
between 5% and 20% of the respondents reported that they did not wear fragrance; the group with the
largest number of non-wearers was the teenage group.
Note that if an individual did not wear fragrance they did not answer questions pertaining to
the wearing, buying or psychology of fragrance, however, they did give their responses to the
environmental, household and beauty scent questions.
Wearing and Buying Fragrance Patterns:
Respondents were asked to indicate what types of fragrance they used from the following list:
perfume, eau de toilette, cologne, body splashes, scented lotion/powder. In terms of the type of
fragrance products women used, perfume and scented lotion/powder were used the most overall and
colognes were used the least. For teens scented lotion and body splashes were the most used products
and colognes were never used. For women in their 20’s, perfume was the most used product, followed
by scented lotion/powder, cologne was used least. For women in their 30’s and 40’s, perfume was used
the most product and body splashes the least used. For women in their 50’s, eau de toilette and scented
lotion/powder were most used. For the 60’+ age group perfume and scented lotion/powder were used
most. This age group also reported the highest use of wearing cologne. Body splashes were the least
used product for women aged 50 or above. Few participants in any age group reported using only one
type of fragrance product, with the majority using between 2-3 different types. Women in their 50’s and
older had the most use of different types of fragrance products; almost one quarter of the sample
reported using 4 or 5 of the 5 fragrance types listed.
NB. The varying number of nominations in the eau de toilette category by age likely reflects
understanding what eau de toilette is (i.e., many younger respondents may have called eau de toilette
“perfume”). Thus, it is speculated that eau de toilette was truly the most heavy usage category, as this
is a more affordable product than perfume.
In terms of the number of different fragrance products that respondents reported owning, the
range went as high as 50, with the average being approximately 9. Women in their 20’s reported
owning the most products (average between 13-14), and women in their 40’s and the 60+ age group the
least (average = 5). Notably, when it came to actually using the fragrances that they owned, the
number dropped dramatically. The average number of products women used was between 3-4, with
women in their 40’s and 60’s+ reporting the fewest (2-3) and women in their 20’s and 50’s the most
(between 5-6). What should be noted is that for women in their 40’s and 60’s ownership and use of
products was very closely matched. That is, these women generally used all the products they owned
rather than buying many products but using only a few. This may indicate a more realistic and practical
orientation towards fragrance purchasing among these age groups. In general, the other age groups
(teens, 20, 30, 50) owned 3x as many products as they actually used.
When it came to buying new fragrances teens were the most avid shoppers. Half of the teen
group bought a new fragrance every 1-3 months. Women in their 20’s were most likely to buy a new
fragrance every 3-6 months. Women in their 30’s showed two types of shoppers, those who purchased
between 3-6 months (60%) and those who purchased at intervals of 1 year or longer (33%). Women in
their 40’s generally purchased new fragrance at a once per year or longer basis. Similar to women in
their 30’s, women in their 50’s broke down into two general types of types of fragrance shoppers; a third
of the 50’s age group shopped for a new fragrance every 3 months, while over half of this group bought
a new fragrance only once/year or longer. Interestingly, two women in their 50’s stated that they bought
new fragrances every week (the only age group with any weekly shoppers). For women in the 60+ age
group most (3/4 of the group) bought a new fragrance at 6 month or longer intervals. Only three
respondents in the 60+ group bought fragrances between a 1- 3 month basis.
When it came to restocking their current supply, most women shopped between every 3 months
to 1 year. Teens stated that they restocked the most frequently, with a quarter reporting that they
restocked on a monthly basis and nearly half on a 6 month basis. Restocking on a yearly basis was most
commonly reported by women between the ages of 20 through 50. Somewhat surprising given their use
of a consistent smaller number of fragrances, over a quarter of the women in their 40’s stated that they
restocked at intervals longer than 1 year. One possibility for the outcomes obtained from the 40’s group
may be that they were actually the most accurate with respect to their purchasing behavior, while the
other age groups may have been more likely to overestimate or exaggerate. This again suggest that
women in their 40’s are especially self- aware with respect to their fragrance behavior.
The majority of women surveyed (84%) applied fragrance at least once/per day. Teens were
most likely to report applying fragrance several times per day (54%), but they were also the group to
have the largest number of respondents who reported that they only applied fragrance once/week (23%);
suggesting a bimodal distribution of fragrance users in this age group. The majority of respondents in
all of the other age groups applied fragrance at least once/day.
