Perfume 101: Beginners Guide to Fragrances
Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.
Why Wear Perfume?
Coco Chanel once said “A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.”
I’ve always viewed this as something powerful, but it’s always bothered me how it plays on your vanity in an attempt to sell us perfume to make us feel desirable.
While there may be some truth to that, I prefer Jean-Claude Ellena’s quote “Perfume is the art that makes memory speak”.
It’s a strong way of reinforcing that scent and memory are closely mixed.
In reality, perfume is a balance of both. It has the power to make us feel confident, attractive, and desired, but it also ties into our memories and triggers positivity allows us to hold onto the special parts of our lives.
So why wear Perfume?
- Perfume boosts confidence. Though it’s not a magic potion, perfume does enhance how you feel in the moment. It’s like wearing your favorite dress that fits you just right. You know you look good, feel good and if you match your favorite scent, it can bring out the best in you.
- Perfume enhances your mood – how you feel in a particular moment or how you want to feel at an event or occasion. Perfume can even help you express that mood to others if you’re feel playful, mischievous, sensual, or even reserved. Scent is a constant reminder of the mood you choose for yourself.
- Perfume can foster deeper emotional connections. Smell is the most powerful sense, 150,000 times more sensitive than your vision and is deeply connected to your memories. The olfactory bulb where odours are processed in your brain is connected to the limbic system, sometimes called the “emotional brain”. When you experience certain smells it triggers parts of your memory, maybe a trip to Paris where you wore a new perfume? A family member you hold dear? Scents are incredibly powerful.
- Perfume helps add to your overall impression of style. We know that dressing classy and wearing makeup can boost your confidence. Looking nice can help you feel better and help your mood. Wearing perfume can enhance that effect, you can look gorgeous and smell like it too.
Hopefully this has confirmed your reason for wanting to wear perfume. It’s important for feeling good, personal branding, and is a sense of self-love.
The next question is, what type of perfume do you want?
What are the Different Types of Perfume?
There are five main categories of perfume, each with a different level of concentration which affects how long the perfume lasts (and how much it costs).
It’s important to know that the longevity and how strong it smells varies from person to person.
Depending on your unique biology the perfume will mix differently to your skin’s pH balance and how dry or oily it is. Believe it or not moisture actually plays a big part on how fragrance smells on your skin.
Some people need a stronger concentration, some can get by with less. We’ll go over that later when we talk about how to choose your perfume.
Perfume or Parfum, known as extrait de parfum or pure perfume is the mixture with the highest concentration at 15-40% and can last up to 6-8 hours with the base notes lasting up to 24 hours. Parfum has the strongest scent in any given product line.
Because it’s thicker and oiler it doesn’t normally come packaged in a spray but rather in stoppered bottles. It’s the most expensive type of perfume but it’s great for people with sensitive skin as it doesn’t have as much alcohol dilution which dries out your skin.
Eau de Parfum (EDP), known as Perfume Water in French, has the second highest concentration, 15-25%, and generally lasts up to 5-6 hours. It’s the most common type of fragrance and it’s still good for sensitive skin types as it has less alcohol than the less concentrated types. EDP has a reputation of being a formal nightwear fragrance.
Eau de Toilette (EDT), known as Dressing Water in French has 5-15% perfume essence concentration and lasts for 2-3 hours. It’s cheaper than EDP and is more widely available. Eau de Toilette is recognized as the best cost per perfume oil concentration. To keep your scent lasting you can top your scent up throughout the day. EDT is typically a daywear fragrance.
Eau de Cologne (EDC) has a low concentration of perfume essence, only about 2-4% and is cheaper than the above types of perfume. Eau de Colognes come in a bigger bottle since more liquid is needed and lasts about 2-3 hours. In most cases, cologne is marketed towards men, while perfume is marketed towards women. The difference between cologne and perfume is only the concentration, there are plenty of female and gender-neutral colognes on the market.
Eau Fraiche, known as Fresh Water in French has only 1-3% perfume essence which lasts only up to 2 hours at the most, typically used to freshen up. Eau fraiche contains the least amount of alcohol because it’s typically diluted with water.
Which type you get depends entirely on you. Depending on your activities, lifestyle, or personal preference you may resonate with higher or lower concentrations or perfume.
The type of perfume is the first step, the second is understanding the life cycle of a fragrance.
What is the Fragrance Life Cycle?
The anatomy of a fragrance is beautiful and more comprehensive than some realize.
How your perfume smells will evolve after application. How it smells immediately after you apply it will be very different to how it smells after an hour or two.
It’s important to put your fragrances to the test directly on your skin and keep smelling it throughout the day before you buy.
How your fragrance changes is a three-part cycle called the Fragrance Life Cycle, which involves top, heart and base notes. Think of them as different sections of a pyramid where the top slowly evaporates and reveals down towards the base, each layer revealing different blends of the formula.
