One of the most important things that you can do when you’re trying to improve your dating success is also one of the most simple: you want to smell better. Scent is one of the most under-appreciated aspects of attraction. Our sense of smell is incredibly powerful and affects us in ways that we’re often unaware of. Not only is it the sense most intimately connected to memory and recall, but many scientists theorize that scent actually can be a signal for genetic compatibility. More importantly however, scent also affects how people perceive us on an unconscious level. In a study conducted by Oxford University, women were asked to rate the attractiveness of men in various photos. Unbeknownst to the participants, each photo had been subtly scented with different fragrances – some pleasant and sweet-smelling, others more pungent. The results were conclusive; every unpleasant-smelling photo – smelling faintly of burning rubber or basic BO – was rated as being far less attractive.
The photos that had more appealing scents – geraniums and men’s cologne – were consistently rated as being much more attractive.
Managing to smell better is an incredibly simple and surprisingly powerful tool in making yourself more attractive. But – as with most tools – you have to know how to use it properly.
Before You Smell Better, You Have To Not Smell Bad
One of the most damning stereotypes when it comes to nerds1 is also one of the most basic insults: they stink. Unfortunately… it’s also not entirely wrong. I’m a veteran of many, many geek conventions – comic cons, anime cons, gaming cons, etc. – as an exhibitor and guest and I can tell you from first-hand experience: nerd-funk is a thing. Just this weekend, I was at a retro gaming festival and there were many, many geeks who absolutely reeked. Rancid body odor, halitosis and – in several unfortunate occasions – stale piss all blended together to make an unfortunately unforgettable miasma of stench.
I wish I could say that this was just a convention problem… but sadly, it’s not. Like an unholy cross of scratch-and-sniff stickers and Russian roulette, you spend time around nerds and you’re likely to encounter some abominable odors.
But before you can smell better, you have to take care of the things that’re making you smell bad. You can’t just fight bad smells by trying to cover them up with other smells. The so-called “French shower” – dousing yourself in cologne and extra deodorant – doesn’t actually disguise your smell. In fact, women can often smell your stink underneath the cloud of Axe you’re using as a substitute for showering. In a quirk of physiology, women have a much sharper sense of smell than men do and can smell body-odor underneath other fragrances. You need to address the actual sources of your odor. And that means taking your personal hygiene seriously.
One of the first things is to not let yourself marinate in your own filth overnight. Most of us shower in the morning, but by the end of the day, we’ve been coated in sweat and environmental smells, impregnated our pants with a ripe collection of farts and shoved any amount of crap into our faces. Going straight to bed means we’re letting all of these new smells and odors sink into our skin (and our sheets – more on this in a moment) for hours on end – and the longer an odor sits on your skin, the harder it is to get rid of. A shower before bed means that you’re going to be much fresher in the morning.
Washing your hair properly is also important. Most people aren’t aware of just how much their hair and scalp can smell. Hair traps a lot of sweat and bacteria – doubly so if you’re in the habit of wearing hats regularly. If you don’t shampoo and rinse it carefully, you end up smelling like wet dog instead of a person. For people who have especially oily or smelly hair and scalp, a few drops of tea-tree oil massaged into the scalp or a rinse of a half-tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed into a cup of water can eliminate that musty smell.
Similarly, you need to take care of your teeth. It seems obvious, but the number of people I’ve seen who think that they can get by with brushing once and relying on mouthwash (or Binaca) the rest of the day is staggering. Flossing is especially important; not only do those bits of food stuck between your teeth start to rot, but flossing helps keep your gums healthy. Periodontal diseases like gingivitis are one of the causes of persistent bad breath and left untreated can actually cause your gums to decay. A tongue scraper can also be a useful tool – not only will it remove bacteria that brushing frequently doesn’t catch, but it helps remove dead and decomposing cells off your tongue.
You’ll also need a deodorant that actually works. Deodorant tends to be one of those areas where you get what you pay for; higher end brands like Anthony Logistics for Men work better with fewer added perfumes and scents than your drug-store brand – and they’re usually alcohol-free for people with more sensitive skin.
Of course, as I said: this is the start…
Know The Secret Source of Your Stink
One of the common things I see around men of a certain age (17 – 30, usually) is a general unawareness of just what’s contributing to your aroma, and what you need to do to correct it. But while basic hygiene is the universal starting place, sometimes this isn’t enough. See, a shower and using some Speed Stick isn’t going to be enough when everything else around you is coating you in a lovely layer of eau du filth. You need to make sure you’re not dealing with other sources of stench – ones you may be overlooking.
