Perfume, or at a more basic level—scent, is a mighty powerful thing. It can be worn as a fashion statement, as a way to show individuality, or to evoke a cherished memory. The scent we choose to wear says a lot about us. And for many of us, perfume exists in our beauty routine to make us feel beautiful and confident.
Despite its long history, there are a few things about fragrance that a lot of us are doing all wrong. But perfume isn’t as simple as it sounds. Fragrances are delicate, and their scents change over time. What you spray on your body in the morning will smell slightly different in the afternoon, as the molecules in the perfume transform against the heat of your skin. It may not seem obvious, but where you store your fragrances also has a big effect on their longevity.
Want to get it right? So do we. We spoke to a fragrance expert at the renowned Musée Fragonard in Paris to uncover the truth behind a few of the more common fragrance faux pas.
Myth #1: A Tester Tells All
When you’re looking for a new scent, what do you do? You probably head to a department store, spritz some scents on test strips, and choose a winner.
Well, it’s really not as simple as that.
Creating fragrance is a refined process, carried out by the best perfumers with the sharpest sense of smell and talent for blending harmonious accords. This is because perfumes are built out of subtle notes that work together to create the finished fragrance. While a perfume can contain many ingredients, its scent is created by the mingling of three notes: the head, heart, and base notes.
- The head notes are the lightest; they’re the first you smell but the first to fade away. They create your first impression of a perfume and often have a citrus or fruity scent.
- The heart notes appear once the head notes have faded, and they define the character of the perfume. The scent is voluptuous, often fruity or floral and infused with spices.
- The base notes come once the top notes have completely evaporated, and they provide the lasting impression of the perfume. They have the strongest scent, which is woody or musky.
With all this complexity and craftsmanship, not to mention hefty price tags, it’s best to choose a new fragrance slowly. Biophysicist Luca Turin studies the science of smell and authored the books The Secret of Scent and Perfumes: The Guide. He says that our sense of smell can be explained by vibrations. In their book, Turin and Tania Sanchez suggest “smelling at most between five and ten fragrances on paper and testing one or two of those on skin.” Take test strips home with you; see how the scents change over the course of a day. Most scents change a lot within just the first twenty minutes, they say.
Environment, humidity, and temperature all have an effect on how a perfume smells, so it may smell different at home than it does in a big store. Smelling your scarf, the inside of your elbow, or even coffee beans will help “rebalance” your nose so that you can smell a different fragrance. Also, remember that drinking alcohol or smoking will dull your sense of smell and can mask the true scent of a perfume.
Myth #2: Rub Perfume on Your Wrists
When it comes to distributing our scent, it’s common practice to spray the inner wrists and then rub them together. Turns out, this practice is not the best route. The friction from rubbing creates heat that will break up the molecules of the perfume, thus evaporating the scent. Gently tap your wrists together instead.
Déborah at Musée Fragonard says that perfume should be sprayed once or twice—three times at the most. The best places to apply a fragrance are at the base of the throat, behind the ears, or, if you’re wearing a skirt, to the backs of your knees. Keeping your skin hydrated can also maximize the life span of your scent. Never shake your perfume—this will incorporate air into the bottle and accelerate the breakdown of the scent.
Myth #3: Perfume Lasts Forever
Just like your makeup, your perfume has an expiration date, and it’s probably shorter than you think. If you’ve got some bottles of perfume lingering around from several years ago, it’s time to clear them out. The scents have likely been compromised by now.
Perfume has three worst enemies: light, heat, and humidity. All three greatly affect the life span of your precious aroma. To maximize your investment, do not store your bottle in the bathroom. It’s a tempting spot because that’s where we do a lot of our primping, but the bathroom experiences temperature shifts and humidity fluctuation from showering.
If you’re devoted to one scent, you likely go through a bottle fairly regularly. If, however, you alternate among a few fragrances and take much longer to finish off a bottle, you should be especially careful about storage. Fragonard bottles its fragrances in gold aluminum bottles, which protect against light damage. In an aluminum bottle, perfume can be conserved for five to eight years, but in a glass bottle, it usually only lasts for two. To make sure your perfume keeps for as long as possible, store it in a dark, dry place at a consistent temperature. A closet or a decorative box would be ideal.
Whatever your fragrance, these tips will keep you smelling sweeter for longer. As C. JoyBell C. said, “You are never fully dressed without perfume!”
Photo Credit: Xavier Navarro Photography