Perfume Primer

So perfume is kinda my thing. I absolutely adore perfume and have for a very long time. If you’re looking to get into perfume or you’ve failed in the past with perfume, maybe check this out. It’s going to be very text-heavy and filled with a lot of information, so if you don’t read it, I’m not going to be offended. 😛

I’ll be covering the following things in this post:

  • Quick Info
  • General tips about perfume
  • Tips for mainstream perfumes
  • Tips for indie perfumes
  • A few questions answered

Quick Info:

There are a few different types of perfume that I’ll be talking about here. You’ll notice that I split perfume up into mainstream and indie perfumes. I consider mainstream perfumes to be the kinds of perfume that you can buy in stores, such as Burberry, Chanel, Vera Wang, Victoria’s Secret, and the like. They are usually alcohol-based. I consider indie perfumes to be perfumes made by small companies, usually found on etsy or their own websites. A few that come to mind are Haus of Gloi, Solstice Scents, and Smelly Yeti. If you’re looking to find out more about indie perfumes (and indie makeup), I would suggest going to /r/IndieMakeupAndMore. There are a lot of resources there for learning more about indie perfumes.

What do I mean about alcohol and oil-based perfumes? Perfume oils are diluted with a solvent. Alcohol-based refers to perfumes diluted with ethanol or ethanol and water. Oil-based refer to perfume oils diluted with coconut or jojoba oil (usually coconut). Fun fact: the different classifications of perfumes (eau de parfum, eau de toilette, etc.) refers to the concentration of the perfume oil vs the solvent. To learn more about the classifications, check out the wiki page for perfume here. Wikipedia may not always be the best source, but I find that it’s good for learning general things such as this.

So what is the difference between the two? I’ll be covering that.

Some terms I’ll be using:

  • sillage: this is a term to describe how detectable your perfume is to others. Generally speaking, alcohol-based perfumes will have better sillage than oil-based perfumes. This means that people will need to be closer in order to smell your perfume.
  • notes: Refers to the individual fragrance components of a perfume. Examples are rose, white musk, cinnamon, etc. A full and comprehensive list of notes can be found here.
  • throw: Basically the same as sillage. It refers to how far away your perfume can be detected. Alcohol-based perfumes generally have better throw than oil-based ones.
  • groups of scents: This is kind of scent categories. I’ll use terms like aquatic (scents that have a water note), green (scents with a green note such as sage, moss, or some other plant), floral, woody, musky, powdery. Fragrantica covers this pretty well here.

Another type of perfume to consider is solid perfume. These seem to be gaining popularity in both mainstream and indie markets. If you find yourself sensitive to alcohol or oil-based perfumes, I would suggest a solid perfume. It is less irritating on the skin generally and does seem to be less pungent. Your mileage may vary, though, so proceed with caution.

Have you ever wondered about top, base, and middle notes? I think anyone looking closely at perfumes has. To sum it up, top notes are the notes that you smell first. They are generally lighter notes like citrus and bergamot and will fade fairly quickly. Middle notes are the notes that really shine after the top notes fade away. Floral scents are popular middle notes. The base note is the note that sticks around the longest. Musks and woods are popular base notes. You can create your own perfume oil at Haus of Gloi and they have an excellent breakdown of their top, middle and base notes here.

General Tips:

-Not every perfume will smell great on every person. Your skin chemistry will change a perfume. This is less-likely to happen with alcohol-based perfumes, but can still happen. Oil-based perfumes will definitely vary widely based on your skin chemistry.

What do I mean by that? I mean that a perfume will smell differently on you than it will smell on your friend. Again, this will be more likely to happen with oil-based perfumes vs. alcohol-based perfumes. A great anecdotal example is with Solstice Scents’ Nightgown (Vanilla, White Chocolate, Tuberose & Tiare Flowers). On me, it’s just white chocolate, and nothing else really. On my friend, it was mostly floral with white chocolate sweetness. This was an oil-based perfume, so it wasn’t unexpected.

– Don’t be afraid to try new scents. Or new notes. Unless you know for sure that something gives you a massive headache or you have a reaction to it, give it a chance. I know that anything lavender gives me a headache, so I avoid it like the plague. However, I’m very iffy about musk, so I always proceed with caution, but quite a few of my perfumes have a musk note, so I don’t let that stop me from trying a perfume.

– Always, always try out a perfume before trying it. Since it will react to skin chemistry, you really do need to try it first!

Mainstream Perfume Tips:

Mainstream perfumes are generally alcohol-based, so please keep that in mind, especially if you have a sensitive nose. It will be especially strong when first applied and will fade as the day goes on. Alcohol-based perfumes will generally have better throw than oil-based perfumes. They may affect those with more sensitive noses and will be less of a personal experience than oil-based perfumes. I wear mainstream perfumes when I want to smell more “traditional” in terms of perfume.

My main tip for buying mainstream perfume is to try it on your skin! Those little tester strips aren’t very effective for truly sampling a perfume. Something may smell divine on paper (literally) and then smell….not so pleasant on you. I have run into many perfumes that smell very nice on the tester strip and then are just mediocre on me. Faith Hill’s True perfume was one I received for Christmas and if I spritz it in the air, it smells very, very nice. I spritz it on me and it turns into a powdery mess.