Motivations behind Fragrance Choice and Selecting a Fragrance to Wear:
The majority of women surveyed said that they were not seeking to create a unique scent or to
smell unique by their choice/use of fragrance. Not surprisingly, given pressure and desire for
conformity during adolescence, teens were least likely to want to smell unique (only 8%). What is
perhaps somewhat surprising given their self involvement/awareness and appreciation of scent is that
women in their 40’s were also unlikely to want to smell unique (only 15%). However, this findings
could also be connected to the 40’s and teens more negative view of smells overall (see page 1 re Basic
Responses to odors). That is, these age groups my believe that a unique scent may be perceived as
unpleasant. This may also be related to the fact that unfamiliar scents are evaluated as more unpleasant
than familiar scents. A unique scent is unfamiliar and hence potentially more unpleasant. Women in all
other age groups were at least moderately interested in wanting to smell unique (between 30-40% of
respondents stated that they tried to achieve this).
Only 1/4 of all respondents thought that the fragrance they wore was similar to someone else
who was special to them, however, age modified this response. Approximately 50% of the teens and 20
year olds reported that the scents they wore were similar to someone special to them. Nearly 1/3 of the
50’s age group also thought that the fragrance they wore was similar to someone else. However, none of
the women in the 60+ age group stated that they modeled their fragrance on anyone else, and few of the
women in the 30’s and 40’s age groups thought they their fragrance was modeled after someone they
knew (84% thought it was not). Of the women who did think their fragrance was similar to someone
else, mothers were overwhelming the person fragrance was modeled on. Best friends were also
reported, and sisters, aunts, grandmothers, boyfriend/husband and daughters were occasionally named.
All of the 40 yr olds who modeled their scent on someone else said it was on their mother, and nearly
85% of teens said the same. Half of the women in the 20’s and 50’s age groups also used their mother
as a model. Only 1/3 of the 30 year olds used their mother as a model, but this age group much more
than any other relied on their friends as a model (67%).
Approximately half of all the women surveyed reported that the time of day was a factor in
deciding what type of fragrance to wear. Women in their 20’s were most concerned/aware of time of
day as a signal for fragrance choice (78% reported that they used different fragrances as a function of
day or evening). Women in their 40’s were most indifferent to time of day; 63% did not care about
changing their fragrance as a function of time of day. Women who changed their use of fragrance as a
function of time of day generally said that they “used a lighter fragrance in the day and a heavier
fragrance at night,” this explanation was particularly true for women in their 20’s (86% used this
explanation) and women in their 30’s (70% used this explanation). An “other” (personal-idiosyncratic)
explanation for how time of day affected fragrance choice was most often given by women in their 40’s
(60%) followed by teens (43%). Examples of “other” explanations were: “It depends on what I am
doing,” or “I use more expensive perfumes on special occasions.”
Similar findings were found for the question regarding changing fragrance with the seasons.
Although slightly more than half of all women said they did not bother with changing their fragrance
with the seasons, this was also affected by age. Teens were the least likely to be concerned with the
seasons; 92% did not use the seasons as a fragrance indicator. Sixty percent of the 50 and 60+ also did
not care about the seasons. Twenty year olds were again the most conscientious of external factors for
fragrance choice and more than 65% of this age group reported that they changed their fragrance from
the summer to the winter. Between 50-55% of women in their 30’s and 40’s used season as an indicator
of fragrance type. When the seasons were used as a guide for changing fragrance type, the primary
modus operandus given was that “heavier fragrances were used in the winter/fall and lighter fragrances
in the spring/summer.” All of the teens and 30’s who used the seasons as a signal to change fragrance
gave the “heavier in winter/fall and lighter in spring/summer” explanation. The rest of the age groups
used this explanation about 90% of the time. If a respondent did not use this explanation their response
was categorized as “other.” Examples of “other” explanations were: “heavier in summer, lighter in the
winter” or “ I use special scents for the holidays.”
Fragrance, Mood and Self-Concept:
Two thirds (67%) of all the women surveyed reported that using fragrance changed their mood.
The mood altering effects of fragrance were most pronounced for women in their 30’s; nearly 90% of
women in this age group said that putting on fragrance changed their mood. Approximately 70% of
women in their 20’s and 40’s said that using fragrance changed their mood and 62% of women in their
50’s reported this to be so. Teens and women in their 60’s or older were least mood affected by
fragrance use (just over 50% reported that using fragrance changed their mood).
