Everything you ever wanted to know about fragrance: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). How can you find your perfect perfume? What’s the best way to take care of it? Where should fragrance be applied, to get the most out of every spritz? Nobody’s born knowing these things, so we’ve collated answers to dozens of the questions we’re regularly asked, right here. Simply click on the question, and your answer will appear. (Then click on the question to make it disappear again.) Still can’t find what you’re looking for? Subscribers: you can send us your questions using the form here – and we’ll be pleased to help.
Q How do I choose the right perfume for me?
- We really would then advise trying fragrances in-store. Buying on-line is fine for replenishment, but there is nothing like experiencing the way a fragrance develops on your skin.
- Initially, try the fragrance on a blotter (also known as a perfume ‘spill’); these should be available on perfume counters – and when you buy a Discovery Box from this site, you’ll find a pack of blotters inside. Allow a few minutes for the alcohol and the top notes to subside, and then smell the blotters. At this stage you may be able to eliminate one or more, if they don’t appeal – but it is really the heart notes and the lingering base notes which you will live with, and which are crucial.
- Remember: blotters are a useful way of eliminating no-hopers and lining up possibilities, but they’re not really enough to base a perfume purchase on. You really need to smell a scent on your skin.
- Do make the most of FReD: The Perfume Society’s ‘virtual fragrance consultant’ who you’ll find on this site here (the name’s actually short for Fragrance Education). You can tell FReD which perfumes you’re keen on, and ‘he’ will make a personalised selection, suggesting up to six fragrances at a time for you to try, at various price-points.
Q Why do I love some and loathe others?
- A We are conditioned to have smell preferences, and our response is based partly on our individual genetic make-up (our DNA), and partly on our life experiences. So: that crushed tomato leaf note that reminds you of a beloved grandmother and her greenhouse – or the jasmine that was growing round a door when you were poorly on holiday, and which you can hardly stomach. Technically, we all have an ‘olfactory fingerprint’, which is unique to us: it is our life’s experiences all locked away in our smell memory. In the same way that we each respond differently to different smells, we don’t all like the same pictures, or the same music. (And wouldn’t life be boring, if we did…?)
Q Does my hair colour and skin type affect which perfumes I’ll like?
- A Your physical make-up can have an impact, but there are many, many exceptions… This is a very broad rule-of-thumb…
- Blondes with fair skin may find they are happiest with rich florals, as their skin may have a tendency to dryness, and subtle/citrus fragrances will evaporate quickly.
- Brunettes often have medium/dark skin which tends to contain higher levels of natural oils, allowing scents to last longer; they may find ambrées work well.
- Redheads tend to have fair and delicate skin, and sometimes this turns out to be incompatible with perfumes dominated by green notes.
Q How many should I try at a time?
- A In a perfect world, one, when you’ve narrowed down your choices – to really get to know the smell as it develops. Ideally, no more than two at a time – one on each wrist. We don’t believe perfume-shopping should be rushed, but we all live busy lives so at a push, you can try one more, on the inside of an elbow; the elbows also happen to be good pulse-points.
- Never try more than three fragrances at any one time, on your body, or you’ll confuse your senses. And because it’s hard to remember what you applied where, we really do suggest jotting down the details of which perfume you applied to which pulse-point. (It’s almost impossible to remember later, even if you think you’ll be able to…)
- Ideally, really live with a fragrance before you part with your cash. That might mean getting a sample, if it’s available in store (or exploring the Perfume Discovery Boxes you can read about here). It might mean spraying your skin, in a store. (We like to spray a darker-coloured scarf or pashmina, too, and sniff it later.) When you’ve fallen in love, then go back and make your purchase.
Q Can I tell how a perfume will smell, from a blotter?
- A Blotters, or spills, are specially-made pieces of blotting paper designed to demonstrate how a fragrance smells. They are a good way to establish if you like a perfume’s initial impression. (And certainly, they’re a good way to try lots of different fragrances, for instance if you belong to one of The Perfume Society Groups – like book clubs, without the homework…! Click here for more info) But if you’re buying perfume, you need to discover how it unfolds on your own skin, as it interacts with your unique body chemistry.
