Why are we not aware of our own body odor?

Patrick Süskind’s book “Perfume” tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who was born on July 17, 1738 in Paris under the poorest conditions. From the start, he was tainted with not having his own body odor – a flaw that isolates him from humans and makes him an outsider. Only at the age of 25 does he recognize his own lack of smell as a result of a dream sequence, which represents an extreme shock experience for him. So much for the fiction of the book. The fact is that every human being has a specific smell of their own, which they themselves do not perceive.

Why don’t we perceive our own smell?

Scents work through the nose directly into the brain: the information is sent to the old centers of our brain via the olfactory cells in the nose. Incidentally, the nose is the only sensory organ that transmits its impulses directly to the brain without other nerve cells being connected in between. This information thus bypasses the cerebrum and evades human conscious perception.

Because scents and smells hit us all the time, our brain has to protect itself from being overloaded with information – the nervous system therefore ignores the smell of our own body. Only when there is a major change in body odor, such as  heavy sweating  after exercise or neglected personal hygiene, do we notice an inherent odor, because this then demonstratively rises in our noses.


In contrast to the  sense of smell  of animals such as B. a dog or a big cat, the human sense of smell is relatively underdeveloped. However, we humans can distinguish between about 10,000 different scents.

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