Tips and Tricks: How Do You Apply Perfume?

Today is Bastille Day in France, so if you’re celebrating, I wish you clear skies and beautiful fireworks.

My topic for today seems straightforward–you open a bottle of perfume and just spray wherever you want, but every perfumista has her favorite tricks.  So, how do you wear perfume? Do you dab behind the ears, spray all over, walk through the scented mist? What’s your favorite way to perfume yourself?

The trick I learned from my mom is to apply fragrance when I’m fully dressed, so that a bit lingers on my clothes. Fabric retains fragrance really well, and this kind of application can be a great sillage booster for ethereal fragrances like anything from the Hermessence collection or L’Artisan Parfumeur. On the other hand, heavier blends work well dabbed right on skin. I apply Guerlain Shalimar parfum by dabbing a bit under my collar bone, on my wrists and behind my knees (to help the scent rise up).

Photography by Bois de Jasmin: escargots and hamburgers food truck.

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71 Comments

  • The Siren: For day in close quarters, I’m a strictly behind-the-ears girl. Wrists if it’s a light scent. I do the knees if it’s a big occasion. My habit of wearing scarves means I also expect to leave the scent on my clothes.

    One thing I don’t do: the spray-and-walk-through. Doesn’t work for me. All I get is a smelly room. Another old bit of perfume advice I don’t bother with: the idea that you shouldn’t touch your wrists together after application. I can’t tell the slightest difference in smell or development and I don’t want dripping wrists. July 14, 2012 at 8:46am Reply

    • Victoria: I also don’t do the spray and walk through the scented mist for the same reason. I think that it can work well, but I just hate wasting perfume. Most of it ends up not on me, but on the carpet! July 14, 2012 at 3:59pm Reply

  • Meg: Three sprays in the following order:

    1) Spray one wrist (1st shot)
    2) Touch wrists together.
    3) Touch each wrist to the inside of the opposite elbow.
    4) Lift hair and spray back of neck (2nd shot); scrumble hair around until it’s picked up the scent.
    5) Spray cleavage (3rd shot). Done! July 14, 2012 at 9:03am Reply

    • Victoria: I like it: spray-touch-touch-lift-spray. 🙂 I will try this next. Sounds like it would be a great way to perfume oneself thoroughly. July 14, 2012 at 4:00pm Reply

  • Tulip: That yellow. That blue.
    Is it a common combination?
    Very intense!
    Love your pics! July 14, 2012 at 9:09am Reply

    • Victoria: The yellow is very popular around here for food trucks. And the blue is just a color I like, so maybe I just keep gravitating to it. Glad that you liked it. 🙂 July 14, 2012 at 4:01pm Reply

      • annemariec: I love the photo too. But that building is so yellow. Is it made of cheese? Are you on the moon, perhaps? 🙂 July 14, 2012 at 7:36pm Reply

        • Victoria: 🙂 It is painted to look this way. The photo is taken at a small village in the south of Belgium where every single house is painted in bright colors. This building was in fact the most low-key of all! Other buildings were painted pink, blue, purple, and people compete to create the most colorful facades. The village looked like something out of children’s storybooks. July 14, 2012 at 7:55pm Reply

  • Olfacta: It boosts the laundry load a bit, but in summer (roughly from April to early October here) I wear cotton t-shirts nearly every day, and spraying them (generously, across the chest) definitely makes scent last longer! July 14, 2012 at 9:20am Reply

    • Victoria: I noticed that natural fabrics really hold the scent beautifully. At the Elements showcase for niche perfumes Neela showed her trio of perfumes on scented silk handkerchiefs, and mine still smell of Mohur and Trayee very strongly. July 14, 2012 at 4:03pm Reply

  • OperaFan: My favorite trick is to spray a small cotton ball or pad and tuck it inside my bra. My skin just can’t hold a fragrance, no matter how strong. Using this technique, the fragrance wafts directly up to my nose all day. It certainly worked on my wedding day – a 90+ degree June day in NJ.

    Love the pictures! July 14, 2012 at 9:35am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you!

