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Installation 43: AdoleScents: Smells Like Teen Spirit

(penguin puberty is not unlike human puberty in some ways)

On this international fragrance day a post to celebrate the scent of adoleScents. Smelling like teen spirit is a right of passage and has never been more curious and intense than it is today.

A short study published this week in the journal, Communications Chemistry examined the chemical differences of smells of young children and adolescents. They found the under three group smelled "flowery" and the children who had gone through puberty as "cheesy, musty and goat-like." Given the slang of G.O.A.T for today's teen, I would say that smelling like a GOAT would be a welcome achievement.

I currently have three teens in the house, and while my two older have absolutely dipped their toes and began collecting fragrances, my youngest is the most active and adventurous. At the ripe age of 12 he has a cologne club with his peers and next to mine, the most adventurous nose in the house.  So while he is still a young boy who revels in scatological humor, he also knows the difference between an EDP and an EDT. While Mom’s studio is a discovery zone, his fascination is self-directed and powered by hormones.

His generation is the alpha generation (born (2010 - 2023), they have the most keen awareness of material things, grew up with ASMR for bedtime or relaxation, and may or may not have the least tolerance for frustration due to the heavy dopamine affects of instant movie/game/friend and food time. Scent being the most direct hit to the nervous system of all the senses makes for an important tool for them to navigate the self and the social.

AdoleScence is the period between childhood and adulthood, encompassing not only reproductive maturation, but also cognitive, emotional, and social maturation. It is this integral time when the brain is literally being formed in tandem with hormones and a new olfactory awareness. Sebum production increases during puberty and researchers theorize that, in combination, two musky steroids plus a higher levels of carboxylic acids may explain why the body odor of adoleScents can be off-putting to some people. In adoleScents hormones are literally sculpting neural circuits and the nervous system is being dramatically rewired. I do wonder how adding serious scent signals from fragrance may or may not influence this building process. Could it stimulate it? Derail it? Support and enhance it?

Science has studied adoleScent ring-tailed lemurs, mandrills, Syrian hamsters and rats to confirm correlations between adolescence and marking territories with olfactory behaviors. Scent marking is used as a territorial function and a sociosexual communication, where scent is used to show dominance. If scent-marking signals the status of the dominant male then the attraction humans have early in their adolescence to potent smells feels natural, even in it’s preternatural and sometimes off-putting presentation. One can't forget that a decade ago middle and high schools in Pennsylvania, Brookline and Connecticut have banned Axe body spray for it's delirious affects on students (ie., hospitalizations in several cases from the smell).

I’ve noticed when working with adoleScents in my therapy practice, often the depressed teens have a dulled perception of scent, where it is not firing to the degree that teens not struggling with depression are experiencing. I often relate this to diminished sense of imagination, though there may be an interesting physical and neurological relationship with scent and depression during adolescence. I know that anosmia may trigger depression in adults, and wonder could depressed youth trigger a sort of anosmia?

Lately, I’ve received calls from friends who know of my ‘expertise” in the smellverse and ask me how to steer their teen into something less “strong”. Regardless of sex or gender, the youth feel drawn to some of the most potent, sharp, square and sometimes outrageous scents. I can only imagine that with their new scents of self and scent of peers it’s as if they were just exposed to colors and fell immediately in love with the brightest colors. Exposure to many different types of smells is the best ‘remedy’ where I point people to niche perfumers or shops where they might get less cloying and more creative versions of a floral not found in the initial exploration.

The arch of scent is not gendered in my household, where especially my gen alpha does not discriminate with ‘male or female’ scents and tries them all. For this I am deeply hopeful. I do think the smell maxing is an alpha move, deeply rooted in a primitive inclination to scent the territory for dominance via vanilla, vetiver or tuberose.

Happy International Fragrance day!!!!

Smell Max: (verb) To attempt to smell your best.

"Tonight we are going to smell max!"

AdoleScent: (noun) The territory of puberty and olfaction: the making of, the digestion of and the attraction to scents in this seminal and awkward period of human development.

" In adoleScents hormones are literally sculpting neural circuits and the nervous system is being dramatically rewired."

Scentmaxxing: (verb) To achieve the best personal scent you can.

"Scentmaxxing is a phenomenon understood and used by TikTok users highly attuned to all things scented."

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