How to apply fragrances properly

There’s a lot of nonsense and marketing out there about how to apply fragrances, which can make the whole affair quite confusing. However, this doesn’t need to be the case, so I’ve put together a definitive, expert-backed guide.

I’ll start with the most common mistake people make…

Don’t rub fragrances into your skin

It’s not moisturiser! Lightly dabbing oily perfumes between your wrists is okay, but don’t cause friction by rubbing as this makes the top notes evaporate too quickly.1 The more physical rubbing technique is a leftover from the era when more highly concentrated, non-spraying perfumes were the norm. Because they were applied by dabbing the cap on your wrists rather than spraying, it was easier to just apply to one wrist and then transfer this to the other wrist and the neck. Such perfumes, with their higher ingredients costs, were also quite expensive, so conserving them in this way was commonplace. If you do have one of these, read on…

Apply to the right places

Here are the reasons why you should or shouldn’t apply to different areas:

Wrists: Honestly, this is an all-round great place to apply your fragrances, as it’s low enough that warm air will bring it to people’s noses (and in the case of stronger perfumes, it’s not too close to yours), and it gets a lot of air circulation. If you find the perfume isn’t smelling quite right, though, try it on your upper forearms, where it is less likely to be in contact with things like tables and mouse pads.2

Neck (below the ears): This is another good place to apply, as it will be noticed both by others walking near you, and by those at a more intimate distance. If you have oily skin, though, then the back of your neck is likely a better place (unless you wear pearl necklaces, which are very sensitive to perfume).2

Hair: This is a controversial one, with a lot of support from perfumers but little from beauty editors or salespeople. The issue is that the alcohol in fragrances can dry and damage hair if used too much, but the benefit is that this method increases fragrance longevity and diffusion, particularly if you have long hair. Spraying directly works, but applying it to your hairbrush and then running it through your hair is the best way, so long as you only use one perfume on each brush to prevent mixing.3

Clothes: You need to be careful here, as some fragrances will stain, particularly with extended spraying over time. Things like woollen scarves, shirts in dark colours, and jacket linings all work well, but avoid things like printed silk scarves, as the colours can stain or fade.4,5

Chest: Due to its being directly below your nose, your chest is the best place to spray if you wear fragrances for your own benefit. You’ll enjoy getting lovely wafts of olfactory art throughout the day.

Inner elbows and knees: These are best in really hot weather where scents rise so quickly from your neck and wrists that no one gets the chance to smell them. They’re also good if you’re wearing weaker fragrances and need to spray more than just the usual places, or a really strong one and don’t want it to be in your face all day (in which case opt for just the backs of your knees and nowhere else).

All over: Some people like to spray a cloud of fragrance into the air and then walk through it glamorously. Like the inner knees and elbows, it’s a good way to wear stronger fragrances to maximise their projection, but unlike them you’ll be smelling it all day.2 And do avoid getting stray perfume onto things like timber (flooring, furniture and the like), as it will damage the surface if done often.

Perfume jewellery: This is more of a left-field one, but it’s particularly relevant in cases where you want extreme fragrance longevity or for whatever reason can’t apply the fragrance to your skin. Some people get bad skin reactions to certain fragrances, but wearing them on perfume jewellery solves this problem. You can find these online in the form of necklaces, bracelets, rings, earrings, and pretty well any other jewellery you can think of. They come with absorbent stone or ceramic pieces that absorb any fragrance you spray onto them.

Not sweaty places like armpits: I shouldn’t have to explain this, but sweat and perfume don’t mix. Think of it like this: When you buy a new toilet freshener spray, you like how it smells. But over time you grow to find it unpleasant, as you learn to associate it with the bad smells it is always mixed with. This is how people will remember your fragrance over time if you’re not careful.

Don’t spray too much, or too little

It is said that Napoleon Bonaparte used 12 litres of perfume every month. Cost aside, I wouldn’t recommend this kind of reckless perfuming because no one will want to be near you. Not spraying too much is a really important lesson that I think most fragrance-wearers understand, but it’s still worth mentioning. Pumping too much of your olfactory taste into the world is seen as an assault by some (there are whole books on the subject!), so tread carefully. Big brands want to encourage more spraying to boost sales, but generally four sprays is enough, though for weaker fragrances more is usually fine. And regarding too little, this is something I still find myself doing from time to time – you do want others to notice your scent, after all. If in doubt, take a bottle along with you in your pocket or bag (refillable mini atomisers are fantastic for this), and reapply once or twice a day, particularly if the weather is hot.

Spray at the right time – ideally soon after showering

Just after showering is the best time to apply, as your skin is moisturised and your pores are open, allowing the fragrance to absorb better and leading to better longevity. However, do not make the mistake of storing your bottles in the bathroom, or risk having them destroyed by heat and humidity. Alternatively, applying a matching or unscented moisturiser before spraying the fragrance will also do the trick.6

Wear a scent appropriate for the occasion

Like clothes, perfumes should be chosen with the occasion in mind, as well as who you will be with. For example, For example, By Kilian fragrances (sweet, rich, intoxicating) wouldn’t suit a board meeting, and I wouldn’t recommend Terre d’Hermès (citrus, woody, office) on a date. If in doubt, think of how the fragrance is marketed – it’s generally a good indicator of what kind of settings the it’s designed for.

Only layer if you know what you’re doing

Most people don’t layer their fragrances, but those who do bear a responsibility to the world around them, because bad blends can smell genuinely horrible. Mixing fragrances from the same family is usually best – for example, two gourmands work better together than a gourmand and a fougère (generally, anyway).7

Well, there you have it! Go forth and enjoy the confidence that proper fragrance technique brings you. And if you’ve got a funny story about breaking these rules, or I missed something important, let me know in the comments.

1 Molvar, K. (2018, December 10). 5 Mistakes Most Women Make When Wearing Perfume—And How to Fix Them. Vogue.

2 Vosnaki, E. (2012, January 13). Frequent Questions: How & Where to Apply Perfume Effectively. Retrieved from Perfume Shrine:

3 Sullivan, K. (2012, February 8). Valentine’s Day at Home: Perfumer Frédéric Malle on Romantic Scents for Your Place and Yourself. Allure.

4 Carre de Paris. (2016, February 7). How to Care For Your Hermes Carre. Retrieved from Carre de Paris:

5 Gabiano. (2016). Caring For Your Beautiful Silk Scarves. Retrieved from Gabiano:

6 Rozwadowska, F. (2020, September 28). Vaseline (and 10 Other Surprising Tips) to Make Your Perfume Last Longer. Savoir Flair.

7 Forti, M. (2020, July 31). Goldfield & Banks Dimitri Weber Interview | Max Forti Podcast Ep. 06. Retrieved from YouTube:

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