Q What is the difference between perfume/scent/fragrance?
- A Nothing. They are all words used to describe the wonderful world of smell, and the scented liquids (or balms) we apply to our bodies. Fragrance is in more common usage in the US, and throughout the perfume industry itself. Perfume comes from the Latin ‘per fumum’ which literally means through smoke. It originates from ancient times when people burned woods, resins and flowers as offerings to their gods – and if you’d like to read much more about the fascinating history of fragrance, click here.
Q What is the difference between Parfum, EDP, EDT, Aftershave and Cologne etc.?
- A These descriptions are used to identify the strength or concentration of oil in a fragrance. T he concentrations can vary from fragrance to fragrance but here is an average guide. In general, the higher the percentage, the higher the price – but be aware that different concentrations (Perfume, or Eau de Toilette, etc.) may also have different notes in them, and not simply be weaker or stronger. So when you like a fragrance, we suggest you explore its different concentrations.
- Extract/solid perfume – 20-30%
- Perfume – 15-25 %
- Eau de Parfum (EDP) – 8-15%
- Eau de Toilette (EDT) – 4-8%
- Cologne (EDC) – 2-4%
- After Shave – 2-4%
- Soap – 2-4%
- Body cream/lotion – 3-4%
- Perfumed candle – 10%
Q. Can I wear a men’s fragrance as a ‘perfume’?
- A Absolutely. Only in the last 150 years have distinctions been made between male and female fragrances. Of course some may be more suited to a particular gender, but it is all personal choice. We know men who wear Jicky and Angel, and plenty of women who adore Eau Sauvage or Habit Rouge. There really aren’t any ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’.
Q What is a fragrance wardrobe – and do I need one?
- A As Coco Chanel said, ‘Perfume is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion.’ So: some people have lots of shoes and bags and change according to their mood. A fragrance wardrobe provides the same opportunity for you to choose, according to your mood or the occasion. What we aim to do through The Perfume Society is make sure that those choices are fragrances you truly love and which suit you – rather than something which languishes, unworn, on a shelf. (Just as we’ve all bought clothes which we’ve worn once, and realised didn’t suit us. That’s what we’re trying to help you avoid.
Q If I start to build a fragrance wardrobe, how many should I have…?
- A As many as you like. (How many pairs of shoes do you own…? Or jackets…? And would you wear sequins to work, or a fitted suit to watch a movie on a weekend…?) We don’t want to see fragrances languishing unworn on a dressing table, but if you wear them rather than look at them, then six, ten, maybe even more… You might want to have different fragrances for spring/summer and autumn/winter. (This is very common.) Or for day and evening: the evening fragrances might be stronger concentrations. Something subtle, perhaps, to wear to the office. Something outdoorsy, for gardening. Something snuggly, for cosying up to a fire, watching a boxed set. If perfume brings you joy, indulge yourself – and let others indulge you (preferably in a guided way…)
Q What are niche perfumes?
- A ‘Niche’ is the name given to perfumes which are often interesting, unusual, special, difficult to find – and sometimes pricey, too. There has been a huge rise in ‘niche’ perfumery, in the past few years, with many fascinating new names appearing on the fragrance scene. They all work with the same ‘palette’ of fragrance ingredients, but often the niche perfumers try daring combinations, or are inspired by very personal events and experiences. All fragrances tell a story, and exploring ‘niche’ perfumes can be a great way to learn about the olfactory universe.
Q What are celebrity scents?
- A. Scents created with the celebrity name on it. Sometimes the celebrities are involved and sometimes not – they are still scents! It’s a fact: celebrity scents are created by the same ‘noses’ as the non-celebrity scents. And some are truly beautiful; we certainly don’t believe in snobbery about perfume, and if you love Britney Spears or J-Lo – as millions do – then you are in fine company.
