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Fragrance FAQ - what to buy and how to apply

A guide to choosing the right perfume and wearing it correctly

Author: Charlotte Kuchinsky June 5 2008

Blond woman with perfume bottle

Fragrance has become very much a part of the overall beauty regimen of most women. There are literally hundreds of scents available in today’s marketplace and each year, dozens of celebrities introduce even more. Now there are stores where people can go to make their own customized blends. With so much to choose from, it can be a daunting task trying to find just the right scent.

Fragrances come in a variety of concentrations that range from light and airy to bold and impudent. They include oils, eau de parfums, perfumes, eau de toilettes, and colognes. Each of those varieties, in turn, come in various sprays, mists, solids, and liquids, multiplying the number of scent choices and further muddying the fragrant waters. So where does someone begin to find the right fragrance?

Understanding a fragrance – the notes

The first thing to understand is that fragrances generally come in layers that are more commonly referred to as “notes.” The top note, or first layer, is the overall general impression that one gets from a scent at first sniff. It is often what draws a woman to a fragrance in the beginning, and often include citrus scents. The various compounds that make up the top note are often initially strong but evaporate quickly.

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The middle note, often referred to as the “heart”, is the rounded scent that remains behind over a length of time after the top note has dissipated. Floral scents like rose and jasmine are often a part of the heart note.

The bottom note, or base note isn’t easily identified in the beginning, although it often combines with the middle note to create the overall symphony of the fragrance. It usually doesn’t emerge until about 20 minutes after the fragrance is initially applied but remains behind, lingering in the air around it.

More oil content will last longer

The first step in the process to locating the right fragrance choice is to determine what you want from your scent. If you want a strong scent that holds its fragrance throughout the day, then you might choose oil. Those in the fashion or beauty industries often opt for this choice because they want their scents to linger, keeping them in the forefront of everyone’s minds. However, women working as a professional may want to shy away from these heavy scents that can turn colleagues into enemies quickly.

Perfumes are roughly between 30 and 40 percent fragrant oil. The heavy concentration of fragrant compounds in perfume keeps the scent from being too overpowering by evaporating within an hour of application. Virtually any woman might choose a perfume for a special occasion; however, it isn’t recommended for regular daytime wear.

Eau de parfum is even less oil heavy than perfume, at fewer than 20 percent in fragrant compounds. While it makes an immediate impression, it doesn’t consume the air around it, making it a perfect choice for night time or any special occasion.

Eau de toilette is usually made up of anywhere between 75 to 85 percent alcohol. Because of this, the fragrance of an eau de toilette is much lighter in nature and can be worn for both day or night.

Cologne is the least heavy fragrance form with usually less than 7 percent of aromatic compounds. It is the fragrance choice of women who want to wear some kind of scent 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Light can be right

If you don’t want to have multiple scents for different occasions, the best option is to choose the lightest scent with which you can live. It is much easier to spray on more fragrance throughout the day if it is required than it is to remove a heavy scent that refuses to fade. Women in professional and administrative positions should always opt for the lightest scent possible, keeping in mind that their colleagues may not be as fond of their chosen fragrance as they themselves are.

Try before you buy

Never purchase a fragrance without first testing it out. Whenever possible, obtain “free” trial samples of a fragrance you are considering and try it out over a period of time. If you can’t obtain trial samples, visit stores that carry the scent(s) you are considering and use a tester. If possible, do this in the middle of the day because fragrance experts claim that is the time of day when the sense of smell is most active.

Spray the scent on a tester card and on yourself on the inside of your wrist. That way you can gauge how different it might become as it mixes with your unique body chemistry. Live with the scent for the day to see whether or not it meets the requirements you are looking for. If not, you aren’t out anything but a small amount of time.

If trial samples don’t narrow down your possibilities, try speaking with a trained salesperson who has training in the industry. Let him or her know what types of scents you like and which ones you want to avoid. They can often steer you in the right direction toward just the right floral, fruit, or spicy scent. Try two or three of their recommendations on different areas of your body and, once again, live with the scents for a day to see how they develop and linger.

Different types of scent

Women generally lean toward a specific type of scent. These include florals, fruits, chypres, and orientals. Floral scents are self explanatory in nature. They are made up of one or more flowers that can range from romantic and feminine to just this side of an ultimate exotic. It all depends upon the floral scents chosen and the way they are used in the various notes. Common flowers used in floral scents include roses, lilies of the valley, jasmine, orchids, lilacs and gardenias. A perfect example of a floral scent is Joy by Jean Patou.

Fruity scents can range from soft and playful to bold and brazen. Fruits typically used in scents of this nature include citrus fruits like lemon, lime, and orange as well as other fruits like peaches and berries. Clinque’s Happy is a good example of a wonderful fruity fragrance.

Chypre scents often hold an intense “woodsy” smell. Many are built upon a bergamot or oakmoss base. Others lean toward sandalwoods, cedars, or ferns. Patchouli is a perfect example of a chypre scent.

Oriental scents can be spicy but are almost always extremely exotic and sexy. They often include vanilla, camphorous oils, incense resins, cinnamon, musk, and amber. Guerlain’s Shalimar is a perfect example of this type of scent.

Know how much to use

Finding the right scent, however, isn’t the only important thing. It is also important to know “how” to wear the fragrance properly. The key is to never overdo it. That is particularly important when you are using an oil or perfume and in some instances even an eau de parfum.

Spray heavier scents in the air and walk through them for just the right amount of lingering fragrance. Dab liquid eau de parfum or eau de toilette lightly at pulse points like inside the inner wrist, behind the ears, or even behind the knees. For lighter colognes, you can even add the base of your throat and your ankles.

Never rub a fragrance - even in oil or solid form - into the skin. This will break down its various compounds and distort the scent. Also avoid spraying fragrance into the hair. The scent will distort when mixed with those of your shampoos conditioner, hair spray and other hair products. Additionally, because many fragrances contain a lot of alcohol, they could actually dry out and damage your hair.

Finally, fragrance isn’t meant to be sprayed directly onto clothing. Although it might transfer naturally from the skin to fabric, be aware that purposely putting it on clothing could result in stains that cannot be easily removed.

To ensure that your scent remains throughout the day, without overpowering, layer the fragrance instead of reapplying it over and over. Layering refers to the use of other skin and body products that contain the same scent. These can include bath salts, shower gels, body mists, and skin lotions. Many fragrance lines offer these layering options in just the right scent dosage so that you don’t have to worry if you have gone too far. With fragrance, remember that less is always more.

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