Wondering how to buy perfume, for yourself or a loved on? Here’s our non-toxic guide!
By Diane Small
Loads of people don’t know how to buy a perfume. They get seduced by a brand name, advertisement, or trend, without really looking into what they’re buying for themselves. That’s especially important if you’re trying to purchase a non-toxic fragrance.
And when it comes to buying for others, it’s even more important to learn how to buy a perfume! Scents are an integral part of the ‘me’ we present to the world. That’s why it’s essential to choose a distinct fragrance that you truly love. It should last, be natural, and above all, make you feel good!
Below is a guide to how to buy a perfume so that you ensure you make the best choice.
How To Buy Perfume: A Non-Toxic Guide
1. Know Your Fragrance Families
Are you looking for a scent that’s fresh and energising? Mysterious and seductive? Or perhaps something that evokes memories of beach holidays?
Knowing the fragrance family you’re most interested in can help you pick the right perfume, especially if you’re buying online without trying first.
You should know that a perfume’s notes, or scent ingredients, build up in layers. This is illustrated by what is known as a Fragrance Pyramid. In this structure, the perfume notes are divided into three components: the top notes that are first opened when you spray it on; the heart notes that form the core of the scent (and the middle of the pyramid), and the base notes that linger over time.
The notes will combine to form a fragrance family. The main ones are:
- Sweet orientals – These, as the name suggests are sweet and a bit spicy, and most have vanilla and cinnamon notes. Sweet orientals are usually aimed at women.
- Soft orientals – These have warmer, more floral notes such as Ylang Ylang or a bit of incense. Some have a touch of oud. Such scents are commonly unisex or masculine.
- Florals – Rose, jasmine and gardenia are a few popular floral scents. These can be single-note (1 flower) or combined. They usually appeal most to women, and can often be 100% natural.
- Woody orientals – For an earthy scent reminiscent of burnt wood, fresh sage, trees or incense, then these are the fragrances to go for. They’re mostly suited towards men, but can also be unisex.
- Citrus scents – Citrusy fragrances have distinctly tart notes, including lemon, juniper, grapefruit and bergamot. Citrus scents have unisex appeal, and are usually based on pure essential oils.
- Green scents – These scents will remind you of plants: namely cut grass, green tea or fresh cucumber. They also appeal to both genders.
- Aquatic scents – You could say these perfumes smell ‘blue’. They’re designed to be fresh, and evoke water. New synthetic ingredients like calone and helional gave perfumers the ability to mimic salty, oceanic smells like never before. They’re usually aimed at men, but can be worn by women, too. Just beware that these synthetics are often toxic.
Still confused? This niche perfume guide provides more information.
2. Sillage & Toxicity
Sillage refers to the perfume trail left in the air when someone leaves the room. And it’s basically an indication of how long a scent will last.
When learning how to buy a perfume, you’ll read that musky, woody, spicy notes tend to last longer than refreshing notes, such as those in the green, citrus or floral fragrance families.
There are different reasons for this.
One, certain scents, such as fruity or green ones, are comprised mainly of highly volatile components that dissipate quickly.
Two, the concentration of a perfume matters (more on this below). The more concentrated, the longer it will last.
And three, certain chemicals used in toxic fragrances leave much longer sillage than natural perfumes. Natural perfumes normally contain fixatives derived from plants, called resinoids. These include myrrh, olibanum, storax, and tolu balsam. They can also use animal based fixatives, including ambergris, castoreum, musk, and civet.
Though organic, the latter group is highly cruel to animals, sometimes even painfully extracting oil from their glands while the animals are still living. Plant based fixatives help a perfume last, but not nearly as long as synthetic fixatives.
These include diphenylmethane, cyclopentadecanolide, ambroxide, and benzyl salicylate. Unfortunately, these chemicals are highly toxic, and may cause long-term negative effects on aquatic organisms and in the general environment. They can also harm your health and the health of those around you.
In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to complain of headaches after being around wearers of some popular perfumes that have long sillage, such as Thierry Mugler’s Angel, Poison and Farhenheit (both by Dior), Aromatics Elixir (from Clinique), Le Male (by Gaultier), Guerlain’s Insolence, Givenchy’s Amarige, and Calvin Klein’s Obsession.
