Perfume, which originated from ancient Egypt, has been used in many different ways by almost every civilisation throughout recorded history – from religious ceremonies and rituals to masking body odours and denoting status.
It has been used as personal scent for as long as it has been created too. And as we have evolved, so has our use of fragrance.
On top of all that’s mentioned above, we’ve also discovered and invented innumerable ways to scent our lives. There are makeup collections scented with peach, chocolate, and probably every delectable flavour you can think of.
Motorists often don’t leave their vehicles without car air fresheners to perfume the interior. And probably the most popular perfumed product of them all: fragranced hand sanitisers created to brighten our day while cleansing our hands and keeping us safe.
It has come to a point where if it can be made, it can, and will, be scented.
If we love our perfumes so much, is it just a little strange to say that the hottest type of fragrance in the game right now is the illusive, mysterious, and barely-there skin scent?
What in the world is a skin scent?
Good question! The honest answer: you may get a different definition depending on who you ask. But in its most basic definition, the answer lies within the name: it’s essentially perfume made to emulate the scent of, well, skin.
For a long time, the term refers to scents that include or are built around Iso E Super, a synthetic molecule developed in 1973 in the lab at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), an American corporation that develops scents, flavours, and cosmetic actives.
The molecule supposedly smells softly of wood and maybe a bit of musk. It’s designed to mix with your body chemistry and stay close to the skin – detectable only by you, or someone very close to you.
In some cases, the scent won’t even be picked up by your own nose but it’ll be smelled by others around you. Iso E Super has also been said to mimic the release of pheromones and is touted to be irresistible to the opposite sex – perfect for Valentine’s Day, don’t you think?
Nowadays though, skin scents are no longer solely defined by their usage of Iso E Super or molecules like it, but more generally, they’ve come to be defined by their soft presence that often smells like woods, fresh linen, vetiver, or white florals.
Anything really, as long as it wears very lightly. Yes, the term ‘skin scent’ has indeed evolved to be a colloquial term to describe a light, inoffensive fragrance.
But why are skin scents so sought after?
Isn’t it odd that we are applying a perfume to our skin in order to smell like skin? Doesn’t that seem a little… redundant?
While there’s a camp of people who look forward to creating a fantasy or mood with a perfume, letting a scent take them on a journey (which is apt considering that we can’t go anywhere in the foreseeable future), there’s a bunch of fragrance users that prefer wearing something that someone else, or even you, can barely smell.
You know how some of us love the no-makeup makeup look? Barely-there skin scents could be the fragrance version of that vibe.
Like the ritual of touching up our faces with only a translucent powder, these light-as-air perfumes make it feel like we’re doing something to take care of ourselves, even if it’s just for us to know only.
On the other hand, there could also be a fear of being “too much,” in all aspects. Being too glam. Smelling too strong. Taking up too much space. Since we’re all looking for an identity through scent, this type of fragrance can give us what we want without the worry of being too much for anyone else.
So if you’ve got your self-care routine down to a T by now, why not take it up a notch this year with perfumes that essentially makes you smell like you?
Nothing too strong or glam, just like how the no-makeup makeup look lets you look like you but better, thanks to the use of a specific ingredient known as Iso E Super. Here are the top 15 picks to wear this Valentine’s Day… and beyond.
15 best skin scents to add to your fragrance wardrobe
1. Escentric Molecules Molecule 01 EDT
We can’t talk about skin scents without opening with the skin scent standard, that is the Molecule 01 by Escentric Molecules.
Built around the skin scent molecule, Iso E Super, and nothing else, the cult perfume isolates the molecule so you can discover how it comes to life on your skin. Like all fragrances, it will smell differently on different people, but it might smell like nothing at all.
According to the brand, the scent also apparently “seems to vanish and then re-appear. This is due to the way it bonds with receptors in the olfactory system.”
For a better illustration of the fragrance, let’s just say it’s like static – something you can’t see or define but you know is there. In fact, it will remind you it’s there… as soon as you’ve stopped thinking about it.
Escentric Molecules Molecule 01 EDT retails for S$114 (100ml) on Selfridges.
2. Lancôme Trésor EDP
It may be a little surprising to see Lancôme’s iconic perfume on this list, but the fragrance was mentioned by one of the commenters on this blog post by The Perfume Shrine to possibly be the first perfume to contain significantly large amounts of Iso E Super in it.
If you like smelling like love all the time without overwhelming those around you, this delicate and romantic scent may just be it.
3. Hermès Hermessence Poivre Samarcande EDT
Master perfumer Jean Claude Ellena is known in the fragrance world to experiment with the magical properties of Iso E Super, and the Hermessence Poivre Samarcande is one of his glorious masterpieces.
The fragrance, which is a part of a collection of “sober and intense olfactory poems,” as the brand calls it, is re-created to capture the peppery, musky, and slightly smoky scent of cut oak wood from Ellena’s residence that was etched into his memory.
Hermès Hermessence Poivre Samarcande EDT retails for S$416 (100ml) online.
4. Juliette Has A Gun Sunny Side Up EDP
Wonder how your favourite egg style smells like? For the French niche skincare brand, it’s a mix of jasmine, musk, coconut milk, sandalwood, vanilla, and a dash of Iso E Super.
The scent is said to have to instantly evoke happy and positive feelings in you and those around you, and offers long-lasting aroma that can take you from day to night. Oh, those who love the unique scent has also mentioned that it lingers softly on your skin.
