How to Choose the Right Perfume or Cologne for You

Whether you’re a fragrance fanatic or you’re new to scents, finding a fragrance you love can be a daunting experience. When you approach a fragrance counter, the only information you can garner about any of the scents in front of you is how the bottle looks, which, of course, tells you nothing. You’re often left to sniff a few selections from hundreds of available bottles with the help of an overbearing salesperson, who is usually no help at all.

A scent you love can truly become a part of you, an extension of yourself. But how do you find one?

Whether you have a few minutes to research before you hit the stores, or you’re trying to pick the perfect scent on the fly, here are a couple of easy tips from fragrance experts to help you land a scent that you’ll love for years and feels (and smells) like you dreamed it into existence.

Do your research

Sometimes, the best place to start is, for lack of a better term, right under your nose. Think about your daily life. What scents do you already love?

Brian Jeong, co-founder and CEO of Hawthorne, explains. “If you are brand-new to fragrances, think about the other distinctive smells that you enjoy in your life, especially ones in products you use on your body. The coconut shampoo at your gym? Your fresh and green body wash? The soft and mineral smell of your clothes after laundry? Even the tobacco in the cigarette that you smoke? These can all serve as a great starting point to finding your ideal scent. Search for fragrances with those notes like the ones you love in your other products.”

If you’ve found a scent or a note you’d like to use as your starting point, like pine or leather, (for me, it’s always coffee), there are a few online resources that will show you fragrances that include that particular note. “You can look up the category and primary notes on sites like or and then hunt for new scents in those similar categories,” Mr. Jeong said. Resources like this can be invaluable when discovering what notes you are drawn to, and finding other scents that include them.

Linda G. Levy, president of The Fragrance Foundation, suggested you might want to think about tailoring the fragrance to your environment. “Think about mood and lifestyle and what fragrance families lend themselves to it. It’s part common sense and part instinct. A sexy musk might be more suited to a night out than an office environment. Lighter floral or citrus might be more welcome in a professional environment than a woody or spicy one. You should also consider intensity — do you want others to notice the fragrance you’re wearing or is it just for you?

“Once you find a family of notes you like, use that as a guide. If you are drawn to vanilla, spend some time exploring fragrances that feature other gourmand notes like honey, candy or chocolate before you jump to something totally different like fragrances heavy in citrus or aquatic notes.”

Sample scents the right way

The most crucial part of finding your new favorite fragrance is, of course, trying it on. Spray it on a pulse point where your skin is naturally warm, like your wrist or elbow, so the fragrance will really heat up and reveal itself over time.

Mindy Yang, founder and CEO of the perfume discovery studio Perfumarie, explained why it’s essential for a scent to make contact with the skin and how long you need to wait before you make a decision: “Try perfumes on skin first whenever possible! Most people buy a scent off the first impression — within seconds! (It’s a pity since a perfume’s top notes literally wear off within 15-30 minutes.) The essence of the scent will reveal only after it’s intermingled with the wearer’s chemistry, and it takes time.”

As to why scents sometimes smell completely different on two different people, Ms. Yang said that fragrances are sensitive to light and heat, and even your own personal body chemistry, die tand hormonal levels. Even time of day plays into how a perfume “wears,” or how it smells on you, how powerful it is and how long it lasts.

Your environment also plays a role in how your skin smells. “At the very least, you should wear your fragrance at least twice in two distinct environments,” Mr. Jeong explained. “Since your surrounding, your diet, and even the weather can have an impact on how the fragrance smells on you, it is important to try your scent out a few different times.”

Ms. Yang let us in on the cardinal rule of fragrance application and sampling: “Don’t rub. Rubbing the scent creates heat that will break up the molecules faster. You can accidentally speed up the scent journey and miss out on the delicate dance of its true reveal.”

If multiple trips to the mall to sample new fragrances sounds exhausting, keep in mind that department stores have small sample vials behind the counters ready for you to bring home — all you have to do is ask. If you prefer a cosmetics store like Sephora, their staff is able to make a sample vial of fragrances on their shelves so you can wear them over a few days to know how they function in different environments, giving you time to live with the scent.

Discover something you love

The chemical makeup of your chosen scent has effects on the durability of your fragrance. Mr. Jeong said, “A big misconception is that all EDPs (eau de parfums) or parfums last very long and are great projectors. While oil concentration affects scent strength and sillage (how much a scent lingers in the air), the ingredients used in a fragrance formula often matter more.

“For example, natural citrus ingredients tend to be more effervescent and last shorter than notes like vanilla, patchouli, and different woods.”

Ms. Yang also pointed out that natural vs. synthetic elements in your scent affect not only the length of the wear, but the smell of the scent itself and how it interacts with your body. “Natural is not always more sustainable … or better for you. I’m a trained aromatherapist and I love natural fragrances as much as synthetic/natural combos. That said, four tons of roses, composed of approximately 1,600,000 rose blossoms, yields only 1 kilogram of rose oil. Real, all-natural perfumes are very expensive. No two rose yields will smell exactly the same (like wine) due to climate conditions.

“Furthermore, natural perfumes feature a shorter wearing time and shelf life. All-natural fragrances may cause more allergic reactions than synthetics, so be extra careful around homegrown products in this category. Always conduct a skin test before a purchase!”

Finding a scent you love can be challenging, but if you know what you’re looking for, and how to look for it, the experience can be enjoyable, especially when you’re armed with the knowledge of scents to change your daily life. A few online resources to learn which notes you prefer, how to apply and test, and determining your next scent is easier than you think.

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