Perfume FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions About Perfume

1. Why do perfumes smell different on different people?

Your own body chemistry affects how different notes react on your skin. Anything that affects the “natural” smell of your skin, such as stress, hormonal changes, your current diet or medications, might change how a perfume smells on you.

2. How can I make my perfume last longer on my skin?

All other things being equal, perfumes evaporate more rapidly from dry skin, so the best way to make fragrance last longer is to use a relatively heavy body lotion or cream. Some people like to buy the “matching” cream for their fragrance, but you can also use an unscented cream like Cetaphil, or try petroleum jelly or jojoba oil. You might also try a light mist to your hair, which is said to hold scent longer than skin.
Perfume’s persistence can be a blessing or a curse. It’s Murphy’s Law among perfume enthusiasts that the fragrance we loathe the most will be the one that wears through a night’s sleep and a shower, and clings to our coats through two thunderstorms and a dry cleaning. Conversely, the fragrances we love never seem to last long enough. Sure, I like to wear more than one perfume a day, but it would be nice if a perfume could soldier through a full workday without my having to rummage for a decant for a midday boost.

The baseline

One spray of Vol de Nuit Eau de Toilette alone lasts about four hours before I really have to press my nose to flesh to smell it. It’s lovely enough to be worth it, but no one except me, with effort, can detect it after lunch.

The fail

Surprisingly, Eau de Toilette sprayed over shea butter gives a maximum two hours of fragrance. After breakfast, I thinly spread pure shea butter, which doesn’t have a lot of odor on its own, over my forearm and misted it with Vol de Nuit. By the time I got to work, the shea butter had eaten the fragrance, and the faint “nutty-stick” odor of shea butter was a little more robust, like it had just had a good meal. Meanwhile, the arm with Eau de Toilette alone was still going strong.

The questionable

Eau de Toilette on clothing lasts all day, but with drawbacks. Fragrance on cloth doesn’t wear as warm nor personal as it does on skin. Something about the effect of a person’s body chemistry, the blood coursing through her skin, brings a perfume to bloom better than the cold but efficient fibers of a sweater. Plus, if you spray your sweater or the inside of your coat with fragrance, it will stay smelling that way for days, even when you might want to switch perfume. Unless you have a signature scent or enough coats to dedicate one to each fragrance, think twice about spraying your clothing.
The one exception is if you spray fragrance on a scarf. A scarf is an exception because (1) it wears close to your skin so it can warm and diffuse something — although not exactly — like skin can; and (2) unlike with a coat or sweater, on day two you can trade in a scarf for a fresh one and scent it with another fragrance. But how many of you wear scarves? I do, but looking around I know I’m in the minority.

3. What are Eau De Toilette, Eau De Parfum, etc?

These terms refer to the strength of the fragrance, or more specifically, to how much high grade alcohol and/or water has been added to the fragrance oils. Parfum (generally the most concentrated form you can buy) has 15-25% perfume oil dissolved in alcohol. Any mixture with a lower proportion of oil to alcohol is an eau (water).
Eau Fraiche (Usually 3% or less perfume oil)
Eau de Cologne (2 – 5% perfume oil)
Eau de Toilette (4 – 10% perfume oil)
Eau de Parfum (8 – 15% perfume oil)
Soie de Parfum (15 – 18% perfume oil)
PARFUM or Perfume (15 – 25% — also sometimes referred to as extract or extrait)
Perfume oil (15-30% perfume oil in an oil rather than alcohol base)

You may also see the term Parfum de Toilette. Most companies use this term to describe a concentration that is either the same as Eau De Parfum, or between Eau De Parfum and Parfum. Other companies use the term to describe an Eau De Toilette concentration.

To further confuse matters, some companies use different notes, or different proportions of notes, in the different forms of fragrance they offer. In addition, some companies reserve costly fragrance oils for their parfum, and use synthetic substitutes in lighter concentrations.

4. What are top, middle, and base notes?

Top notes provide the first scent impression of a fragrance once it has been applied to the skin. They are usually lighter, more volatile aromas that evaporate readily. Their scent usually lingers for between 5 and 30 minutes. Middle notes, sometimes referred to as “heart notes”, make up the body of the blend. They may be evident from the start, but will usually take 10-30 minutes to fully develop on the skin. They are the notes that classify the fragrance family (floral, oriental, chypre, etc, see below). Base Notes are those with the greatest molecular weight. They last the longest, and are also important as fixatives, that is, they help slow down the evaporation rates of the lighter notes, giving the fragrance holding power. Common base notes include oakmoss, patchouli, woods, musk and vanilla.

A fragrance which does not have traditional top, middle and base notes is usually described as “linear”.

5. What are the “fragrance families”?

These are “aroma groupings” of related scents. There is more than one classification system in use, but many list 7 major families: Greens, Florals, Aldehydics, Chypre, Oriental, Fougère & Tobacco/Leather.

6. How long can I keep my perfume before it “turns”?

Some industry experts say that perfume should be replaced every year, but properly stored, perfumes should last much longer. Most perfumes will keep several years, some will keep many more years than that.
To store perfume properly, keep it away from heat and light. A dark closet or a covered box is best. Also avoid direct exposure to air. Splash bottles, which expose the fragrance to air every time they are opened, are problematic. Consider decanting into a smaller atomizer for regular use. If you apply perfume directly from a bottle stopper, wipe the stopper with a clean, lint free cloth before replacing it in the bottle.

7. How many milliliters are in an ounce?

Here is a quick conversion chart:
100 ml = 3.3 or 3.4 oz
50 ml = 1.7 oz
30 ml = 1 oz
15 ml = 1/2 oz
10 ml = 1/3 oz
7.5 ml = 1/4 oz
5 ml = 1/6 oz
3.7 ml = 1/8 oz = 1 dram

Note that all of these are approximate; strictly speaking, 1/2 oz is 14.787 ml.

8. What is the difference between essential oil and perfume oil?

Essential oils are volatile, fragrant liquids extracted from plant leaves, bark, wood, stems, flowers, seeds, buds, roots, resins and petals, usually through steam distillation. In other words, they are raw materials that can be used to create perfumes. They are highly concentrated and apart from a few exceptions, should not be used directly on the skin, although they can be diluted in a carrier oil, such as jojoba, for such use. Perfume oils are fragrance components, natural or synthetic, in an oily base rather than an alcohol base, and can be used directly on the skin.

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