      Oh, that sounds like a great trick. And a great application technique, especially for the parfum. July 14, 2012 at 4:22pm Reply

  • Anne Sheffield: Depending on the season and the perfume, but generally in summer I spray my clothe as I worry about the sun and the heat changing the scent on my skin. In winter, and with heavier scent I generally spray a cloud and walk naked through it, and finally I apply a bit on my neck. And then I get dressed . I rarely spray my clothe in winter as i don’t wash woollen jumpers and coats like a a summer t shirt and if they have picked up one scent, then I have to wash them before I can change perfume…. Well that a my elaborate theory anyway… 😉 July 14, 2012 at 9:48am Reply

    • Victoria: A great theory, Anne! 🙂 July 14, 2012 at 4:23pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: I layer very light, fleeting perfumes with pure shea butter on my skin. It even helps my eau de cologne to last much longer!
    I don’t need to do that with La Myrrhe, which I am wearing today. That one gets dabbed at the wrists and at the base of my throat. July 14, 2012 at 10:01am Reply

    • Victoria: La Myrrhe is one of those perfumes that I dab. The last time I sprayed it, I felt that I was walking in a huge cloud of scent. It was too much.

      I like your shea butter idea! July 14, 2012 at 4:24pm Reply

  • Martha: Thanks for taking up this topic. I’ve been wondering what the bet way to apply perfume might be. I see that there are many ways.

    I apply perfume to the back of my neck, under my hair, at the very bottom of my cleavage, on the inside of my wrists, and on my temples inside the hairline.

    My dermatologist warned me that one of the reasons women get sun damage on their necks and chest is because they spray perfume there, and then expose the area to the sun. So i skip those spots now. I figure my wrists can handle it. That’s why I put perfume so low in my cleavage — the sun never hits there. I will try the backs of my knees. July 14, 2012 at 10:06am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s an interesting observation about the sun damage and perfume. I think that it might be even more the case for the older fragrances which are full of ingredients labelled today as photosensitizing. July 14, 2012 at 4:26pm Reply

  • Lucas: What a great topic and a funny discussion here!
    I think I never had a tip I learned from someone and my way of spraying perfume was developed naturally, somehow without my knowledge.
    How I do it? I use a single spray on each of my wrists, then I put wrists up to my ears to gently touch behind them. Another step is a single spray at the neck area. Then it’s time to put some clothes on and use one or two additional sprays to get a collar of my t-shirt/jumper perfumed! Voila! 🙂 July 14, 2012 at 10:30am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re a natural, Lucas! 🙂

      My mom is definitely my teacher when it comes to these things. She’s always exquisitely perfumed and gets way more compliments than me on the same perfumes. I might have mentioned this story, but she even got a traffic violation waved because the police officer was so charmed by her perfume (Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle). July 14, 2012 at 4:28pm Reply

      • Lucas: Seems like I really am!
        That’s a great story about your mother! I read this short story you’ve written July 15, 2012 at 4:31am Reply

  • Ariadne: Now that’s MY kind of lunch truck menu in that photo! I spray EDT & EDP all over skipping my hair… damages the color) before getting dressed and maybe layer few dabs of same perfume or a complementary one on exposed skin after. No one has ever told me to tone it down even with my big scents so I continue to be extravagant and happily doused. ;+). I love the cotton ball tip! Perfume harms silk and natural dyes, and permanently damages pearls and opals so put those on after your perfume has absorbs into your skin. July 14, 2012 at 10:35am Reply

    • Victoria: Ha ha! I was cracking up over that hot dog-hamburgers-escargots food truck. Right after I took the photo, I noticed that a line started forming. Not sure which of the items was the most popular.

      Thank you for your word of caution about pearls and silk. I actually did ruin a faux pearl necklace with perfume, so now I’m careful with jewelry and leather. July 14, 2012 at 4:31pm Reply

      • OperaFan: The last time I bought a pearl necklace, the SA said that pearls are the last things you put on and the first you take off. I had no idea that Opals were in the same boat. It’s a good thing I don’t have many opals, but because of my June birthday, I have tons of pearls…
        🙂 July 14, 2012 at 5:16pm Reply

        • Victoria: That’s a great tip about pearls. I also remembered hearing that corals were sensitive to perfume. Since they’re porous, they can absorb scents really well. July 14, 2012 at 7:57pm Reply

  • Raluca: I don’t have a set routine but I usually apply on my wrists (one spray per wrist if the perfume is strong, if not more), ears/neck area and cleavage. If I remember, I apply behind each knee as well. July 14, 2012 at 10:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Sounds like my routine, more or less. With heavy perfumes sometimes i even skip everything else and just perfume behind the knees. July 14, 2012 at 4:32pm Reply