Q. Do seasonal scents exist? Are some better for winter than summer?
- A In hot weather, you may find your fragrance seems ‘stronger’ or more overpowering. This is exactly why brands sometimes offer lighter versions of bestselling scents, for the summer. Some people prefer heavier more full-bodied, comforting, almost ‘cocooning’ scents in the winter – but again, this is individual. Personally, at The Perfume Society, we have richer fragrances that we love to rediscover at around the time when we reach for our opaque tights, our socks (and vests!), switching to airier perfumes for the warmers months. Just do what feels right for you, personally – in fact, follow your nose…
Q Are there some fragrances designed to be worn for daytime, or for evening…?
- A Some do have the name ‘Night’, or ‘Nuit’ – which can be a clue that they’re intended for evening wear. But really, there are no hard and fast rules that have to be followed. This really is all about you. What you may want to do with a favourite fragrance, however, is choose a lighter concentration for daytime – an eau de parfum, or eau de toilette – and apply the perfume version, at night, which is basically a more intense version of the same scent.
Q Are some perfumes created to be worn on special occasions?
- A Some perfumes – like Estée Lauder Beautiful – have been advertised over the years on a model dressed as a bride, but it would be pretty uncommercial of a fragrance house to market a fragrance for special occasions only. What many, many people like to do, though, if there’s an impending big day – a wedding, an anniversary, maybe even an awards ceremony – is to choose a new fragrance which will forever bring back memories of that important occasion. To read about how to do just that, click here.
Q Where should I buy?
- A Always, always buy from a reputable retailer or a respected name in on-line retail as you must have confidence the stock is not old, and is not counterfeit. Perfume has a life and must have been ‘looked after’ properly during storage. There are many perfume ‘fakes’ around and buying from a street vendor, anywhere in the world, is simply throwing your money away. Should you buy on-line? If you’ve tried a sample and you like it, certainly – but we would never recommend buying before you’ve tried. (This is what our Fragrance Education Discovery Boxes are for – starting with the ‘joining gift’ – click here for info – as well as the other themed boxes we’ll be offering the opportunity for you to buy, starting mid-June 2014.)
Q How do I choose perfume as a gift?
- A It’s difficult, but not impossible. If you know what that person wears, you’ve the choices: buy a bottle of exactly the same perfume, or what’s known as a ‘flanker’ – sometimes a limited edition, but echoing elements of the original. Secondly, you could buy a different concentration. Or thirdly – if you want to go for something different, but a likely ‘hit’, we suggest you ask FReD, here. FReD is your ‘virtual fragrance advisor’, and as long as you have an idea of a perfume your friend/relation wears, FReD can make some clever recommendations. (It can require a little detective work…!) If you don’t know AT ALL what someone likes, we would probably recommend chocolates – or flowers… Or a gift voucher for a fragrance. Just because you like the way something smells, that doesn’t mean someone else will…
Q Why is perfume so expensive?
- A Expensive…? Can you really put a price on something which whisks you to that spot overlooking the Caribbean where you had the first drink, on your honeymoon…? Or conjures up the presence of a lost loved one? (We recently gave a fragrance to a young bride: it was the perfume her late mother always wore. At the end of the day, that bride said: ‘I felt that Mum was there…’) But let’s look at the facts. The price of a perfume is a reflection of the cost of the precious raw materials, and the length of time it has taken to create and develop the perfume. The skill of the perfumer – who must train for seven years, before qualifying – also has to be factored in, somewhere. The design costs for the bottle – and the bottle itself – are also contributing factors. Perfume is an art, and a craft – and we believe it is priceless. We would rather save for a beautiful new perfume than another pair of shoes, ourselves…!
Q Where should I apply perfume ?
- A Coco Chanel advised women to apply perfume ‘where you want to be kissed’… What that means is: spray/dab on your ‘hot spots’, or pulse points – behind the ears, temples, wrists, nape of neck, back of the knees, in the crease of your elbows, between your breasts, the small of your back, navel area… The blood flows close to the surface in these zones, and heats the fragrance oils. But do be aware of one no-no: perfume industry ‘insiders’ never, ever rub their wrists together after applying fragrance, because it affects the oils. Spray, waft your wrists around – and be patient…!
Q How much should I wear?
