A Basic Understanding of Perfume

It was only recently that I realised I have been purchasing perfumes entirely wrong my whole life. Now, that’s not a major tragedy, since I’ve only bought a handful of bottles.

However, having stumbled over more information regarding scent composition using essential oils (because messing around with essential oils is fun), I started reading about perfumes and – wow – there is a universe of niche knowledge out there. And I think learning about at least some of it could really help when choosing your next olfactory pick-me-up. 

Embarking on your  “scent journey”

It turns out, choosing the right perfume is the ultimate exercise in conscious consumerism. That’s because a perfume only reveals its scent profile over time (unless it is a “linear” scent that remains the same throughout – these tend to be chemically derived and have only been around relatively recently). This experience of change of the perfume is often called the scent journey. So what we should do – rather than spritz some scent on a paper strip, waft it about and decide then and there to buy it – is to apply some to our skin and observe how the scent develops over time. Only if it pleases your nose at different points in the day, and indeed after several hours, can you be sure that this one is worth investing in. 

Scent notes

This is beginning to sound very poetic – if not to say artsy-fartsy. Bear with me, though, there is a point here. The scent profile is in fact composed of three different notes – the top (head) note, the middle (heart) note and the base (soul) note. These notes linger for different lengths of time. Depending on your source – and the perfume in question – the top note typically takes centre stage from the point of application and fades after 10 minutes to 1h. It is followed by the middle note, which lasts for about 2-4h and the fragrance that is left is the base note, which can linger up to 8h or more.

There are other characteristics of scents such as “sillage”, which describes the quality of leaving a scent trail behind the perfume wearer, and perfume classifications such as “gourmand” (perfumes that have predominant fragrance notes based on foods). If you’re interested in finding out more about these, have a look at the source links below.

Getting your money’s worth

Overall, the longevity of a fragrance is determined by its concentration – the higher the concentration the longer it will last. Commonly, the highest concentration is found in Eau de Parfum (10-20% scent oil to water); other available choices are Eau de Toilette (5-15%) and Eau de Cologne (2-4%). So even though Eau de Parfum is the most expensive option, you do get a longer performing product, which delivers more fragrance with less product used. 

As for making the right purchase decision and buying perfumes that are sustainable (for you financially, and the planet), my suggestion would be to explore your preferences by getting some perfume samples first, for example from an online catalogue like Perfumista, FragranceSamples UK, or ScentSamples UK. If you know a scent that you like and would like to look up what it is composed of, check out Fragrantica, an online encyclopedia of perfumes that lists the scent notes and related perfumes. 

Vegan (and conveniently cheaper) alternatives

Personally, I have started buying scents from companies that recreate well known scents from essential oils and offer refilling services such as Scent&Colour and Eden Perfumes Brighton. Although the idea of creating approximate scents by big brands for a cheaper price may be somewhat ethically questionable, I have made peace with buying these instead as I do love the concept of simple refillable bottles, and the inflated price tags that come with fancy bottles and huge marketing campaigns are simply too much for my purse.

Once you have made your purchase, be sure to store your scent away from light and humidity to keep it stable and smelling as it should.







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