  • Anna Minis: The trick of Elisabeth (seabutter+perfume) is very useful, I think, especially for J.C. Ellena-fans. I have a good skin for perfume, and I only perfume my wrists, and if I wear a cotton shirt, I dress when my wrists are still wet. Some perfumes are on cotton even better than on my skin, for ex. Iris Nobile. I regret that every bottle has a spray these days. Some perfumes you want to spray, others you want to dab. A good exception: Lutens. He gives you the choice. July 14, 2012 at 11:36am Reply

    • Elisa: I like that Lutens gives you that option too, because I think many of his scents are better dabbed than sprayed, which is rare for me. I prefer almost everything sprayed. July 14, 2012 at 11:58am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m going to try Elizabeth’s shea butter trick with Hermessence Rose Ikebana. If that doesn’t work to make it last, nothing will! July 14, 2012 at 4:33pm Reply

  • Claudia: Kudos to you for your beautiful photograph! The colors and the food truck make it so interesting. Snails, hamburgers-ummm,
    delicious July 14, 2012 at 11:46am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Claudia! I love the flowers in the windows. Makes the streets look very festive. 🙂 July 14, 2012 at 4:37pm Reply

  • Roberta: Hi Victoria,
    For me too it depends on the scent, but also on the occasion. I like doing the spray and walk through because I love when my clothes get perfumed too. My favorite spot to apply perfume on the skin is behind my neck. I love when a little wind comes from behind and you can smell the scent. I also apply on my wrists and back of the ear. I have applied behind the knees too, but only on very hot days when everything seems to “evaporate”.
    My mom has taught me to spray some perfume on the hair too, but I don’t do it very often so not to damage my hair. It gives a nice touch and when I do it I try to spray from a good distance, not too directly. July 14, 2012 at 11:52am Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve tried spraying my brush, waiting for the alcohol to evaporate and then brushing my hair. This works really well, but of course, the brush would need to be washed on regular basis. July 14, 2012 at 4:38pm Reply

      • Roberta Vommaro: Good idea, Victoria! I’ll try the brush. 🙂 July 14, 2012 at 7:10pm Reply

  • Nancy A: Hi V,

    Happy Bastille Day! The French Festival traditionally held on this date will be moved to the 15th. This is an excuse to eat baguettes and patisserie without guilt. I never have a traditional style of application since it’s just what comes naturally. Pulse points , glottis, down my legs (usually behind my knees) would be my usual dabs. If I’m wearing a coat that day, I open and spray around liberally from head to toe. I do not spray my hair — the oils mixed with fragrance can distort as well as tapping wrists together can equally distort and break the molecules or at least that’s what I was taught. Whatever works and is pleasurable. July 14, 2012 at 12:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: I think that there must be some sort of celebration here too, since there is a fair number of French people around. But it was a rainy day, and we didn’t feel like exploring. July 14, 2012 at 4:42pm Reply

  • grain de musc: Unless I’m confronted with nuclear fall-out sillage or an unusually generous spraying mechanism, I usually shower in the stuff: wrists, cleavage, neck, back of the neck, hair, behind the ears… I’m a seven-spritz girl. Hate dabbing, and transfer all my non-spray samples to mini-atomizers to test. I’ve even decanted extrait that way! July 14, 2012 at 1:31pm Reply

    • Victoria: I definitely think that I underapply! July 14, 2012 at 4:46pm Reply

  • silverdust: Huge thanks, Opera Fan, for the reminder about cotton balls. I’m actually getting hives from nearly all scents these days! Short of walking through sprays (when most of mine are dabbers!), I was getting to my wits’ end!

    One of my other methods is to spray or run my dabbed fingertips over the louvers on my blow dryer, so the scent is infused into my hair. Also, getting hit with a blast of a favorite scent is a happy surprise when you’re not expecting it. July 14, 2012 at 3:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: Wow, that’s a fun and unusual trick. I will definitely have to try it. July 14, 2012 at 4:46pm Reply

    • OperaFan: You’re welcome. You reminded me of an episode of Frazier, where Niles noticed how nice Daphne’s hair smelled and she said she sprays Obsession on her hairbrush before brushing her hair.