Top Notes, sometimes referred to as headnotes, forms the top layer of the fragrance. They’re the note that hit your nose immediately spraying the perfume, giving the first impressions, and shaping the fragrance’s story.
Top notes usually evaporate quickly, typically lingering only for the first 15 minutes or so. These are typically lighter floral notes like lavender and rose or citrus scents like lemon, orange, and bergamot.
Heart Notes, also referred to as middle or medium notes, showcases the main element of the fragrance. The heart note blends and builds off the top notes and can last 3-5 hours after being sprayed. Heart notes most often include heavier floral scents such as jasmine, or green scents such as grass or stone.
Spice scents such as cinnamon and clove can appear as well as fruity scents.
Base Notes are the last to develop and includes the bolder scents which become noticeable later in the day. These lay the foundation of how long the fragrance will last on your skin.
These scents can vary from vanilla, amber, musk, patchouli, sandalwood, and cedar wood.
Fragrance notes and how they interact with your skin are what makes perfume unique. How you identify and how your scents react is a very personal journey.
Every note and ingredient add a certain quality to the fragrance, from fresh, floral, wood, and musky.
What are the Different Types of Perfume Fragrances?
There are literally hundreds of perfumes to choose from, how do you know what’s the best one for you?
To start, you can identify which prominent scent you prefer and narrow it down from there.
In 1992 a perfume exert named Michael Edward created a Modern Fragrance Wheel, loosely based on other versions that have been around since 1949.
Michael created this fragrance wheel to help categorize scents and make it easier for retailers to suggest perfumes.
There are four main categories: Floral, Oriental, Woody and Fresh, and each of these has their own sub-families.
If you find out which one of these main scents you prefer it makes shopping for your next perfume much easier.
Floral is one of the most common families but also one of the broadest. They can smell sweet and flowery with notes like roses, jasmine, lilies, and peonies. Floral scents are perfect for spring and summertime.
Florals can range from being light and delicate, to more complex and intense.
Oriental fragrances are warm, sweet, and even a little spicy. They may smell like herbs and spices, or dry powdery resin notes by using vanilla, myrrh, anise, jasmine, or cinnamon. It can be common to describe this family as exotic or seductive.
Woody fragrances are another warm family, usually mossy and earthy with a sweet undertone, or dry woods with a smoky or leathery smell. They typically have an incense-like fragrance like sandalwood or patchouli with warm or fresh notes incorporated to give it more depth.
Fresh fragrances encompass clean and bright scents. They normally have a base of herby, citrusy, or oceanic scents paired with robust spicey, fruity or zesty tones. You can find lemon, mandarin and bergamot in the citrus sub-family, more aquatic notes like sea spray, or even hints of lavender, rosemary, or basil.
How to Price Perfume?
One thing I love about fragrance is it has one of the most inconspicuous profiles of beauty and fashion.
While you wear it has no logo, no brand, and no indication of price. The smell of your perfume says everything about the quality, unlike a Gucci bag or a Tom Ford dress which are bought primarily for the name brand.
A well crafted $150 artisan fragrance can outperform any haute luxe with a four-figure price-tag.
That being said, what is an appropriate price for a fragrance? How do you place a value on a great perfume?
Let’s explore some philosophy before we get into the practical.
People buy consumer goods for two reasons: utility and pleasure. Ideally a product will provide both.
Fragrances have little utilitarian value. You can’t drive your perfume, it can’t feed you, it doesn’t keep you warm in the winter. When you use it all you have left afterwards is the feeling and the memory it gives you.
When looking at the value of a fragrance you need to look at the pleasure you will derive from it. How happy does it make you? How does it make you feel? Do you get a sense of positivity and confidence?
Give yourself time to explore the emotional reason why you’re considering a fragrance and weigh that against the price tag. If you can answer “would the pleasure I expect to get worth the price?” with a “yes” – than go ahead and buy it.
Things to Consider when Pricing Perfume
There’s a lot of factors that can affect what you’re willing to pay for perfume. Your disposable income, the brand you’re considering, your local market, the size or concentration of the perfume, if the perfume is limited edition, buying online versus in store, etc.
Some people have a price range they prefer to pay per oz which makes it easy to compare prices. Some people count the number of sprays they’ll get (approximately 1,000 sprays per 100ml).
Personally, I stay away from cheap ingredients or bottles as they don’t last long and have a cheap smell to them. Even worse there’s some harsh chemicals that you can absorb through your body for low quality fragrances.
I’ll spend between $80 – $200 on my fragrances (depending on the size) and how much I love the scent.
If you’re unsure about investing in perfume you can try it on, ask for a sample, or purchase a smaller bottle first.
How do You Choose a Perfume?
Now we get to the fun part!