So, look kinda shady and weird and spray a perfume you want to try onto your arm. I would suggest only trying a couple perfumes at a time. And just walk around for the rest of the day, to see how the perfume wears. Working up a sweat might change how it smells (for better or worse), so keep that in mind while trying a perfume as well.

As for low-end vs high-end, I think that depends on your preferences and your skin chemistry. High-end brands will be more likely to use high quality ingredients and that may affect how a perfume smells on you. Or it may not. It’s a personal thing. I’ve tried some low-end perfumes. Some smell great and others, not so much. I’ve also tried some high-end perfumes that didn’t smell great to me as well, so it’s a preference thing.

Indie Perfume Tips:

Indie perfumes are generally oil-based, but there are some indie companies that make alcohol-based perfumes as well (Cocoa Pink is one that comes to mind). Oil-based perfumes are more likely to react more strongly to your skin chemistry than alcohol-based perfumes. You will probably notice much bigger differences with oil-based perfumes. Your skin chemistry may take a note and amp it up, effectively engulfing all other notes (like my run-in with Nightgown that I talked about earlier). Longevity and sillage will vary more with oil-based perfumes. These things will depend on the company and the notes used.

There is a lot more variety in indie perfumes. You can get a “traditional”-smelling perfume or you can get something really out there. Haus of Gloi’s Ploughman is described as “Well worn leather, dirt n’ dandelions, carrot, a pinch of tobacco and a light sheen of feral skin musk.” Not exactly traditional. (On me, it smells like freshly mown grass, to give some perspective.) That’s not to say that mainstream perfumes can’t be unique with unique notes, but it’s something that I’ve noticed is more prevalent in indie companies.

Most indie companies offer sample sizes, so that you can try the perfumes before you buy a full size. This lets you experiment with different notes and scents and see what works best on your skin.

I’ve also found that it’s easier to pick out the individual notes in indie perfumes than mainstream perfumes. That’s not to say that they aren’t well-blended (they are), but that it is possible to smell the rose note, the white chocolate note, the vanilla note, etc in a perfume. They’re blended into a beautiful scent, but you can still pick out what’s in the perfume.

I really recommend trying out some indie perfumes! There are some really unique and wonderful scents out there. You can even create your own unique scent!

A Few Questions:
I asked the lovely Jessica to ask me a few questions she had about perfume and then I came up with a few questions on my own.

  • Is there anything that is “bad” to see in a perfume? (Ie. Bad for your health)
    – As far as I know, not really. Unless, of course, you have allergies or are sensitive to certain ingredients. A common ingredient people are sensitive to is cinnamon. Most perfumes with cinnamon are pretty clear about cinnamon being a note in the perfume. It is also advised that if you are pregnant or nursing, you should consult with your physician before wearing anything containing essential oils. Solstice Scents actually gives a pretty good run-down of why this is the case here.
  • Does perfume have to be expensive to be good?
    -As I mentioned earlier, it pretty much boils down to a personal thing. Less expensive perfume will mostly likely use lower quality perfume oils (or dilute it even more), which may affect how it smells on you. However, it could still smell wonderful. Or it could smell horrible. You need to try it first.
  • What kinds of terms are helpful when you are describing your perfume preferences to someone?
    – It depends on how well-versed someone is with perfume already. If they’re well-versed, you can throw around terms like aromatic green, chypre floral, oriental fougere, and floral fruity gourmand. Here’s a site to help you figure out what those terms mean. If you’re talking to someone NOT well-versed in perfumes, terms like floral, powdery, woody, spicy, or green will probably go a long way in helping them understand what you like.
  • Do rollerballs really work?
    – Yes!! The sillage may not be the same that you would get with an atomizer or a spritzer, but the perfume does wear on the skin just as if you had sprayed it. It just sits closer to the skin. I am a huge fan of rollerballs and bought a bunch of empty ones just so I can put my perfumes into them. Glass ones are preferable, as essential oils can interact badly with plastic.
  • Should you buy a perfume without trying it first?
    – NO. I think I’ve made it pretty clear that you really do need to try it first! 😛
  • How do I find out what I like/what works for me?
    -Samples, samples, samples! For example, Alchimia Apothecary sells one-note “fume tubes” that are for layering, but are also a great way to try out different notes. Conjure Oils has a similar thing. The best way to truly discover what works is to just keep trying new things.
  • I want to try indie perfumes. Where do I start?
    – I would definitely suggest starting with Solstice Scents, Haus of Gloi, Alchimia Apothecary, and, most importantly, the subreddit, /r/IndieMakeupAndMore, who have a wonderful beginner’s guide in order to get you started.
  • Which is better: alcohol or oil based perfumes? 
    – Neither. I enjoy both. It depends on your preference. Alcohol-based generally have better sillage, which is sometimes what I really want. Oil-based, however, react more to skin chemistry, have lower sillage, and come in very unique scents. It’s a personal thing.

I hope that you found this helpful, and hopefully informative! I really wanted to share what I know with the world.

Do you have any more questions? Do you think I got something wrong? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Perfume Primer

  1. Thank you thank you THANK YOU!!! I often find the world of perfume to be overwhelming and confusing, and when you go into places like Sephora the associates seem to be more concerned with making a sale than actually helping you find the right scent. You are truly a life saver 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: What Blogs Do I Follow? – An Historian About Town

  3. Pingback: Style File Friday- Finding Your Fragrance | An Historian About Town

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