A variety of ways in which using fragrance changed mood were given. The most common
response (70% of respondents) was that it improved mood (made them feel “good/positive”). More
specific responses such as feeling “uplifted,” “sexy” and “pretty” by using fragrance were also given.
Occasionally women reported that smelling a strong fragrance or a fragrance for too long “gave them a
headache;” in other words, fragrance could put them into a bad mood. The specific mood effects also
varied as a function of age. Women in their 50’s had the most respondents to use the “it makes me feel
good/positive” explanation. The only negative (bad mood induced) responses were given by women in
their 20’s and 30’s (1 respondent in each age group). Women in their 20’s were also most likely to use
the “uplifting” explanation. Uplifting is distinguished from general positive mood as it particularly
indicates being more energized. Women in their 40’s gave the most varied responses for the positive
ways in which using fragrance improved mood, including sexy, pretty and uplifting. Women in the 60+
group also had at least 1 respondent to use all of these reasons.
Half of all the respondents said that the mood they were currently in had an influence on what
fragrances they would chose to wear, and this was also modified by age. Women in their 20’s were most
likely (over 3/4 of this age group) to say that the mood they were in had an impact on what fragrance
they would chose to wear. Women in their 50’s and 60+ were least likely to chose their fragrance based
on their current mood (only 1/3 reported that they did so). When mood was a guiding factor, the most
common explanation was that when the person was “in a particularly good mood they would chose to
wear something special;” women in their 30’s were most likely to give this reason (90%). The next
most common reason was to “lift the person out of a bad mood.” That is, if the person were in a bad
mood they would wear a fragrance they liked to make themselves feel better; women in their 40’s were
most likely to give this reason. Some teens (3 respondents) and women in their 20’s (2 respondents)
also reported that if they were “in a bad mood they would chose not to wear fragrance.” These were the
only two age groups to use this explanation. Notably, just as many answers fell into the “other”
idiosyncratic category as the “good mood/I wear something special” explanation and this was most
commonly the case for women in their 40’s and the 60+ age group (60% used this explanation in each
age group). Some examples of answers that were categorized as “other” are: “whatever seems to match
my mood and outfit” and “if I’m in a good mood, I’ll try anything.”
Most respondents (83%) stated that they believed that wearing fragrance made them more
appealing to others. Age also had an influence on this self-perception. The age group that most
believed that fragrance made them appealing were teens; 100% of the respondents in this group reported
this to be the case. Interestingly, 20 year olds were the least likely to believe that wearing scent made
them more appealing, as fully 1/3 of them said that it did not. Most women in their 40’s and 50’s
believed that fragrance made them more appealing (85%); as did women in the 60+ age group (80%).
Among the women who believed that wearing fragrance made them more appealing, the predominant
explanation was that they thought it made them “more attractive to others” (over half said this), women
who introspected on this question further said that they noticed that they got people’s “attention” and
that they “received compliments” when they wore fragrance. Women also singled out the “attention”
that they got specifically “from men” when they wore fragrance. Most of the respondents also said that
at least one reason why fragrance made them more appealing was because it “covered up bad body
odor.” Age influenced the way respondents explained the reasons for fragrance making them more
appealing. While all age groups were sensitive to the fact that fragrance made them generally more
attractive to others, teens were the most highly focused on male attention. Older women were much less
likely to single out male attention; only one respondent in the 50’s age group noted male attention and
no women in the 60+ age group. Covering up bad body odors was a more important reason for women
in their 40’s than any of the another age groups (1/4 commented on this).
Wearing fragrance generally made all the respondents feel more confident, however, age
stsrongly modified this effect. Almost all of the women in their 20’s (90%) felt that their confidence
was bolstered by wearing fragrance; this was more than any other age group. This response among the
20’s appears to tie in with how fragrance and mood were strongly interconnected for this age group. In
contrast, slightly more than half of the teens and 30 year olds said that wearing fragrance had no effect
on their confidence. Approximately 2/3 of the women in the other age groups (40, 50, 60+) said that
wearing fragrance make them feel more confident.
Women were given three situations in which wearing fragrance could make them feel more
confident: social, business and romantic. More women said that their confidence was bolstered by
wearing fragrance in all three situations than in only one or two situations, but women in their 40’s
showed the greatest overall confidence with the large majority saying that their confidence was boosted
in all three situations (77%). Social situations was where women most felt that wearing fragrance
increased their confidence (97%), followed closely by romantic situations (85%). Fragrance had the
least impact for increasing confidence in romantic situations among women in the 60+ age group.