You can test the sillage of a perfume out easily. Just spray it into an empty, clean room and close the door. Ten minutes later, open the door. If the scent is still there, and if it’s strong, the perfume has a long sillage. But beware: it may be due to the toxic chemicals mentioned above.
To heighten the sillage of an all-natural perfume, spray an item of clothing with it. It will last longer on fabric than it does on skin.
3. Know Your Fragrance Concentrations
As mentioned above, the concentration of a perfume can affect not only its sillage, but its longevity. Also, the higher the concentration, the higher the price – but the longer it will last, of course.
When learning how to buy a perfume, here’s everything you need to know about fragrance concentrations.
- Eau De Parfum – Fragrance concentrations are usually based on alcohol and perfume ratios. Here, the fragrance concentration is 15% – 20%. This means that it has a lower concentration of perfume and a higher concentration of alcohol.
- EAU De Cologne – If you’re looking for a lighter fragrance with a fresh scent, then you might just have found your pick. EAU De Cologne is composed of 2%-5% perfume. This is a great choice for those who don’t like strong fragrances.
- Extrait De Parfum – Extrait De Parfum, also known as pure perfume, has a higher concentration of fragrance. It’s usually somewhere between 20%-30%. This category lasts about 6-8 hours and is the priciest option.
- EAU Fraîche – Like Eau De Cologne, Eau Fraiche has a lower fragrance concentration and is friendly to sensitive skin as well. The fragrance concentration is between 1%-3%
- EAU De Toilette – This is the cheaper version of a perfume and is usually the cheapest option. Eau De Toilette has a fragrance concentration of 5%-15%.
4. Try It First
Before investing in any fragrance, you should remember that those with sensitive skin might be prone to allergic reactions when highly concentrated fragrances are applied to the skin. That’s why the first step of learning how to buy perfume is knowing that you need to try it first.
A fragrance can alter how it smells from person to person depending on the products they already use on their skin, such as body washes or moisturisers. Before heading out to test perfumes, go through your normal beauty regime. That way, you’ll have a better sense of how the perfume will smell on your skin on a daily basis.
Here are some other tips for trying out a new perfume:
1. Know that wrists aren’t always the best spot to try fragrances.
Metallic jewellery can often change how a perfume smells. Instead, spray on the top of your arms, roll down your sleeves, and wear the fragrance for the rest of the day. This will allow the scent to reveal itself to you throughout the day.
2. If you’re spraying perfume on to paper sticks, wait until it’s completely dry before smelling it
Allowing the perfume to dry will give it time for all of the notes to develop. Better yet, toss the blotter in your purse and come back to it later. When you open your purse later on, the true fragrance should really envelop you.
3. Remember: your senses can easily become overwhelmed
To clear your nose between testing fragrances, smell your skin or shirt. This should offset some of the strong notes you smelled before, and give your senses time to adjust before your next perfume test. Fine perfumeries will have coffee beans at the ready to ‘cleanse’ your olfactory sense!
5. Shop Smart
If you can’t try a perfume out in real life for whatever reason, shop smart and read all the reviews you can. You’ll want to know what other people thought about the longevity of a scent; how it made them feel; what the truest notes are, and whether it caused any allergies or other reactions.
There are plenty of sites to visit for such info, including: Fragrantica, Fragrancenet, and Basenotes.net, for example. Seeking a niche perfume that’s all natural? Check out our natural perfumes article!
6. Store It Right
Like any cosmetic, perfume will oxidise and lose its potency and perhaps even original scent if it’s not stored correctly. After you learn how to buy perfume, you need to learn how to store it. Here are our top tips:
- Store fragrances in dark, cool places -Though some beautiful perfume bottles can seem like the best centerpieces to display in the bedroom, it shouldn’t be the case. The light coming into a room might affect your fragrance’s composition. Additionally, heat from the sun could alter the chemical quality of a scent.
- Avoid humidity – There’s a good reason why most fragrance manufacturers will advise you to store your fragrance in a cool, DRY place. Having your fragrances subjected to humidity might bring about chemical reactions that will ruin the quality of the fragrance. If you are living in a hot, sunny, humid location, consider keeping your perfumes in the crisper drawer of the fridge!
- Keep the original box – The elixir within the fragrance bottles must be kept at the right temperatures and light. Getting rid of the original box will expose your fragrance to unfavorable conditions that will only ruin its quality.
Knowing how to buy perfume can be overwhelming, but we hope our tips help you make the right choice!