Why Does Everyone Want To Smell Wet Right Now?

Photographed by Lissyelle Laricchia.
As a very proud water sign, I will always find a way to be in, near, on, or around a body of water. It’s how I center myself to feel peaceful and invigorated, or when I feel like reenacting The Little Mermaid. Despite being chronically dehydrated, my connection to water is boundless. I always feel my best near a body of water, so when I can’t make it to the water’s edge, I’ve found perfume to be the next best thing. Various fragrance brands are trying to bottle that cleansing energy in all forms, whether it's water from an ocean, rain after a monsoon, or even a large infinity pool. Wanting to smell ‘wet’ is the new wave; the sweet spot between a ‘skin scent’ and a water scent.

What is a ‘wet’ scent? 

In order to understand what encapsulates a ‘wet’ scent, it’s important to unpack what a ‘water’ scent is. Keta Burke-Williams, founder of perfume brand Ourside, says that water scents typically evoke cool, fresh, outdoorsy qualities. “I think of the ‘90s style Gap eau de toilettes as a perfect example of this vibe: crisp, clean and almost cooling, as if you are mimicking the feeling water gives off, rather than the exact smell of water itself,” she says. Water doesn’t typically have a scent, so when you purchase a water-inspired fragrance, you’re receiving exactly that: a perfumer’s interpretation of it.
There are several different types of water scents. Firstly, there’s ‘aquatic’, or notes reminiscent of the sea. Think: sea salt and mossy, woody seaweed. Next are scents you may experience before and rainfall, like petrichor (which describes the pleasant smell of rocks and concrete after rain), or geosmin (the aroma of the earth soaked in rain). Then — and don't let this put you off — there's the subtle, salty, skin-like element of sweat, as though you've spent 15 minutes in a scented sauna. With that, we’re seeing more and more perfumers and brands delve into what it means to smell wet, because let’s be real — there’s good wet (like Padma Lakshmi’s Sports Illustrated cover) and bad wet (like a dog who got caught in the rain and is now drying off on your bed). 
It is thought that the popularity of wet scents began in the 1960s when perfume manufacturer DSM-Firmenich discovered the captive molecule Calone, a fresh, almost green note said to be one of the first ‘watery’ molecules in perfumery. Now, nearly 70 years later, the trend has returned, much like rose fragrances. In 2023, however, water perfumes are far from two-dimensional. “We can use molecules such as calone, that have the water essence, and pair it with several other notes to create different experiences,” explains Alexis Grugeon, a perfumer at Firmenich

What makes ‘wet’ scents so appealing?

There’s no denying we have a collective obsession with water. The past few years, it feels like everyone has been occupied with hydration and how much water we’re supposed to consume daily. Water bottles are becoming status symbols and emotional support artifacts. But when it comes to wet scents specifically, the affinity goes deeper. Not only do wet scents offer a feeling of refreshing familiarity, but they also create a sense of nostalgia and memory for the wearer. “For me, water and rain scents are so trendy right now because people always want to feel connected to their scent and we are naturally attracted to notes that bring us comfort. Water is one of those,” says Grugeon.
Burke-Williams adds, “Personally I think many of us have strong memory associations with water, whether it's salty oceanic water from summertime beach visits, the smell of mist at the amusement park that scented '00s tween summers, or fresh water from a babbling brook.” Since scent is so tied to memories and emotions, says Burke-Williams, it only makes sense that we'd seek scents with aspects that take us back to simpler, fresher times.
In fact, water perfumes are known to bring a sense of comfort to the wearer because of their similarity to ‘skin scents’, a fragrance family which has taken the industry by storm lately. The goal? Your skin, but better. “Skin scents mimic that feeling of your skin heating up and the slightly sweet, slightly musky vibe you might give off when you're [feeling] cozy under a blanket,” says Burke-Williams. Think: Glossier You, Le Labo Santal 33 and Maison Francis Kurkdjian Gentle Fluidity Gold, all of which harness cooler, ozonic, almost salty notes — typical of a water scent — alongside warmer, more comforting notes.
That said, wet scents are not for everyone. In fact, they can be divisive. What smells to me like spa water in a crystal glass served on a yacht could smell like overly ripe cucumbers to someone else. Likewise, not everyone enjoys the scent of rain hitting hot pavement in the city. If out of balance, it can smell like dead leaves and the dirty ground, and not in the cool White Stripes kind of way.

What is the best water perfume?

But the brilliance of a ‘wet’ scent is in its flexibility and imagination. Whether you want to smell like an unbothered pond water nymph, like lightning, or well, like bodily fluids, there’s an abundance of options for you. It’s entirely in your hands. CB I Hate Perfume has quite literally cornered the market on scents that smell like good dirt and wet ground, with 0069 Wet Pavement London. Then there’s the incredibly complicated 402 Black March, which boasts notes of tree sap, rain drops, and moss. Woody notes can evoke the scent of a wet rainforest, like Diptyque L'Ombre Dans L'Eau Eau de Toilette or Hermés Un Jardin sur le Nil Eau de Toilette. Water purists, or those looking for the closest to a pure petrichor scent, will love Le Labo Baie 19, Ellis Brooklyn Salt, and Henry Rose Jake's House.
If you want something sweeter, try Ourside Nostalgia or Armani Privé Bleu Turquoise, which smells like eating birthday cake on the beach. One of the most unique wet scents in the world is D.S. & DURGA Steamed Rainbow, which boasts notes of semolina wheat and saline water. If you like the earth after the rain vibe, choosing a perfume with grassy vetiver is key, like Tom Ford Grey Vetiver Eau de Parfum or Boy Smells Tantrum. Also try Maison Margiela 'REPLICA' When the Rain Stops, which is equally as crisp. 
If it's soft water with spa vibes you want, try throwing in lily, lotus blossom, or musk to your search since they soften the ozonic and oceanic accords, like the classic Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey, or Lake & Skye 11:11 Eau de Parfum. And for those who want to smell like the sunshine emerging in a complete downpour in a rose garden, you will absolutely adore Hermann a Mes Cotes Me Paraissait Une Ombre
Wet scents are flexible and enduring — just like water itself. There’s a type of wetness for everyone, and that’s a great thing. 
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.

More from Fragrance

R29 Original Series