Perfume: The Stuff I Get Asked All The Time

Perfume: The Stuff I Get Asked All The Time

Some of you may know that I’m fragrance-obsessed. (It is literally the most important thing about most products, for me.) Others may also know that just over 18 months ago, I set up The Perfume Society with a colleague, Lorna McKay: a massive informational website (, but also an organisation people can join to discover, explore and enjoy perfume (We’re proud to count Gill as one of our VIP Subscribers!)

Time and time again, though, we get asked the same questions. There really is as much mystery as allure attached to fragrance, it often seems to me. So: here are our ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ – and the answers we give. I hope you find it – well, not just eye opening, but maybe nose-opening…!

I love my friend’s perfume. Why doesn’t it smell as good on me?

Everyone’s body chemistry is different, influenced by hormones, skintype, what you eat, medications you may take and more. Even adding a new vitamin or supplement to your wellbeing regime (and as you’re on this site, we’re sure you have one!) can change how a fragrance smells on your skin. What is known is that deeper, richer notes – woods and ambery ingredients, for instance – won’t change as much from person to person as fresher, more volatile ingredients like citrus or lily. The bottom line is: never buy a fragrance because you like it on a friend. More than that, never buy a fragrance without trying it on your own skin – full stop.

Why does a perfume smell great on me at first but ‘icky’ later?

Many perfumes are blended with notes – such as citrus – which give an initial zing. These evaporate quickly, though, allowing the middle and base notes to become more dominant: they’re heavier, and hang around longer. You’ve got to be sure you like all stages of a fragrance’s ‘journey’, before buying it.

How can I make my fragrance last longer?

Layering with a perfume’s matching lotion certainly works: we find when we do this that our chosen scent is sort of ‘time-released’ during the day, as the body warms up and cools down. But master perfumer Harry Fremont, based at Firmenich in New York, recommends applying an unscented, oil-based moisturiser before spritzing. Alternatively, trade up to a higher concentration of your chosen perfume – from eau de toilette to eau de parfum, perhaps: the percentage of fragrance oil to alcohol base is higher, so it stays put from longer. Even the longest-lasting fragrance, though, probably won’t be perceptible after more than about four hours without really sniffing your skin

What can I do when I’ve applied too much perfume?

One answer is to grab a lemon: the juice’s acidity (more powerful than other citrus fruit) helps to cut the fragrance’s oil Wash with soap and water, then take off what’s left with a cotton pad soaked in lemon juice.

When I’m perfume-shopping, my nose gets ‘tired’ What can I do to refresh it?

Perfume stores and some counters supply coffee beans to ‘refresh’ the nose, but to be honest – nice as coffee is to smell – we’re not sure they’re as effective as they’re rumoured to be: coffee’s just another strong scent to confuse your nose. It’s better, we’ve found, to sniff your own skin (somewhere you haven’t applied perfume) – the crook of the elbow is perfect – as it’s a neutral, familiar scent Be aware, though, that almost everyone’s nose gets tired after smelling four or five different scents.

Can I wear my perfume in the sun?

Nononononoooooo! Really, please don’t. With the exception of fragrances which advertise that they’re ‘safe’ for sun exposure (some of the leading beauty brands occasionally bring these out), there are good reasons not to wear your perfume in the sun. Certain widely-used fragrance ingredients – generally citrus-derived – contain psoralens, components which over-stimulate the pigment-producing cells, producing localised brown patches (which have the official medical name Berloque dermatitis), like a streak of brown pigment like a raindrop running down a window pane. (And the alcohol itself is drying.) The solution? If you want to enjoy a summer fragrance in the sun, try spritzing it on your clothing rather than your skin (Check first, of course, that it doesn’t discolour the fabric: you can try it on a tissue.) Wear a ribbon around a wrist or your neck, drenched in scent, à la Marie Antoinette and her mob. Drench some cotton wool in fragrance and tuck it in your bra (Or your swimsuit, if you’re not planning to get wet.) And of course, enjoy liberally after dark. (Just be certain to cleanse away the fragrance next morning with a wet flannel, before you go anywhere near the sun.)

Can I wear more than one fragrance at a time?

At The Perfume Society, we actually believe this is going to be a massive trend. In the Middle East, women (and men) actually wear as many as seven different fragrances at a time, to create an entirely ‘unique’ and personal fragrance. This is pretty much heresy as far as the creators of perfumes are concerned – but certainly, in a region where people’s clothing is very standardised – black gowns for women, white or beige for men – it’s an effective form of self-expression. Jo Malone London is probably the only fragrance house which actively encourages ‘fragrance combining’, but we think its popularity is going to spread What we do find works best, ourselves, is to combine two or fragrances from within the family: pair a couple of Orientals, or a duo of fresh scents. It’s fun, if you don’t like the results you can wash them off (see above) – and you might come up with a combo that you love, love, love. But go lightly: you want a dab of this and a dab of that, rather than twice or three times the usual ‘dose’ you apply, if you don’t want to overpower.

And you can find much, much more about fragrance on our website,


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