Juliette Has A Gun Sunny Side Up EDP retails for S$128 (50ml) and S$165 (100ml) on Sephora.
5. Commes de Garçons Series 3: Incense Kyoto EDT
Pointed out by The Perfume Shrine to contain 55% of Iso E Super in the compound, the fragrance – named after the Japanese city of Kyoto – evokes what it feels like to walk through its Buddhist temples and blossom streets with a blend of incense, cypress oil, coffee, vetiver, patchouli, and cedar.
Commes de Garçons Series 3: Incense Kyoto EDT retails for S$103 (50ml) on Selfridges.
6. Byredo Eleventh Hour EDP
Byredo is no stranger to creating highly coveted fragrances but this charismatic scent, which is made up of Sichuan pepper, bergamot, plum, rum, fig, cashmere wood, cedar and tonka bean, has a splash of Iso E Super to make its woody aromatic composition intoxicating.
But like all other Byredo offerings (which can be rather polarising), make sure you try this on paper – or if possible, on your skin – and not blind-buy.
Byredo Eleventh Hour EDP retails for S$274 (50ml) and S$372 (100ml) on Escentials. You can also try it for yourself at the Byredo boutique in Ngee Ann City.
7. Maison Christian Dior Thé Cachemire
Imagine this: it’s early winter in your favourite travel destination (or maybe a really rainy day in Singapore) and you’re sipping a cup of soothing tea while curled up in a luxurious cashmere sweater.
That is essentially what this refined and delicate fragrance smells like, with a bouquet of petitgrain, white flowers, rose, maté, Iso E Super, and musk.
Maison Christian Dior Thé Cachemire retails for S$155 (40ml), S$350 (125ml), and S$500 (250ml) at the Maison Christian Dior boutique in ION Orchard.
8. Louis Vuitton Le Jour Se Lève EDP
Those who prefer something slightly more floral fruity will love this cocktail of mandarin orange, blackcurrant, lily-of-the-valley, osmanthus, peony, Iso E Super, white musk, and vanilla.
Louis Vuitton Le Jour Se Lève EDP retails for S$410 (100ml) and S$620 (200ml) at Louis Vuitton boutiques and online.
9. Bottega Veneta Parco Palladiano I EDP
Like the morning sunlight appearing through the woods, this gentle scent delicately peeks through with soft floral notes, magnolia, white musk, and Iso E Super.
An exquisite mix feminine and masculine notes aside, you’ll also appreciate the Intrecciato pattern that’s a signature for the luxury fashion house.
Bottega Veneta Parco Palladiano I EDP retails for S$310 (100ml) on Selfridges.
10. Le Labo Rose 31 EDP
Unlike any other rose scents, this rose-based creation by Le Labo is famous for being a unisex fragrance, thanks to its use of warm, spicy, and woodsy notes such cumin, olbanum, cedar, and amber to contrast with a Centifolia rose accord before rounding off with guaiac wood, cistus, and Iso E Super.
Le Labo Rose 31 EDP retails for S$300 (50ml) on Selfridges. You can also find it at the Le Labo boutique in Ngee Ann City, where it’s priced at S$115 (15ml), S$270 (50ml), and S$390 (100ml).
11. Kenzo World EDT
Smelling gorgeously fresh, clean, and neutral during hotter days is possible, if you have this crisp pear-based perfume, of course.
Together with peony, almond, orris root, and Iso E Super, the juicy scent settles into a beautiful second-skin scent that’s soft, powdery, and just a little sensual.
Kenzo World EDT retails for for S$116 (50ml) and S$142 (75ml) on Sephora, but is currently on 40% off at the time of writing.
12. Calvin Klein Obsessed for Women EDP
Elements of masculinity and femininity intertwine in this warm and enthralling scent, made of citruses, lavender, violet leaf, rose, musk, and Iso E Super.
Calvin Klein Obsessed for Women EDP retails for S$160 (100ml) on Zalora, but is currently on 25% off at the time of writing.
13. Serge Lutens Féminité Du Bois EDP
Created by perfume maestro Serge Lutens, this one first made the appearance as a legendary woody oriental by Shiseido… before Lutens opened his own perfume house. In this fragrance, the Iso E Super molecule serves as a harmoniser of the plummy fruits, violet, and cedarwood.
Serge Lutens Féminité Du Bois EDP retails for S$280 (100ml) on TANGS.
14. Diptyque Eau Duelle EDP
Those with a sweet tooth can opt for this woody and spicy vanilla scent, which sees Bourbon vanilla revealing itself from a blend of cardamom, juniper, black tea, ambergris, and saffron from time to time to excite your nose.
Diptyque Eau Duelle EDP retails for S$233 (75ml) on Escentials, but it’s currently out of stock. You can submit your email address to have them notify you when it’s back in stock. Alternatively, you can also purchase it at the Diptyque boutique in Ngee Ann City.
15. Chanel Bleu de Chanel EDP
Featuring a cocktail of grapefruit, mint, ginger, nutmeg, Iso E Super, incense, vetiver, sandalwood, and patchouli, this woody aromatic fragrance may be created for men, but we certainly don’t mind spritzing this on ourselves.
Chanel Bleu de Chanel EDP retails for S$139 (50ml) and S$196 (100ml) at Chanel Beauty boutiques and counters, as well as on TANGS.