Your Fragrance Questions Answered
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Your Fragrance Questions Answered

Make perfume last all day -- and 7 other tips to wear scent well.

Signature Scents and More

Q. How long can I expect my perfume to last?

A. Generally speaking, a bottle of fragrance should remain fresh and aromatic for up to a year. If you're vigilant about keeping it away from direct sunlight and in a room that's dry and cool, you might be able to squeeze even a few more months out of it. You'll know it's lost its potency if the color or aroma changes (it might get a shade darker or take on a funky or ammonia-like tinge).

Q. Help! I fell in love with a scent that my husband hates. Can it be toned down?

A. You can wear it full-throttle away from home, but when you're with him, tone it down by dabbing an unscented body lotion over the perfumed areas to dull the scent's potency. Or place a neutral single note (an individual, nonblended fragrance sold by itself), such as a soft musk, vanilla, or sandalwood, over the fragrance, which should help soften the aroma as well. "Another fix is to try a lotion version of your favorite perfume, which will be more diluted than the perfume itself," says Sarah Horowitz-Thran, owner of Creative Scentualization, a fragrance company in Santa Monica, California.

Q. A woman is supposed to have one signature scent, right? But I just found two new ones that I love. Can I alternate wearing them?

A. Life's too short not to have as many fragrances as make you happy! Perfume, much like an accessory, can be changed depending on the season, time of day, or your mood. Just use soap and water to take off one scent, and you're ready for the next! Vive la difference!

Making It Last All Day

Q. How come after about a week of wearing a new fragrance, I can no longer smell it on myself? Everyone gets to enjoy it but me!

A. We feel your pain! You're not imagining this disappearing act, since you're probably experiencing what the experts call temporary anosmia, an inability to perceive a particular smell. "At first you smell this dominant scent, but later your brain decides it doesn't need to perceive it any longer," says Olivier Gillotin, a top perfumer with Givaudan Fine Fragrances US, creator of many popular fragrances worldwide. "This is actually an evolutionary advantage that permits you to instead smell the odor of smoke or anything potentially dangerous." Assuming that the only danger you're in is losing track of your favorite new scent, what can you do to keep your nose receptive? One way, explains Gillotin, is to deliberately smell other things throughout the day to clear your olfactory glands; coffee beans or wool clothing are all good palate refreshers and are readily available. Taking a complete fragrance break for about a week to clean your scent palate will help, too.

Q. How do I make sure my fragrance lasts all day?

A. One word: layering! Begin in the shower with the soap version of your favorite perfume, which will leave a veil of fragrance on your skin. (Fragranced shower gels, while luxurious, aren't as potent.) Right out of the shower, applying scented moisturizer is crucial. "The key," says Laurie Palma, senior vice president of fragrance and Internet marketing for Chanel, "is to slather your skin with moisturizer while it's still warm from the shower, to allow for the best absorption." The last piece of the puzzle, of course, is the fragrance itself. The lower the alcohol content of a fragrance, the longer it will last: that's why eau de parfum, with the least amount of alcohol, is the longest lasting, followed by eau de toilette and eau de cologne. Other suggestions: spray your ironing board with fragrance before ironing and let it dry. The heat from the iron will help release fragrance onto your clothes, says Palma. Or spray fragrance on your hands, clap them together a few times, then run your fingers through your hair. Horowitz-Thran swears by this trick, since hair is porous and acts as a great carrier.

Mixing Scents

Q. I have two scents I love, and they are both sort of musky. I thought it might be fun to wear them together -- is that weird?

A. Do-it-yourself fragrance combining is a great way to express your originality, and, in fact, many perfume lines are designed with mixing and matching in mind. "There's no rhyme or reason to what works," says Cord Coen, president of Zents, a small fragrance company in Arizona. "It's simply a matter of trial and error to find a blend that strikes your fragrance fancy. If your two favorite scents are in the same fragrance family, they're likely to be a great match." Since there are several categories of scent to choose from (citrus, green, marine, floral, oriental, woody, and aromatic), try mixing perfumes from different families as well. Coen recommends putting the scent you like best on top, since that is what will be the most potent.

Q. If I smell a scent on a little stick in the store, is that a good way to know its true essence?

A. "Scent strips are a good method for finding out what type of fragrance you find interesting," says Paul Seplowitz, vice president of product development for Celine Dion parfum. If that first whiff grabs you, then rub the strip on your inner arm to allow it to interact with your own skin chemistry, which will provide you with a more natural version of the fragrance. But to truly test-drive a fragrance, visit the fragrance counter, as spritzing the real deal on your skin is the only way to know if it's a good match for your body chemistry. "Begin smelling the area you sprayed after a minute or so," advises Seplowitz, "and remember to sniff the same spot throughout the day and notice how the fragrance transitions as the hours pass. You should enjoy the fragrance's whole run, not just the first moment, or the last."