You can combine everything you’ve learned so far to start the hunt for your new favorite perfume.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What type of fragrance do you want? Parfum, Eau de Parfum, Eau de Toilette, Cologne or Eau de Fraiche? How strong do you want the concentration and how long should it last?
- How long does your skin hold fragrances for? Do you like strong scents or something more mild?
- What family of fragrance? Fresh, Floral, Oriental or Woods?
- What price range are you looking for a fragrance? Do you want a luxury Brand or something more economical?
If you understand these questions, you’re ready to start trying samples and seeing what you like.
When you’re at the store trying out perfumes, keep an eye out for these common mistakes:
- Don’t smell immediately after spraying, wait for at least 30 seconds to make sure the top notes are fully developed and mixed with your skin. If you smell too early, you’re only smelling the formula and not your unique chemistry.
- Don’t smell too many scents without taking a break. There is such a thing as smelling fatigue, you can become desensitized to the same smells over time. Your body can become overloaded and shut down to stimulation to protect the nervous system. Make sure you take breaks while sampling perfume.
There’s an old trick to cleanse the nose palette. Take a tissue and fold it in half. Then hold it up to the nose pulled with the right and left hand. Hold it flat against the nose then breathe in and out a few times. This will cleanse the scent particles and give you a fresh start. Just don’t over do it.
- Don’t wear scents while selecting perfume. If you want to judge core scent of a fragrance you don’t want to mix it with any lingering scents on your body to get a false impression of the smell. You can layer your scents but make sure you keep in mind if what you’re smelling is authentic or it’s a blend of multiple scents.
- Don’t test too many perfumes. It’s easy to get overloaded and line up dozens of scents too try. It’s a good way to lose track and spend more time confusing your senses than helping find that perfect fragrance for you. Make sure you stick to your fragrance family and ingredients you like before you explore too much in other categories to avoid decision fatigue.
- Don’t test only on blotter sheets. Blotter sheets are good to get an impression of a fragrance but what you’re truly after is the chemical reaction of your unique skin type and how it mixes with the perfume. How the perfume will smell on you is one-of-a-kind and a blotter sheet won’t represent that. Use blotter sheets until you narrow down to your favorite two then try one fragrance on each wrist. Wear it around for a while to get the true effect.
- Don’t rub your wrists together. You don’t want to make any friction or contact with the perfume as it changes the enzymes and affect the natural progression of the scent. The rubbing can dull the top notes and mixes the formula with your natural oils which will affect how it will smell when naturally applied without any friction.
- Don’t think your friend’s perfume will work for you. It’s dangerous to buy a fragrance because you like the smell on someone else. They have a different body chemistry, the ph balance on their skin and their natural oils will combine to alter the smell. Perfumes are a unique experience, and you need to find what blends the best for your skin – not theirs.
- Don’t be prejudiced. Keep an open mind! There are brands, ingredients, notes, and price ranges out there that may work perfectly for you. Don’t compromise what you want, but if you dismiss trying a fragrance because you don’t like the bottle’s style or the marketing campaign, you might miss out on a great scent.
How do You Apply Perfume?
To get the best out of your fragrance and to keep it long-lasting throughout the day there’s some rules you should follow.
Ultimately, it’s up to you how you apply your perfume and how you feel afterwards but let’s go over some fundamentals to give you a good idea of where to start.
Pulse Points are tried-and-true ways to make your perfume last longer. These spots emanate heat which helps your fragrance release into the air. Behind your ear, the base of your throat, your inner elbow, your wrists, and your chest are great places to apply fragrance.
Hold the bottle anywhere from three to six inches away and do not overspray. Less is typically more when it comes to application.
Be careful using perfume in your hair as some fragrances have high alcohol content and can dry and damage your hair.
Don’t spray near your eyes your armpits or around your genitals as it can lead to itching and dryness.
Some tips for making perfume last longer:
- Apply unscented lotion or unscented body oil before spraying to help trap the scent in longer. Moisture also increases the potential potency of the fragrance. Bonus points if you apply post-shower when the skin is dried off but still warm.
- Spray, don’t rub. As tempting as it can be the friction breaks your fragrance down faster and ruins the longevity.
- Don’t mist and walk through it. Seriously, it’s just a waste. You’re applying perfume to you not the air around you. If you want a less potent fragrance and you’re misting to get less application, consider getting a lower concentration formula like a cologne. Keep the sprayer 3-6 inches away from where you want to apply it.
- Consider your environment. Perfume don’t like humidity, heat, and light. Avoid keeping your perfumes on windowsills or in bathrooms. Store them in a cool, dry, and dark place like a dresser or a closet.
- Don’t shake your perfume bottle, it can allow air to enter the bottle and shorten the lifespan.
There you have it! You should know enough now to start exploring the world of perfume!