Business was the situation in which the fewest woman overall said that wearing fragrance increased
their confidence, but women in their 40’s (77%) and especially their 50’s (86%) stated that their
confidence was boosted by wearing fragrance in the business setting.
Most women reported that wearing fragrance made them feel more feminine (92%). This was
most strongly shown for women in their 40’s (100% of the sample). Comparing across the age groups,
teens and women in their 20’s connected feminine with fragrance less than any of the other groups
(11%-15% said that wearing fragrance did not make them feel more feminine). Part of the reason for
this outcome among the younger age groups may have to do with the difficulties respondents had with
defining femininity (see below).
What does femininity mean to you?
Women who said that wearing fragrance made them feel more feminine were then asked what
femininity meant to them. This was a very difficult question for almost all women to answer, regardless
of age, and two women could not give any answer at all. From the remaining respondents, thirty-seven
different answers were given ranging from “shopping” to “intriguing.” Some of the answers were
similar, eg., pretty and something good, caring and empathetic, thus several response categories were
combined and the data re-analyzed to be more conceptually concise. The following general trends
emerged. One quarter of all women stated that femininity had something do with being pretty and/or
good and 20% stated that curvy/sexy or soft/delicate were terms that they used to define their femininity
(note that the connotations of delicate and sexy are quite different). Descriptors of classy/elegance were
used by at least 15% of the sample. All other descriptors were used with a frequency of 12% or less (see
table for details Q13b).
When the concept of femininity was examined as a function of age, teens were most likely to
ascribe femininity to smelling good. NB. this contradicts the fact that teens were unlikely to say that
wearing fragrance made them feel more feminine and is thus probably due to their interpretation of this
question being biased by the focus of the interview. One quarter of women in their 20’s used either
poised/grace or pretty/good to describe their femininity. Women in their 30’s showed the most complex
response pattern. Over 1/3 used the pretty/good explanation followed closely by girly, however, 1/4 of
the women in their 30’s sample stated that classy/elegance defined their femininity and another 1/4 said
that strong/driven defined their femininity. Pretty and girly are conceptually linked in the childish
connotations of femininity, however, classy/elegance taps into a different dimension of femininity—
more sophisticated and adult, while strong and driven falls into the more masculine connotation of
feminine. Interestingly, over 1/3 of women in their 40’s, and more than any other age group, used the
soft/delicate definition of femininity. Also notable is that none of the women in their 40’s used the
strong/driven explanation, and fewer women than in any other age group used the classy/elegance
explanation. Nearly 1/3 of women in their 50’s used the soft/delicate definition, followed closely by
curvy/sexy. Over 20% of the women in this age group also used one of the following definitions:
pretty/good; classy/elegant or confident and women in their 50’s were the age group most likely to use
confident as a definition of their femininity. Interestingly, women in the 60+ group used the curvy/sexy
definition more than any other term and more than any other age group. Descriptors related to
caring/empathy were only given by women in the 30 through 50 age range.
Psychology of Fragrance Use or Why Do You Wear fragrance?:
The responses women gave to the question of why they wore fragrance were analyzed and then
coded and categorized according the types of answers that were given. The response categories that
emerged were: for me, for others (in general), for males (specifically), to smell good, because I like
good smells, and to feel fully dressed. In almost all the age groups all of the response categories were
indicated. The predominate response across all age groups was “for me” (over half of the total sample
gave “for me” as a reason), however, teens rarely used this explanation (only 1 respondent). For teens
the majority of respondents, and more than in any other age group, said they wore fragrance “to smell
good.” The reason “for males” was given least often overall. No one in the teens, 20’s, 40’s and 60+
groups stated that “for males” was a reason why they wore fragrance (only reported by women in their
30’s and 50’s). Women in their 30’s and in the 50 and older age groups were most likely to say that
wearing fragrance made them “feel fully dressed” (approx 1/3 of the sample); no teens gave this reason.
Women in their 30’s were also more likely than any other age group to say they wore fragrance because
they “liked good smells” (45%).
When asked what the most important reason overall was for wearing fragrance, “for me” was the
reason given most across all age groups (35% overall). However, this was especially the case for
women in their 30’s (61%). “To smell good” came next as an agreed upon explanation (25%); and this
was especially so for teens (62%). No one gave “for males” as the most important reason. “To feel
completely dressed” was given as the top reason for women in the 60+ age group, which was more than
by any other (20%).