- A This is personal – but enough so you can smell it, and not too much that it overpowers the surrounding area. Your ‘scent circle’ should be your arms’ length and only when people come into your circle should they smell your perfume. If you’re unsure about whether you tend to ‘overdo’ your fragrance, ask a (good) friend. And take into account the occasion, too: you would certainly want to wear more for a romantic night out than to the office, or lunch with a future mother-in-law.
Q How should I spray my perfume?
- A Spritz from eight to 10 inches (20-25 cm) away from your body, and let it develop on the skin. DO NOT RUB! (See Hints & Tips, here.) We also very much like this advice from perfumer Olivier Cresp (responsible for the creation of Thierry Mugler Angel, Nina L’Eau, and more): ‘Do spritz fragrance into your hair rather than all over your body. This will help the scent to last longer compared to quickly rubbing off your skin. It also means that when moving your head, there’ll be a more natural whiff of fragrance.’ And the late, great Estée Lauder suggested to women that they spray perfume into the air, like a cloud, and walk through it…
Q Can I wear more than one perfume at a time?
- A Yes! Did you know that in the Middle East, women layer up to SEVEN fragrances at a time? Never be afraid to play with perfume. (The wonderful thing about fragrance is there is no right or wrong: if you like something, then it’s right.) As your sense of smell develops – and that is what The Perfume Society is all about – you should become more adept at working out which fragrances will enhance each other. (And we will be running courses for members on this subject, where you can play and experiment – so do keep an eye on our EVENTS section, here, offering exclusive opportunities for subscribers.) Initially, you might want to try wearing two fragrances from the same ‘family’, and gradually becoming more daring.
Q Can perfume last all day?
- A Perfume can last four to six hours (or even longer), depending on the ingredients – and how dry your skin is. (Perfumes dissipate much faster on dry skins, or when the air is particularly dry.) From the moment you apply: the top notes, or ‘head’ notes last around 5-15 minutes before they disappear. The middle notes last from two to four hours, and make up most of the fragrance. The base notes(very occasionally referred to as ‘fond’) usually last from four to six hours.
Q How long will the perfume last on me?
- A That depends on the type of fragrance and on your unique odour footprint, as well as the oiliness or dryness of your skin; perfume likes to ‘cling’ to oil, and perfumes last longer on oilier-complexioned people. The strength of the fragrance is also a factor, and so are the notes: deep, smouldering base notes – the woods, resins, leather and tobacco etc. – last longer. So a fresh cologne will never last as long as an Ambrée.
- That might mean the natural oil of your skin – or it might mean, if you have dry skin, that you would do well to smooth on a body lotion or a rich cream, before applying your perfume, to give it something to ‘cling’ to.
Q How can I make my perfume last longer on my skin?
- A If you moisturise your skin, this gives the oils something to ‘cling’ to, and will boost its staying power. So: if the ‘matching’ body products are available, it’s a beautiful way to ‘layer’ on your fragrance; body creams and body lotions, in particular, add emollients which hold perfume. If these range extensions aren’t available, go for an unscented body cream, butter or lotion which won’t clash with your chosen scent. (NB Chanel now makes a specific body product designed to be worn to complement their fragrance creations,Chanel Les Exclusifs Fresh Body Cream, or more affordably, try L’Occitane Fragrance Beautifying Cream. They’re equivalent to ‘primers’ for perfumes, and we believe we’ll be seeing more of these launched, in coming years.)
Q Is layering expensive?
A Not necessarily: sometimes it works out cheaper as you may find you need to use less perfume
Q Why can’t I smell my own perfume after several minutes?
- A The nose becomes desensitised and quickly gets used to the notes of your perfume. You may not be able to smell it at all after 30-40 minutes, although your friends and colleagues may still be able to.
Q. Are there other things which will affect the smell of my perfume?
- A. Diet has an impact: spicy foods can impact on the natural smell of your body, and meat-eaters are said to smell different to vegetarians. Environment also plays a part – both hot and cold climates affect the length of time a perfume lasts and its intensity. Age is another factor: the older you get, usually the drier the skin. (And for the years around menopause, hormonal shifts may mean a fragrance you have worn for years smells completely different.) Medication and certain health problems can also distort your perfume, on the skin. And as for smoking…? Smokers often report that their perfume has ‘changed’, when in fact, it’s the smoking impacting on their actual sense of smell…
Q Can perfume help change my mood?
