This Perfume Guide Will Help You Understand Exactly What You’re Buying at the Fragrance Counter

Understanding fragrances makes them so much easier to buy. Let me break them down for you so that you fully understand what you’re buying.

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As I’ve gotten older I have started to love collecting fragrances. But picking out a fragrance is a bit of an annoying process. You smell a sample in the store and love it but when you take it home and try it on yourself it smells completely different.

I am going to help you understand fragrances a bit more so that you understand what you are buying and how fragrance changes over time. (If you are looking for a fragrance buying guide, check out this previous article.)

Fragrance Concentrations

The first thing that many are unsure about is the difference between eau de toilette and eau de parfum. Typically these are portrayed as eau de toilette being a cheaper or lower quality item and eau de parfum as being more expensive and higher quality. And when the same fragrance is offered as both an eau de toilette and an eau de parfum that is usually the case, but most fragrances are only offered in one format. This is where the eau de toilette tag becomes less about quality and more about how the fragrance is created.

While the terms that are most common are eau de toilette and eau de parfum, there is also eau de cologne and perfume.

What do these mean? Well, these terms denote the concentration of perfume oils in the fragrance. Perfume has the greatest amount, followed by eau de parfum, next is eau de toilette, and the least concentrated fragrance type is eau de cologne. The concentration categories do have a range of concentrations that fall under each category so eau de toilettes from different companies may contain different concentrations of perfume oils within a certain range.

By the way, perfume oil concentration does not necessarily correlate with price. You can get Clinique’s Happy eau de parfum at USD $69, a fragrance with a high perfume oil concentration for a relatively cheap price. At the other end of the price range you can get Tom Ford’s Eau de Soliel Blanc eau de toilette at USD $175 for the same size bottle.

Typically, the higher the concentrations of oils in the fragrance, the longer it will last on the skin. (Makes sense, right?) But the length a fragrance lasts also depends on the notes in the fragrance, as well as you. Some people just do not hold fragrance as well as others. (But there are ways to combat that, which we’ll get into later!)

Fragrances - Clinique Happy and Tom Ford Eau De Soleil Blanc

Fragrance Notes

The reason why fragrances smell different when you put them on than they did in the store is because of the different levels of fragrance notes.

A fragrance has three levels: top notes, middle or heart notes, and base notes. By understanding the layered notes of a fragrance you will begin to realize that each fragrance has its own scent story; it transitions through different phases over time, allowing you to appreciate every layer.

What you smell when you first spray the fragrance are the top notes. These are the scents that you can smell right away — but they also dissipate faster than the middle and base notes. They last about 30 minutes and are usually the brighter scents. They also provide a transition into the middle notes and allow the middle and base notes to develop on the skin. Top note scents evaporate more easily which is why they do not last as long as the rest of the scents.

Next is the middle or heart notes, these make up most of the unique characteristics of a fragrance. These mingle with the base notes to create the fragrance itself. They take about 20 minutes to develop on the skin and appear after the top notes have dissipated. These notes last for a few hours and create the scent profile for the fragrance. The middle notes also have the greatest concentration within the fragrance.

Finally there are the base notes. These help to deepen, warm, or sweeten the middle notes. They last the longest and are only apparent after both the top and middle notes dissipate. Fragrances like vanilla, amber, musk, etc. are all base notes. They are usually less complex than the other notes in the scent and their main purpose is to deepen the fragrance and help to create the unique characteristics of the scent by layering with the middle notes. These scents are usually very rich and deep compared to the rest of the fragrance notes.

The fragrance notes all become apparent during the dry down of the fragrance. To get a sense of a fragrance’s dry down, first, you want to make sure to wait a few seconds after you spray the fragrance on your skin or a sampling stick so that the alcohols can evaporate. Then, you will begin to smell the top notes. As time goes on, each layer of notes will evaporate away and reveal the next part of the fragrance’s scent story. You will smell the top notes, then the middle notes, and finally the base notes before the scent dissipates away completely.

Making Your Fragrance Last

Fragrances are expensive and delicate, so it’s important to know how to make them last to get the most bang for your buck.

The first step in making your fragrance last is to store it correctly. I know that the bottles are beautiful and that you probably want to display them, but this is actually not the best way to store them for longevity. Fragrances are both light- and heat-sensitive and will deteriorate if they are consistently exposed to these environments. They should be kept out of sunlight and in a cool place, so, your bathroom counter is not a good place for them. I opt to store mine in a drawer in my bathroom because I know that they will stay away from light and I find that the inside of my drawers do not heat up when I shower.

Speaking of showers, if you want your fragrance to really last, applying it right after you get out of the shower or bath is ideal. Fragrances typically last the longest on warm, moisturized areas. (So anytime after you moisturize is a good time as well.) If you have dry skin, applying moisturizer or a small amount of petroleum jelly on your pulse points before you apply your fragrance will help it last longer.

Most of us know that we should apply fragrances to our pulse points (think wrists, neck, inner elbows, and the back of the knees) but we don’t always apply correctly, especially on our wrists. The best way to apply fragrance is to spray it and leave it alone. You do not want to rub your wrists together as this affects the molecules in the fragrance and interferes with the fragrance’s natural development.

Fragrances do develop differently on different people, so if you find that a fragrance is not lasting a long time on your skin it may come down to the scents that are used in it. But if you really love the scent hopefully the tips above will help you enjoy it to its fullest.

I Leave You with My #1 Tip for Choosing a Fragrance

Make sure to try the fragrance out before you purchase. And when I say try it out, I mean try wearing that fragrance for a whole entire day.

As discussed earlier, each fragrance has a scent story: You may love the top notes of a fragrance but hate the middle notes. That’s why it’s important to wear the scent all day because it will change over time.

Sephora is always happy to give out samples and I suggest taking advantage of it. You really cannot tell if you are going to like a perfume just by smelling it in store. The layers of notes and how they react to your skin create unique scents that you can only really appreciate when you go through the whole scent story.

What is your favorite fragrance? What made you fall in love with it? Let me know below!

Fragrances can be complicated and annoying to choose but my hope is that creating a greater understanding of them will make it easier for you to navigate the fragrance market to find your perfect scent.

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