Women were given a set of five possible factors as influences for determining their choice of
fragrance: advertising, female peers, partner, personal preference, label/brand; and were asked to chose
which was the most important one for them. Given that “for me” was the main reason given for why
women wore fragrance it is not surprising that the majority of respondents across all ages said that what
determined their choice of fragrance most was their own personal preference (71%). Least influential in
fragrance choice were female peers (4%), followed by label/brand (6%). However, as expected
differences were observed as a function of age. The influence of female peers was greater for teens than
any other age category (15%). By contrast, no women in the 20’s, 30’s or 60+ age groups named female
peers as a determinant of fragrance choice. Brand or label mattered more to women in their 20’s than
any other group (11%); and personal preference was given as the top reason for choosing fragrance by
women in their 50’s more than any other age group (81%). Women in all age groups were slightly
influenced by advertising and their partner, but partner was more of a primary influence for women in
their 40’s than any other age group (16%).
The Psychology of Using Environmental Fragrances:
The majority of respondents (3/4) reported using environmental fragrance. The age group with
the most heavy usage was women in their 30’s (95%) followed by women in their 40’s and 50’s (85%).
The age group to use environmental fragrance least were the 60+ group (less than half). Among women
who used environmental fragrances (across all ages) the number of products used by any one individual
ranged from 1 to 4, with product types being candles, air fresheners, incense and “others” such as
potpourri, aromatherapy, or oils. Among the types of environmental products used, candles were the
products used most often (88%), air fresheners were used by 40% of the total sample and incense as a
specific product was used least (8%). A product in the “other” category was mentioned by 20% of the
respondents. Candles were most used by women in their 20’s (all reported using candles) and least by
women aged 50 or above (1/4 did not). Air fresheners were used most by teens and least by women in
their 20’s. A product in the “other” category was used most by women their 50’s and by none of the
women in the 60+ age group. Among women who used environmental fragrances (across all ages) most
used them on a daily basis, especially women their 50’s (2/3 of the sample). If not used on a daily basis,
environmental fragrances were used on a weekly basis. Only occasionally did environmental fragrance
users state that they used them at one month or longer intervals.
Women were asked to indicate all the reasons why they used environmental fragrance from a list
of five options: to create a mood for myself, to create a mood for other, for ambience, to make the room
cleaner, and for a sense of well-being; and they were also able to provide their own personal reason.
Most women responded “yes” to 4-5 of these reasons. To make the room cleaner, to create a mood for
myself, and for ambience were the reasons most often given (3/4 of all respondents). To create a mood
for myself was most important for women in their 20’s (92%) and least important for teens (58%). To
create a mood for others was most important for women in their 40’s (81%) and also least important for
teens (33%). For teens, ambience, to make the room cleaner and for a sense of well-being tied for most
important (2/3 of all teens gave at least one of these reasons). For ambience was also most important
for women in their 40’s. To make a room cleaner was identified most by women in their 40’s and the
60+ group. For a sense of well-being was identified most by women in their 30’s and least often by
women in their 40’s. Fifteen percent of the sample overall (but over 20% of women in their 30’s)
offered an additional personal reason for using environmental fragrance. Examples of these different
reasons were: “to cover up cigarette smoke and bad cooking odors” and “because I like to smell
different things in my home.”
Fragrance and Household/Beauty Products:
Over 3/4 of all respondents said that they selected household or beauty products based on their
scent. This was particularly true for women in their 30’s (90%) and least true for women in their 50’s
(40% said they did not). A variety of different cleaning and beauty products chosen for their scent were
given (see table Q17b). A general comparison between cleaning and beauty products showed that more
women said they selected a cleaning product (nearly 80%) based on its scent than a beauty product
(66%). Teens were less likely than any other age group to chose a cleaning product for scent (30%) but
most likely to chose to a beauty product for its scent (85%). Women from the age of 30 onward were
very likely (at least 85%) to chose a cleaning product for scent and moderately likely (from 55-75%) to
chose a beauty product based on scent; women in the 60+ group were least likely to chose a beauty
product for its scent. Notably some respondents explicitly stated that they chose their household and
beauty products to be unscented. This was most often the case for women in the 60+ age group (over
1/3 of the sample). No teens or 20’s said that they selected products to be unscented. When asked why
they chose a household or beauty product for its scent a number of explanations were offered (see table
Q17d). The most consistently obtained explanations over all age groups were: “I like a clean smell”
and “for my own personal preference” (the latter especially for women in their 50’s). Teens were most
likely to give answers such as: “I want/like to smell good,” or “I like to use products that smell good.”
