How to Pick Out Perfume in 4 Easy Steps

by | Mar 10, 2010 04:52 PM ET

Chanel, are you the one?

Hannah Mason/Getty Images

A couple of years ago, I caught a whiff of Chanel Chance, and it smelled like destiny. And like many relationships, Chance and I went through the glorious honeymoon phase when I never left the house without a spritz. Now, aside from a cursory squirt from time to time, Chance sits unnoticed on my vanity, the original romance all but evaporated.

But I'm also looking forward to getting back in fragrance market. Anyone who's ever searches for perfume or cologne knows this isn't the easiest or most pleasant task. Headache-inducing musk, patchouli and floral bouquets can quickly overwhelm even the most intrepid shopper. Not to mention perfume's bedeviling way of smelling differently on any given arm.

To make the perfume hunt as painless as possible, I've armed myself with four simple steps for homing in on the right scent for every skin.

Know what you like: Perfumes and colognes are divided by fragrance families. Women choose from fresh, floral, citrus, woody and oriental, while men select from fresh, aromatic and woody. Sephora's Fragrance Finder is a good place to start to figure out which family you belong to.

Pay attention to skin chemistry: The cardinal rule of perfume shopping is to  smell it on your own skin. If you smell something scrumptious on a test strip, you'd better apply it to your skin as well because your nose might notice a difference.

Fragrances also interact differently with dry or oily skin. Dry skin won't retain perfume's initial top notes very long, which means you might need a more complex formula that won't escape as quickly. Oily skin, on the other hand, holds onto to the top notes longer, and can retain softer scents over time.

And speaking of top notes...

Wait a while: Fragrances are formulated to evaporate in layers. Top notes are the first scents you smell, which wear away after around 10 minutes and leave behind the heart notes. A few hours later, the perfume's essence, or base notes, emerge. That's why you should wear a scent around for a while to see exactly how its entire bouquet interacts with your skin.

Protect your nose: Eating spicy food, being stressed out and shopping in the morning can all distort perfumes' scents. Also once you've narrowed down your fragrance family, test only a few at time to avoid olfactory overload.

More To Explore