On Smelling Good


  1. being able to manipulate our scent makes us a unique creature
  2. It's more important not smell bad rather than smell good
  3. Smell pollution is a very real concept, and being aware of the fact that like noise, people cannot escape smells should give enough reason to give it an element of consideration daily for the sake of others and yourself

this post is part of a series on being a well rounded programmer

My father, Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, once expressed the role of the teacher of self-knowledge through a wonderful metaphor. He talks about the Master, which is what people often call their main teacher, especially in India.
Here’s what he said: Knowledge, they say, is like the sandalwood tree, and the Master like a breeze. The entire sandalwood tree is filled with fragrance, but even if it wanted to give its fragrance away, it could not. Yet, when the breeze blows, it carries the fragrance to the whole forest. As a result, other trees become as fragrant as the sandalwood tree. In the same way, the entire world could be fragrant with Knowledge.

Hear Yourself, Prem Rawat


If you’ve spent time browsing the cologne forums on the internet, you’ll see there is a zealous category of people looking for the "perfect scent".

AFAIK, we all have our own unique biological signature scents due partially to the composition of bacteria on our skin, our diet, and how often we bathe. We all have that one friend who inexplicably smells good all the time whether they just ran a triathlon or have been lounging on the couch all day.

In this case, the perfect scent is one that counterbalances your unique biological scent. And indeed, finding that scent is a journey of trial and error, Axe and Chanel, Tic Tacs and electric toothbrushes.

Stanky Leg

What I’ve learned about smell is that it’s much more important to not smell bad than it is to smell actively good.

Much like hearing your own voice, learning to know how you smell is more of an art than a science since other people won’t tell you you smell bad due to fear of being rude.

I've found that is a good signal in seeing how readily people lean into conversation with you. Much like a bees attraction to the off gassing of a flower, nice smelling humans seem to draw people in, and bad ones push people away. So all other things being equal, you can see how people act around you by paying attention to the nuance in the magnetic distance between others and yourself.

Smell pollution is a very real concept, and being aware of the fact that like noise, people cannot escape smells should give enough reason to give it an element of consideration daily for the sake of others and yourself.

Practical Tips I’ve Picked Up

Over the years, I’ve been journaling about my own smell journey. A lot of the lessons are obvious, but will still be said:

  1. Deodorant. Non negotiable.
  2. Brushing teeth. Another non negotiable. There’s no pride in building plaque because you’re lazy
  3. Wash your sheets regularly. You spend a third of your life in bed and carry that smell at the beginning and end of the day
  4. Same with clothing, but there are many ways to disinfect clothing through sun, washing, etc, so it’s a less open and shut case than sheets on personal smell
  5. Scented vs non scented soap doesn’t seem to matter that much
  6. Dairy is bad for breath. Sorry.
  7. A lot of halitosis stems from bacteria in the stomach being overactive (or being in ketosis). In my experience this process is much easier to manage if you hydrate well throughout the day, though I'm not trained in medicine at all, and do not know why this is the case
  8. On that note, bacteria is out of your control so don’t feel guilty about something you can’t directly interface with.
  9. People won’t tell you you smell bad. You’ll need to find your baseline and check in with yourself throughout the day. Then have a plan in place to reverse the process that has happened already. It's like a game of hygiene Jenga, basically.
  10. On cologne and perfumes; experimentation is fun and is an easy confidence boost, but should happen after the above

Don’t kill the note – Rubbing the perfume into the skin seems a sensible thing to do. In reality – it breaks the molecular bond, making the scent weaker.

YSK: There is a big difference in Perfumes, Toilettes, and Colognes that have nothing to do with the gender of the scent. How to be a knowledgable fragrance consumer.

But If you want to have a a good scent about you that is unique and signature, consider using unscented hygiene products (like deodorant, body wash, shampoos, etc) and apply a highly concentrated perfume (and eau de toilette vs a perfume for example) twice a day. With a high concentration scent it will last much longer. A good eau de toilette will be noticeable for between 4-6 hours, sometimes longer. Application to the wrist or neck is not as important to somewhere like your chest, where heat will promote the perfume to deepen and sink into your clothes. These factors allow for longevity of your nice smell, and for it to lightly permeate all of your clothes.

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