      I remember trying the technique (with a different perfume) and found it to be very effective. Unfortunately, I wear my hair in a way that requires little brushing so it’s not part of my normal bag of tricks! July 14, 2012 at 6:22pm Reply

      • OperaFan: Oops – I just realized the “brush method” was already mentioned above. Well – at least I could link mine to a “fun” inspirational source. July 15, 2012 at 4:11pm Reply

        • Victoria: I used to enjoy that show, so now I’m tempted to find the episode you mentioned. 🙂 July 15, 2012 at 5:16pm Reply

  • ChristinaTB: I usually apply it on my skin, on my collar bone and wrists, but never on the clothes. I will try Shalimar as you propose). Thanks!))) July 14, 2012 at 3:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: You’re welcome, Christina! There are so many ways to apply perfume. And all of these ways make for a new experience. Shalimar parfum sprayed vs dabbed does smell differently to me. July 14, 2012 at 4:48pm Reply

  • Austenfan: I never spray my wrists when I am working, as I have to wash my hands a lot.
    Normally 3 sprays are enough, 2 in my hairline, 1 in my cleavage.
    Rien just gets the one spray, and a small one at that. That stuff is a bomb. I have had to quarantine my bottle and the small échantillon (that prompted me to get a full bottle). They both now live in the box that used to house my first Yixing teapot.
    The lighter perfumes are pretty much sprayed all over. July 14, 2012 at 4:56pm Reply

    • Victoria: Rien definitely goes a long way. More than one spray would kill me, and I love this perfume. July 14, 2012 at 7:56pm Reply

  • Rose D: For me, how to apply perfume depends a lot on the concentration/type of fragrance. For instance, I like to apply Chanel extraits as tiny drops on the pulse points; as opposed to cologne-style fragrances, such as Annick Goutal Eau dHadrien (edt) which I spray generously and sometimes layer with the bath and body line.

    I usually do not apply perfume over my clothes, since I have got a stain or two. A great trick I learnt for perfuming silk foulards without damaging them is to spray the fragrance on the neck, wait until it is completely dry, and then put the foulard on. It works wonderfully with Chanel Nº5 (edp) and Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. July 14, 2012 at 7:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: Rose, that such a great way to perfume scarves! I will definitely be putting this tip to use. July 15, 2012 at 3:55pm Reply

  • annemariec: I gave a 5 ml decant of Le Labo Oud 27 to a friend and he reported that the back of the neck is the only place he can wear it. He is a great foodie, and said that having the oud on his wrists made it too prominent while he was holding a fork during lunch!

    My favourite technique with some perfumes is to put a pool of unscented lotion on my palm, spritz some fragrance into it, rub gently between the palms, and apply.

    This is a great way of spreading a small amount of perfume around your body and on your clothes, and works well on those days where you want to wear a sillage monster but know you will be in close quarters with people. It may not work with perfumes that have very delicate top notes, as you may lose them with the heat and the rubbing.

    As a bonus: you need never buy the scented lotion again if you don’t want to. But I still love my Chanel No 5 body creme. It is superb. July 14, 2012 at 7:56pm Reply

    • Victoria: I was cooking rice pudding the other day and I was wearing Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore on my wrist. As the steam was rising up, the perfume of vanilla and rice was mixing in such a delicious manner with sandalwood. It made me wish for a similar perfume. But I can see your friend’s point; you may not want anything to interfere with your meal. July 15, 2012 at 3:57pm Reply

      • annemariec: I love the way steam, and sometimes rain, can bring out your perfume, sometimes quite late in the day after you thought it had faded. July 15, 2012 at 4:48pm Reply

  • Cindy Coker: What wonderful tips! I can’t wait to try all. Thank you. July 14, 2012 at 9:56pm Reply

    • Victoria: So glad that you’re enjoying this thread. It’s so much fun to learn everyone’s tricks. July 15, 2012 at 3:58pm Reply

  • hedonist222: I apply a dozen and a half of sprays around my chest and neck area with concentration towards my neck.

    Then a spray or two on my arm for analytical purposes. July 15, 2012 at 1:33am Reply

    • Victoria: I like to spray on my wrist so that I can smell it much easier, especially if it’s a new fragrance that I’m testing. July 15, 2012 at 4:04pm Reply

  • HB: I have a pretty set routine if it’s 1) my signature fragrance (Molinard de Molinard – vintage) or 2) a medium to light scent: As I am getting dressed, I spray on my inner upper arms and torso, the back of my neck and sometimes my knees or ankles. For very light scents (my latest obsession is Sycomore) I moisturize my extremely dry skin with olive oil straight out of the shower and that seems to add some sticking power. Sometimes I add another spritz on my neck so that it does cling more to my scarf, but that’s only for ones that I really love.