- A Yes: many people use fragrance as a lift for their spirits, and there is even a name for the science behind this: ‘aromachology’. It’s been scientifically proven that different aromas can impact on mood and emotions – not just personally, but affecting those around you. Bergamot is a feel-good ingredient, peppermint makes you perkier and more alert, and grapefruit – believe it or not – makes others believe you’re younger than you are…! This is one reason so many people now have a ‘wardrobe’ of fragrances, rather than just one signature scent: a perfume to make them feel romantic, after a hard day staring at a computer screen; to give them a relaxed, weekend feel on Saturdays and Sundays – or simply something that they spritz on for work, in the morning, which makes them feel focused and professional, in the same way as a smart suit or a crisp white shirt…
Q What can I do if I am allergic to perfume?
- A If you are really and truly allergic, then we suggest you do not wear perfume. If you experience a rash, redness or itching, coughing or problems with breathing, and you’ve established a link to a perfume (or all perfume), you may have to avoid it altogether, or find a different way to enjoy fragrance. (TIP People who have an allergic skin reaction to perfume might like to spray the inside hem of their clothing, on the underside of a lapel, or spray a cotton wool pad and tuck it into a pocket.)
- If you wish to continue to wear perfume, and your skin reacts to it, you may be able to get a referral to a dermatologist who can run patch tests to establish which common allergen/s in perfume affect you. Today, regulations require manufacturers to list known allergens – linalool, geraniol, methoxycinammate etc. – on the outer box. This does not mean you will be allergic to them – the vast majority of people aren’t – but you might be. This listing does at least allow people to avoid ingredients they know they react to. (Although it’s not hugely helpful because most perfumes do seem to contain many of the known allergens: they are very common ingredients.)
Q My perfume seems different to how I remember it. Is my nose playing tricks…?
- A When an ingredient is classified as a potential allergen – by IFRA, the International Fragrance Association – two things may happen: it can be banned altogether, or its use limited by percentage, to minimise the risk of a susceptible perfume-wearer reacting.
- When this happens, perfumes may be ‘tweaked’ by the manufacturer. In some cases, a process called ‘fractionation’ – which allows ingredient manufacturers to remove the allergenic molecule of an fragrance note, while leaving the rest intact – can allow the continued use of that ingredient.
- Case in point: oak moss – invaluable in the creation of the chypre family of perfumes – has become restricted. Thierry Wasser, Guerlain’s in-house ‘nose’, explained to us that he now uses a ‘fractionated’ oak moss. ‘However, when you fractionate an ingredient, it leaves a “hole”: there is something missing,’ added Thierry. His solution to filling the sensory ‘hole’ in oak moss was to add a touch of – believe it or not – celery. It’s impossible to discern, to the rest of us – but it gave the rounded quality to that so-essential note that Thierry needed to return the classic Guerlain creation Mitsouko to its former, long-lasting glory.
- Occasionally, however, a perfume may change because the company which makes it is bought by another, and the formulation changed.
Q How long will an open bottle last?
- A. Fragrance certainly doesn’t last forever – but storing it correctly will help preserve the quality and lifespan of your perfume. The key is to keep it away from light and heat – so a bathroom, or a sunny dressing table, is NOT the place for your fragrance stash: higher temperatures affect the top notes of fragrance, making them musty, or more sour.
- If you have a dark cupboard to store perfume in, or a drawer, that’s perfect. (Ideally, keep in the box, or – if you’re using a drawer – wrap bottles in a scarf, or even plastic, unglamorous as that is. Be aware that perfume that’s never been opened and kept in a dark place can last more than 40 years…!).
