"I have a metallic smell about my face. What's going on?"

July 15, 2015 2 Comments

"I have a metallic smell about my face. What's going on?"

Oh dear. This is the first time this question has come up, but it is not one that is unfamiliar from a chemistry standpoint. It has to do with individual physiology.

Metal has no smell. When metal comes into contact with skin, it catalyzes reactions among the organic molecules that coat our bodies. When skin oils are exposed to iron and copper, they produce unpleasant smelling aldehydes and ketones.

For example, touching iron can produce the ketone 1-octen-3-one, which has a metallic, musty odor. The most common example is when you hold coins in your hand. The coins have no inherent smell. When we touch them, the metals immediately react with our skin to produce a new odor. Touch copper or steel in particular and the aromatic compounds (aldehydes and ketones) instantly appear when skin oils react with the metals.

Personal products, including cosmetics, contain metallic compounds for a variety of benefits, including color and UV protection. The source is of no consequence; the result is the same.

If you detect a metallic aroma on your skin, it is your personal chemistry at work. Just as everyone has a unique body odor (cue the bloodhounds…), so also do individuals create subtly distinctive metallic smells when they touch coins, or other materials that may contain a metallic component. Some folks barely react at all, while others develop more intense reactions that are discernible.

The good news is that rarely is it detected by anyone else unless in very close proximity. Alas, your nose is as close to you as it can get and becomes a personal metal detector. Your skin chemistry, combined with a sensitive nose, is bringing this to the fore. 

And once something is noticed, you become even more attuned to noticing it in the future. Your sense of smell is the most powerful of your senses when it comes to memories, so it is doing what it does.

Body odors, as well as sensitivity to odors in general, change with age and circumstances. Hormonal changes are the most common; any woman who has ever been pregnant understands a heightened sensitivity to smells. Chemotherapy patients experience intense sensitivity to even minimal fragrance. (We stock unscented soap particularly for cancer patients.)

As we age, hormones change and thus the interaction of  skin oils with external substances also changes. Antibiotics, diet, surgery, vitamin deficiencies, colds, infections, and medications are some other sources of altered physiological patterns.

Now, what to do?

Combat metals with acid. Internally, focus on acidic foods and sour flavors (citrus juices, lemons, coffee, and vinegar). Drink lots of water. You may have a vitamin deficiency, so add supplements to your diet, particularly B vitamins.

Externally, the simplest solution just might be a matter of altering the pH of your skin. Use pH balanced shampoos and conditioners. (The more foam, the more likely a product contains alkaline detergents.)

Avoid harsh bar soaps and opt for kinder hand made soaps. Note: All of the Abbey shampoos also make excellent body washes, and the Tea Tree Cleansing Gel is an excellent body wash for irritated skin. 

Use neutral cleansers and toners that deep clean, exfoliate, and balance surface oils to achieve a more  skin friendly acidic pH.

In particular, products with alpha hydroxyl acids prevent dehydration and promote a healthy acid mantle. It is for this very reason that the Abbey utilizes alpha hydroxyl acids in many of its formulations, but especially its cleansers and toners.  Your skin will be happy, you will be happy, and your nose will be happy.

2 Responses

Margaret Hardy
Margaret Hardy

June 27, 2018

Dear Annette — I appreciate your message, and know that you are not alone in this. Little consolation perhaps, but finding helpful solutions is our raison d’etre. You are right in that your medical issues are more than enough stress for getting through your days without additional anxiety like this. I have a friend with MS so I know exactly where you are.
RE LAUNDRY PRODUCTS. The metallic smell coming through your pores would be absorbed by the fibers of your clothing. There are several things you can do.
1. Laundry soda added to the wash cycle absorbs odors. Or add a cup of baking soda from your cupboard.
2. Vinegar can be added to the wash cycle and if you can manage the timing, especially to the rinse cycle. One/half to one cup should make a difference. Using white vinegar in your rinse cycle eliminates the need for softener.
3.There are laundry products now that are labeled for “sports clothing” to remove more than a normal amount of sweat odor. If detergents are too harsh, you also might try some natural based washing products.
4. I don’t know if there is a similar version of the above with the newer washing crystals that are meant to prolong the scent of softeners, but if so, those crystals work and are worth a try.
And remember, we stock scentless soaps especially for those enduring chemotherapy. We are happy to send you a bar as a gift, as well as any samples of products that you would like to try.
I hope some of these thoughts are helpful. Everyone is unique and a multi-prong approach is usually the best approach. I will send you a few additional thoughts in a separate email.
Kind regards.


June 25, 2018

I have MS and have had 2 rounds of a chemo treatment for the MS. I have noticed an increasing “metal smell” that seems to come through my pores. Frustrating doesn’t even begin to cover the battle I’m having. Within an hour of bathing head to toe, literally, the odor returns. I have asked each of my doctors about it. They don’t really consider it an issue. I DO!!
Your site has explained it SO far past any help I have received so far. My medications have always been blamed, but no remedies or even hints that anything could be done to change it.
I look forward to checking into your products. I haven’t even checked prices. Please, let them be affordable.
I do have a question: Do you recommend changing washing detergent and softener as well?

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