    It was drilled into me never to touch wrists and so I became a sprayer early on. If I dab, which I do for more potent fragrances, I use a cotton ball and sometimes keep that in my purse just to enjoy for a day or two. When I am testing something for the first time, it goes on my knee or ankle and usually in the evening while I am reading/researching or watching a film – it’s been the safest way for me to avoid headaches during the day. Plus I get to wake up to the dry-down which is a fun surprise. July 15, 2012 at 2:49am Reply

    • Victoria: I just bought some pure almond oil that a pharmacist recommended for moisturizing, so I’m going to try that. It might also prolong the perfume, as you mention.

      And I love your take on testing new fragrances! July 15, 2012 at 4:07pm Reply

  • Coeur de feu: Hello from Montréal,
    I’m french so I’ll try to explain in good english !
    In summer, I use a mix of body cream. I know, maybe it’s a “sacrilège” to mix scents but it works.
    2 part on Infusion d’iris, 1 part of L’Heure Bleue and 1 part of Samsara. I apply on arms, breast and neck (except when I wear pearls).
    After, I put a spritz of one of these eau de parfum in the back of my neck and on my hairs.
    Finally, I rub my knees with this body cream.

    For the colder seasons, I use extrait de parfum ou eau de parfum back of my neck and on my breast.
    For the laundry, I put my favorite eau de parfum in a spray bottle with water and I spray it on pillows and shirts before ironing.

    Nice day to everyone ! July 15, 2012 at 8:12am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for all of these interesting ideas. I like your perfumed laundry trick. I would like to try it with a simple lavender cologne. July 15, 2012 at 4:55pm Reply

  • Tracy: My ‘always use’ spray perfume is grain alcohol based, inexpensive, and comes in many very light natural fragrances. In hot weather I spray underarms, neck, fingertips. I love to use as sanitizer between teaching clients, on my fingers, and as a cooling post workout mist on my upper body. In winter I use more traditionally. July 15, 2012 at 10:03am Reply

    • Victoria: Mmmm, I love a light scent to cool me down after a workout. Something crisp like Guerlain Herba Fresca or an orange blossom like Jo Malone’s. July 15, 2012 at 4:57pm Reply

  • Naheed: Lovely as always!! I follow your mum’s way, Victoria. When I am fully dressed and ready to set out I apply fragrance on my wrists, behind the elbows, a puff a little above the cleavage and about 4 inches bellow the shoulder joint. But when it’s a heady fragrance like Amarige, then just above the cleavage and bellow shoulder joints and I also do the same when I wear Cinnabar. July 15, 2012 at 12:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Naheed! 🙂
      Sounds exactly like my mom’s technique. It works so well for light fragrances to give a nice trail of perfume. July 15, 2012 at 5:15pm Reply

  • Parfumesse: I always give one spray on wrist then rub together (I know,I know) then two sprays on neck but never did the lifting hair back of neck trick,I shall try this tommorow!! 🙂 July 16, 2012 at 11:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: Hope that you like this trick! I’ve tried it, and it works so well. July 17, 2012 at 6:37am Reply

  • Joan: I usually spray once on my clavicle and once on my wrists, which I then press together.

    Otherwise it smells too strong. July 17, 2012 at 12:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: That sounds like a nice application technique, especially if you don’t want a mile long sillage. July 17, 2012 at 2:58pm Reply

  • Isis: Just came across this post today, as I was searching for possible tips on scenting laundry…. I am making my own laundry soap (is that how you say it in English??) today for the first time, and I am going to try scenting that with perfume… I am going to try spritzing some eau d’orange verte or some no. 19 in one of my bottles… keeping my fingers crossed that it works! October 15, 2013 at 3:52pm Reply

    • Victoria: How are you making the laundry detergent? Are you using the unscented kind or a special soap?
      Scenting laundry is tricky, because you need ingredients that will not be water solulible and many perfumes won’t stick to fabric after it goes through the wash cycle. But hey, experimenting should be easy. Please let me know how it goes. October 16, 2013 at 8:42am Reply

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