We all have a unique scent—that natural cocktail made up of our body chemistry mixed with the products we routinely use on our skin, hair, laundry and more. It’s the subtle but distinctively “you” smell left behind on a T-shirt or your bedsheets. Compared to a traditional fragrance, which is worn overtly, a personal scent is more like lingerie—detectable only during intimate contact. To catch a whiff, you must get close to someone.

Recognizing the potential appeal of a scent so inherently sensual, beauty brands have begun experimenting with fragrances that either attempt to mimic the natural smell of human skin or use ingredients that take your individual aroma and amplify it. The result: a burgeoning category of eau de parfum and eau de toilette referred to as “skin scents.” Not unlike a tinted moisturizer or lip balm—or a styling product that plays up your hair’s natural texture —these understated fragrances aim to make the most of what you have (and emit) naturally.

Most skin scents are soft, lightweight formulas that stay close to the body—similar to how our own natural aroma behaves. “They’re light enough for people to think of not as perfumes—separate entities travelling along with you—but as somehow part of you, emanating from you,” explains Tania Sanchez, co-author of Perfumes: The Guide. “I suspect most of them rely more on slow dry-down materials like musks, woods and ambers and less on very forward identifiable materials like berry notes, heavy florals and grapefruit.”

Skin scents are also typically gender-neutral, and most could be described as warm, inviting, sexy (but not heavy) and clean (but not sterile). Some fragrance experts suggest that one reason skin scents are so appealing is that they pay homage to intimacy, something many of us lacked during months of social distancing.

“[The pandemic] put restrictions on being with other people and limited our ability to get very close to someone,” says Rachel Herz, a neuroscientist at Brown University in Providence, R.I., and an expert in the psychological science of smell. “So getting this secret hint of somebody’s presence provides an added layer of intimacy that has a psychologically meaningful dimension at this particular time. People are emerging from deep social isolation and want to connect emotionally, socially and intimately. Skin scents can help give us all those things.” How can a perfumer conjure something so personal? Some blends, such as Glossier You Eau de Parfum or The Maker Naked Eau de Parfum, include notes like pink pepper, which infuses the scent with a subtle spiciness that is surprisingly similar to the smell of human skin. Others use very soft fl orals to evoke human skin; it works because it’s done in a subtler way than with traditional fl orals. The scent By Rosie Jane Rosie Eau de Parfum, for instance, uses just a whispery hint of rose to give the fragrance a velvety plushness suggestive of warm, damp skin. Glossier You complements its piquant pink-pepper note with just a touch of iris to make the blend’s spiciness a bit cozier.

The secret weapon in a skin scent like Molecule 01 by Escentric Molecules is an ingredient called Iso E Super, which magnifies other notes. Alone, Iso E Super smells slightly woody and is almost imperceptible. But spray it on bare skin and suddenly it intensifies your own natural scent.

“We discovered that Iso E Super, the only [active] ingredient in Molecule 01, creates an individual aura for each person who wears it,” says Geza Schoen, master perfumer and founder of Escentric Molecules. He suggests it was this unique characteristic that helped Molecule 01 become one of the brand’s bestselling blends, as many people have been craving an opportunity to express their individuality as well as find a fragrance that’s an alternative to mass-market generic scents.

Skin scents can also be deeply sexy. Secretions Magnifiques by Etat Libre d’Orange mixes aldehydic notes (which are key components of Chanel No. 5—they create the classic scent’s soapy, clean characteristic) with musk and sandalwood as well as marine ingredients like salty seaweed. The eff ect is erotic yet still surprisingly subtle. Like most skin scents, Secretions Magnifiques is best smelled up close.

Play up your body’s natural “eau” by spritzing on any of these skin scents:


Molecule 01 Eau de Toilette Spray, Escentric Molecules

Price: $185


Glossier You Eau de Parfum Spray, Glossier

Price: $75


Naked Eau de Parfum Spray, The Maker

Price: $209