This story needs a scratch-and-sniff patch. If you could smell it, you might think it better or, at least, younger.
The perfume Ageless by Harvey Prince of New York is designed to disguise any stale, um, fragrance of age with the stink of youth.
"It's clinically proven," says company founder Kumar Ramani, "to make you smell younger."
If science can't save us from the natural aging process, it can at least trick every working nose into thinking, "Dang, she looks good."
Ramani cites a Rutgers study in which male subjects were offered whiffs of apple, lavender, rose and vanilla and asked what age women they associated with each scent.
Ageless perfumeTurns out, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet ... as an old woman. And lavender might as well be a wrinkle.
An earlier study by the Smell and Taste Research Foundation, in 2005, drew similar conclusions about the scent of rose and also singled out grapefruit as a youthful scent.
Eat the citrus fruit while holding a rose and you probably break even, age-wise.
Ramani sold and distributed beauty products for many years. An article on the power of fragrance to calm or excite, induce migraines or eliminate them, piqued his interest in developing and producing his first product, which he launched last fall.
People estimate each other's ages based not only on visual cues such as hair and clothing styles but also on smell, Ramani says. It runs deeper than simply associating Old Spice with old men. The smell of human skin changes as it ages.
"You know the smell of a baby," he suggests. "After a certain time, that baby scent is gone.
"And when was the last time you were in a nursing home?"
The Journal of Investigative Dermatology published a study that found the skin of women older than 40 has higher levels of fatty substances than the skin of younger women, resulting in an unpleasant greasy odor.
Aging, in other words, stinks.
The power of smell intrigues Dr. Timothy Smith, a professor in the department of otolaryngology (ears, nose and throat) at Oregon Health & Science University and director of the Oregon Sinus Center.
"Imagine the inside of your nose," Smith says. "The top of the inside -- the 'roof' of your nose -- is the floor of your cranial cavity. The olfactory nerves (the ones responsible for sensing smell) sit between your nose and brain."
Allergies, viruses and chronic sinus infections can take a toll on the ability to perceive smells.
"We don't think about our sense of smell the way we think about our other senses," Smith says.
"Most people have imagined what it might be like to be blind or deaf," he says. But they usually don't think about the impact of smell, he says, until they lose it.
Without their sense of smell, some people lose interest in eating or sex, and there is some correlation between lack of smell and depression. But it's the sheer pleasure of smelling that people most miss.
"I hear patients say around the holidays that they miss the smell of turkey," Smith says. "Or they miss the smell of the Christmas tree."
Medication can be prescribed to temporarily renew the sense of smell for such occasions and give the nose a holiday. But it's only a short-term fix.
Smith has not smelled Ageless or seen the research but didn't entirely dismiss the notion behind the fragrance.
"We've all had the experience of smelling something and having it bring back a memory," he says. So it's plausible a manufactured fragrance could remind someone of youth.
But whether it can trick a mind into thinking someone actually is younger is an entirely different question.
"We haven't even scratched the surface on knowledge of smell," he says.
Chris Tsefalas, owner of The Perfume House in Southeast Portland, is a qualified "nose," a title earned through a series of scent-identifying tests. He admires the presentation of Ageless and the uniqueness of its story and now carries it.
"He talked with me for maybe an hour," Tsefalas says of Ramani. "Afterwards I said, 'I've listened to you, and now I want to sit down and listen to it all over again.'"
Ageless, also and perhaps more aptly called Ageless Fantasy, retails for about $120 for a 3.4 ounce bottle. It's available in Portland at The Perfume House and Dolce Vita Pearl.
It's selling as well as celebrity perfumes, says Ramani, because it's not about "who you wear but what it can do for you."
The fragrant combination of essence of pink grapefruit, mango, pomegranate, jasmine and musk has appeal even for those with no interest in smelling "eight to 12 years younger" than their actual age, as Ramani claims.
This raises concerns about the danger of a child still in the bloom of single digits spritzing herself with the stuff and disappearing altogether, at least in an olfactory sense.
"We could have made it smell like bubble gum," Ramani deadpans. "But we didn't want to go that young."
He's now working on a youth-inducing fragrance for men.
-- Vivian McInerny; firstname.lastname@example.org