- If you can’t manage that environment, store on a shelf that doesn’t get direct sunlight, in a not-too-hot room. Then once a bottle is open, you should get up to two years’ life out of it (we’ve had fragrances that last much longer…) Lighter, citrussy scents deteriorate faster than opulent florals…
- You may find you get a better life out of a spray bottle than a splash: if you touch the glass to your skin, and oil from your body gets into the bottle, that can affect the lifespan of your perfume, too: touch your skin to the rim of the bottle – and don’t use stoppers for application, as they are in contact with the contents. NB Dark glass preserves scent for longer than clear versions.
- But don’t hang onto any fragrance for too long…! Remember: perfume is to be worn, and enjoyed
Q How do I know if it has gone off?
- A The colour might darken and the liquid may thicken and/or become cloudy – and you can be sure it will not smell like your normal scent. There’s really nothing you can do to redeem it at this point, alas.
MORE FRAGRANCE INFO
Q What is a fragrance family?
- A All perfumes are classified by the perfume world according to their overall aroma, and the ingredients. These ‘families’ have expanded, over the years: where once there were ambrées, now you may find ‘fresh ambrées’, or ‘floral ambrées’ – which are like brothers or sisters to the original family. For more about the different families, click here.
- It’s good to know which family your perfume falls into – because it is a simple fact that most of us have quite narrow preferences. But because perfumes aren’t categorised by family in stores, and there isn’t always an expert sales consultant on standby, it won’t necessarily help you.
Q What kind of ingredients are found in perfume?
- A Perfume is composed – literally composed, with different notes – to create a complex blend, from different raw materials…
- These include natural materials, distilled or extracted directly from fruits, herbs, flowers, blossoms, barks, leaves, twigs, roots, resins, bulbs, rhizomes, seeds, woods and more.
- Perfumers also use synthetics – man-made molecules, including the famous aldehydes which give Chanel No. 5 that initial ‘whoosh’, but nowadays almost any smell can be synthesised. Violet, for instance, is always synthetic, as it cannot be extracted from the plant. Musks are now mostly synthetic, because of conservation concerns. Even lily of the valley must be synthesised, because – perversely – those intensely-scented nodding white flowers will not give up their fragrant beauty to a perfumer.
- Many of your favourite fragrances could not exist if the perfumers didn’t weave together natural ingredients and man-made synthetic chemicals. The extraordinary skill of the ‘nose’, or perfumer, is to combine these seamlessly, to take us on an emotional and sensory journey…
Q Is natural perfume best?
A Very few perfumes are 100% natural. One reason perfumers like to use synthetics is to enhance their staying power, as some of the naturals have a short lifespan on the skin, and the man-made ingredients act like a fixative.
Q What is a fragrance note?
- A note in a perfume is an individual element – for instance, lemon, jasmine, rose, apple, sandalwood, and the many thousands of other flowers, herbs, spices and woods that perfumers use. Together, combining the individual notes, noses create harmonies and compositions. The language of perfumery borrows heavily from the language of music, and has never really evolved its own vocabulary.
Q What do the ‘top’, ‘heart’ and ‘base’ notes mean?
- In classical perfumery the perfumery will arrange his ingredients/notes in a pyramid shape.
- Top Notes/head are evident as soon as your perfume touches your skin; these are usually lighter – citrus, herbs, fruits…
- They are followed by the middle notes/heart notes which tend to be floral – rose, jasmine, ylang ylang. They may be sensed at the start – but really they make up the heart of the fragrance, which develops after 10-15 minutes They stay longer on the skin than top notes…
- Finally the base notes/fond come through, with a direct relation to the staying power of the perfume. They help slow down the evaporation of the perfume and help perfumes last longer. There’s a comparatively small range of base notes for a perfumer to work with – sandalwood, musk, vanilla, oak moss, patchouli – because only a (generous) handful last long enough on the skin to ‘fix’ the smell.
- NB Nowadays, in an increasingly fast-paced world, there is a trend for what’s known as ‘linear’ perfumes: a what-you-smell-is-what-you-get construction, designed to give the wearer the true, overall impression of a perfume from the get-go – which might mean the moment you stop at a perfume counter, on your way to a meeting… That perfume doesn’t then change very much, over the time it’s worn. Personally, we would always encourage allowing perfume time to develop, rather than choosing on the basis of a first impression – even with one of these ‘linear’ fragrances.