Your Crotch: Sweat in and of itself doesn’t have a smell; what it does is provide a rich, life-sustaining environment for bacteria to grow which is what leads to that distinct body-odor scent. The less exposed the area where your sweat collects, the more it’s going to reek. And while you may be putting a couple spritz under your pits before you go out, you may well be neglecting another area that tends to make you stink: your crotch. There’s nothing like a long day of sitting around to give you the nastiest case of swamp-ass you’ve ever seen… and you may not realize that it’s going on. One of the ways to beat this: grab some cornstarch. Applying some powder like Gold Bond or Jack Black’s Dry Down to your nuts and the inside of your thighs can help mitigate the amount of sweat you generate and cut down on the accompanying unpleasant smells. Bonus: a mentholated cornstarch powder can add a surprisingly refreshing tingle.
You also should look into underwear that lets your boys breathe. Part of the point of sweat is to cool your body via evaporation; if your underwear traps the sweat in your crotch, you’re going to smell. Natural fibers like cotton work best; perversely, sweat-wicking artificial fibers are going to trap that smell in with you… which leads to another source of stink.
Your Clothes, Towels and Sheets: Showering isn’t going to do you any good if you promptly get into stinky clothing. Your clothes absorb your odor and if you’re not washing them promptly and regularly, that smell is going to be almost permanently embedded in them. The longer you go between doing loads of laundry, the more the smell is going to cling to your clothes and be transferred to you. Your towels and bedsheets – especially your pillowcases – are also sources of unwanted stink. Towels get musty and moldy if you don’t wash them on the regular and your bedsheets are soaking up everything that comes off you for eight hours at a time. Your pillowcases are especially bad for collecting stains and smells – the oils from your face and scalp, the products in your hair all combine into an aromatic stew that you’re rubbing all over your head. Washing and changing your towels and sheets on a weekly basis (bi-weekly at an absolute minimum) helps keep everything smelling fresh and – incidentally – helps make sure you don’t girl-proof your apartment.
Pro-tip: buy a couple drying racks at Target and let your clothes dry out in the sun. Air-dried sheets, towels and clothes just smell so much better.
Your Diet: you are what you eat and what you eat is going to affect your scent. The things you put into your body are going to come out of your body – especially through your pores and other parts. Food with high level of sulfurous compounds – such as onions and garlic – tend to blend into your sweat, saliva and urine – making you reek. If your diet is primarily comprised of processed foods full of artificial flavoring and preservatives, your body-odor is going to be especially bad. Similarly, if all you’re drinking is beer, soda and coffee, you’re going to make your breath and sweat smell horrible. A diet heavy in red meat can also up the unpleasantness of your body odor – something to consider if you’re eating burgers and beef at every meal.
How do you fix this? Simple: up the amount of water and green leafy vegetables in your diet and cut down on the processed crap. Water flushes out your system and helps counteract the diuretic effects of caffeine that leads to a dry, stinky mouth. Meanwhile, the chlorophyll in plants actually serves as a sort of internal deodorant that helps cut down on the stink that results from a lousy diet. And as a bonus: the increase of insoluble fiber and veggies can help deal with some of the other noxious side-effects of a geek’s typical diet…
You Smoke (or Vape): If you smoke, you smell like a smoker, whether you’re talking about tobacco or weed. There’s no getting around it. It gets in your clothes, in your hair and in your body’s chemistry. It takes a lot of effort to get the cigarette smell out of clothes and hair – as anyone who’s come home from a smokey bar can tell you – and that means the smell will go on to infest the rest of your possessions. Moreover, it affects how you taste too – tobacco, nicotine, tar and the multitude of other chemicals in cigarettes leech into your saliva and other (ahem) bodily fluids. Kissing a smoker means you’re going to be tasting their habit, no matter how many Altoids they chow down on. Vaping and e-cigs aren’t a way of avoiding the signature smoker’s stink, by the by; if it goes in your body, it’s coming out your body as well. Even non-tobacco-flavored juices are going to affect your scent (and flavor) in ways you don’t want.
How To Pick The Right Scent For You
So now that you’ve reached a baseline of not smelling bad, now you can start to make yourself smell better. Scent can be as much of a signature part of your style as your wardrobe – after all, in many ways, how we smell tells the people around us a little of who we are. Different scents carry different associations with them; smell a certain way and people will associate you with those pre-suppositions. This can be incredibly powerful… if you know how to use them properly.
But in order to find the scent that works best for you, you need to know a little about cologne. Not all scents are the same, after all. Most colognes break down into one three categories2 of scent: citrus, green and spice. Citrus is a very “clean”, more casual scent that is brighter and less intense. Green scents are sweeter smelling and often more fruit or floral based – notes of lavender or fig, for example, while spicy scents tend to be muskier and stronger, like wood, leather or tobacco notes. These scents tend to correspond well with certain archetypes – citrus scents make one think of sportier types while spicy scents are more reminiscent of pin-stripe suited financial masters.