One product for the rest of your life…
At the end of the interview, women were asked to name the one beauty product they would chose
if they could pick only one to use for the rest of their life. Lipstick/lipgloss and moisturizer were named
more often than any other product (25% of the sample each); mascara then trailed with 16% of the
sample, followed by: other eye makeup, other make-up, fragrance and cleanser. Teens were most
interested in mascara, other eye make-up and lip-gloss. Women in their 20’s and 30’s named lipstick
more than any other age group and any other product. Women in their 40’s, 50’s and 60+ selected
moisturizer more than any other product and this trend increased with age. Fragrance was chosen more
by women in the 60+ than any other age group, but even for women in their 60’s not quite 20% of the
sample chose fragrance as their favorite product.
A developmental pattern in responses to the questionnaire emerged that is in keeping with the
general changes in personality that take place from the teenage years through mature adulthood. Before
providing overall comments, a few caveats need to be mentioned. First, it should be noted that the
sample size of respondents in each age group may not be adequate to draw solid conclusions from.
Even though there were approximately 20 respondents per age group, depending on the question, and
how the responses to it were conditionalized, the number of respondents used for any given data analysis
could have been reduced by half. Second, the sample of respondents may not be adequately
representative of women in each of the age groups, or might have been more representative among some
age groups than others. Most respondents were interviewed while shopping at Sephora’s Department
store (Times Square, NYC) on a weekday in early June. Among the teenage age group, the majority
were girls who were traveling together on school trip to NYC, and all of the teens were students. In
contrast, among the other age groups the backgrounds and demographics of the respondents were much
more varied. Nevertheless certain trends emerged in respondents psychology of fragrance as a function
The teens seemed to be an age group characterized by contradiction in their fragrance behavior.
On the one hand they were capricious and tended towards exaggeration, but they were also the most
conservative and cautious. This age group was most likely to be concerned with good smells and to
believe that fragrance made them more appealing to others, but they were also especially judgmental
about bad smells. In general, the teens answers suggested that they were still experimenting and not yet
sure who they were. Teens were also less “me” oriented than the older age groups.
Women in their 20’s:
Women in their 20’s had a younger orientation than was expected. This age group was the most
influenced by external and internal factors, such as mood or confidence as opposed to having a
consistent sense and seemed the most emotionally reactive. Women in their 20’s were also the most
conforming with respect to fragrance trends the most influenced by cultural and media messages.
Women in their 30’s:
Women in their 30’s seemed to be the most diverse in terms of their approach and emotional
response to fragrance. Respondents from this age group gave answers that matched all of the other age
groups in some way. Women in this decade of life seemed most in transition, in particular between the
emotionality of the 20’s and the practicality of the 40’s.
Women in their 40’s:
Women in their 40’s seemed to be more self-aware and to have more self-understanding than any
of the younger age groups, and were more adventurous, expressive and less likely to follow trends in
their fragrance behavior/psychology. Women in their 40’s were also the most individualistic but they
were also the most partner orientated. It appeared that more women in their 40’s were struggling with
contradictions regarding their identity and career success on one hand and maintaining traditional views
of femininity (soft/delicate) on the other, than any other age group. Interestingly, women in this age
group had some characteristics in common with both the youngest and oldest age groups. A strong
streak of practicality and realism emerged among women in their 40’s that was also seen among women
in the 60+ group. Additionally, like the teens, these women were particularly concerned with
unpleasant smells and covering-up body odor.
Women in their 50’s:
Women in their 50’s were the most focused on their career and also seemed the most confident
and the most content. They were also the group that seemed the most whimsical and to be having the
most fun in life and with their fragrance world.
Women in their 60’s or older:
Women in their 60’s had a well defined sense of self and were individualistic. They were least
likely to be interested in environmental fragrances and in general were less emotionally oriented towards
fragrance than younger women. This age group was most realistic, practical and concise in their
answers to the interview in general. However, there appeared to be some contradictions with respect to
sexuality that emerged in this age group, while viewing femininity as sexual and sensuous they seemed
to see themselves as removed from the mating game and were least invested in male attention.