Part of what makes buying cologne interesting is that, like wine, colognes have very complex and layered scents that break down into the top note, the middle note and the base note. These additional notes reveal themselves as the cologne reacts to the body’s heat and chemistry – so while different scents may all be “spicy”, some may have middle notes of wood and cloves while others smell of amber or vanilla. Citrus scents may be more floral or may be more aquatic, reminiscent of an ocean breeze. Green scents may start with a floral top note of lavender and open up to a middle note of moss or bergamot.
If this sounds a lot like wine-tasting… well, you wouldn’t be wrong. The more experienced you become in cologne and perfumes, the larger “vocabulary” you develop and the more subtleties you can perceive.
Don’t let this stress you out; all you really need is one, maybe two scents. Having a specific signature scent can help support your style far more than a wide variety of colognes for each season and occasion.
When shopping for a new scent, you don’t want to make the mistake of spraying the cologne on a paper strip and carrying it with you – this prevents you from smelling the full breadth and complexity of a cologne. The initial scent that comes out of the atomizer isn’t what it will smell like at the end of the day; cologne interacts with your body’s chemistry and changes as it dries on your skin. Instead, if you’re in the market for a scent, then you want to make cologne your first stop of the day. Pick out two scents that speak to you and that seem to match your personality and apply them to your forearms (not your hands or wrists – the scent of the soap you use to wash your hands will combine and clash with the smell of the cologne). After applying the colognes, go and do the rest of your shopping. Give yourself a good twenty minutes to a half hour or so to let the scents open the mid notes; this will give you a much better idea of how the cologne will smell after being on you all day.
One thing to keep in mind is that a good cologne is going to be pricey. Cheap colognes have cheap ingredients and try to mask the shoddiness by overpowering you with smell – which is part of why Axe is synonymous with “Ass”. Likewise, those “designer knock-off” colognes and perfumes only smell like the originals for about 15 minutes before changing and fading away entirely. Paying $$$ for a bottle of scented alcohol and water may sting at the point of sale, but the price brings a greater level of quality as well. If price is an issue, you may want to look slightly farther afield than just colognes. Many people have success with essential oils rather than colognes and perfumes, which can be purchased for around $15 – $20 at your local health food store. Personally, I use an oil called Nemat Amber and consistently get compliments from complete strangers over how good I smell.
Another thing to remember is that a good cologne or perfume is like milk; it can spoil easily if you leave it out in the sun. Store your cologne in a cool, dark and dry place to help it last.
Apply Your Scent Correctly
Once you’ve chosen a signature scent, you don’t want to ruin everything by applying it the wrong way. No matter how great your cologne may smell, any benefits you may reap from wearing it disappear if you’re leaving a cloud of Yves Saint Laurent L’Homme in your wake.
Applying cologne is more art than science, but a few points are critical. First: try to avoid using other scented products if you’re going to apply cologne. The bonuses that you get when you smell better don’t stack; a strongly scented deodorant, aftershave and moisturizer all run the risk of clashing badly with your cologne. If you’re going to use a scent, pick one.
Second, don’t spray it directly on your skin. The classic image of a man giving himself a couple direct spritzes is actually a mistake; you run the risk of putting far too much on and overwhelming the people around you. Ideally, people shouldn’t be able to smell you unless they’re close enough to slow-dance. If someone who isn’t Wolverine can smell you coming around the corner, then you have a problem.
Instead, one of the best ways to apply cologne is to spray it in the air in front of you and walk through it. “Spray, delay, walk away” is a good way of ensuring that you get a very light application. If you’re using an oil, then you may want to pour a drop on your finger tip and apply it on the sides of your neck and the hollow of your throat or the inside of your wrists.
Another thing you may want to do is put a single spray (from a distance) on your shirt or the inside of your jacket. The smell won’t fade quite as quickly as it will on skin and people will catch an occasional, subtle whiff that can be incredibly appealing.
Just remember: whether you choose to go au naturale and let your pheromones do the talking or wear a little Cool Water, smell will affect the way people perceive you. A sour stench is going to turn stomachs, not heads. If you want better results, you need to remember: smell better.
- In fairness: you’ll find this outside the geek community too. However, it’s so damn prevalent amongst nerds that it’s become part of the short-hand describing them along with “basement dwelling,” “fedora wearing,” and “ill-advised facial hair” [↩]
- Actually, there’s four groups with dozens of sub-families, but unless you’re a perfumer, most of it won’t be relevant to you and will only serve to confuse you. So we’re keeping it simple [↩]