If Your Perfume Doesn’t Last — a few solutions

You find a perfume that seems perfect and you eagerly put it on. You enjoy the first few moments, but then over the course of the day, you can’t smell it. You might as well not have worn anything. A perfume that doesn’t last is one of the most frustrating occurrences for a fragrance lover, and I’m often asked to explain why it happens.

A perfume may have a fleeting presence, because it’s based around volatile materials like citrus, leafy notes or pink pepper. It might be a cologne designed to be an instant refresher, like Clarins Eau Dynamisante or Roger & Gallet Bois d’Orange. Citrus gives a bright opening; however, it fades quickly. You can either keep reapplying the cologne, as if hitting replay on a favorite song, or you can switch to a different perfume later in the day.

If the cologne genre is your favorite, then consider finding fragrances that blend citrus with woods. For instance, Atelier Cologne Orange Sanguine is based on the sweet scent of orange but it uses a base of soft woods to make the hesperidic freshness linger.

Another reason a perfume doesn’t last is because of our physiology. To put it another way, your perfume is still present, but you stop smelling it and hence it seems as if it has disappeared. This phenomenon is called olfactory fatigue, or ofactory adaptation, and it happens when odor receptors are saturated with the aroma to the point that they stop sending a signal to the brain about it. If you wear the same perfume every day, such an olfactory adaptation is likely to happen. Also, some materials are more likely to cause an olfactory fatigue, such as ambers, sandalwood and other heavy, enveloping woods.

What you can do is to switch fragrances. For instance, if I wear a perfume like Frédéric Malle Angéliques Sous la Pluie for several days in a row, I eventually stop noticing it, especially if its remnants saturate my scarf or my coat. The people I meet still comment that I smell good, but I can’t detect my fragrance. This is a signal that I should alternate Angéliques sous la Pluie with another spring favorite like Bottega Veneta Knot or Balenciaga Le Dix.

A more difficult situation is when you have an olfactory blind spot and can’t detect the main component of a perfume. Due to their molecular structure, musks are often the culprits behind such anosmias, which is why perfumers usually blend several types of these fickle materials.  Nevertheless, for some people all types of musks are hard to smell, and the only solution is to keep on testing fragrances and paying attention to their longevity.

Think of the fragrance quest as a fun pursuit, rather than as an end goal to acquire a bottle. When you try a new perfume, apply it on clean skin and smell it over the course of several hours. Ideally, you’ll apply it in the morning and trace its development throughout the day. If you stop detecting it, it’s a good idea to ask you friends or family if they can still notice the scent on you. The only thing worse than a perfume that you can’t smell is a fragrance that suffocates others.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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30 Comments

  • Alina: I appreciate a lot that you pick up this subject as indeed it is more and more common that we all complain that recent perfumes don’t have staying power (perceived or real). Musks are a culprit as well as fatigue or getting used. Truth is however that some brands know how to deal with staying power while others seem to almost deliberately kill it. Amouage is the first fantastic example, I find. Many are in the opposite category. How do formulas like Amouage (and a few – but only few others) manage to do it then and why not more of them go into that territory ? October 5, 2020 at 9:27am Reply

    • Victoria: Because not all brands want to release big-volume oriental perfumes like Amouage and not everyone wants to wear them. It’s about style and choices. October 5, 2020 at 9:42am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

    Thank you for this interesting post.

    I did not know that perfumers sometimes combine several types of musk on account of common musk anosmias.

    I well remember that I didn’t smell Y for about the second two of the four years that I wore it as my signature fragrance. That’s why I began developing a fragrance wardrobe in 1985.

    Oh, how I love Le Dix! Some years ago, I bought two large bottles of it, so although it has been discontinued, I’m well stocked.

    With highly volatile oils such as citrus, would dabbing a little unscented vegetable oil, such as sunflower oil, over the scent on one’s wrist (for example) help to extend their life at all?

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline October 5, 2020 at 9:28am Reply

    • Victoria: Not really. Nothing can quite “anchor” a volatile molecule, but adding other ingredients would create a sense of development to a fragrance. If you dab on some sunflower oil, after a while the citrus vanishes and the scent of oil remains. Which is why perfumers use a few types of citruses or other top notes to create an interesting effect. October 5, 2020 at 9:44am Reply

      • Tourmaline: I thought it would be too easy to be true! October 5, 2020 at 9:51am Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, that’s why it’s so hard to create properly balanced colognes or delicate florals. October 5, 2020 at 9:57am Reply

          • Tourmaline: I guess we just have to think of reapplying some fragrances as like drinking water – something we have to do regularly throughout the day. October 5, 2020 at 10:05am Reply

      • Eshor Lawal: Thanks for this post. Quick question. Does skin type affect how much a fragrance last on someone’s skin? Some people get more hours and sillage while some don’t and they both wearing same fragrance. October 6, 2020 at 9:22pm Reply

  • MaureenC: Really interesting post. I first became aware of the phenomenon of olfactory fatigue many years ago when a colleague started wearing heavier and heavier doses of Clinique Aromatics Elixir. Now I’m a perfume fan and even quite like that particular fragrance but oh boy did it have a negative effect in a small office ultimately inducing headaches and even nausea. She could no longer smell it so applied more and more and as she had totally bought the whole “signature scent” marketing nonsense she never wore anything else. It was a salutary lesson and I never wear the same perfume for more than a few days, particularly the heavy hitters! October 5, 2020 at 11:12am Reply

    • Peter: Hello Maureen. That’s a great story. Aromatics Elixir was a favorite of mine, but I can see how it could overwhelm a room. It’s quite the 1970s powerhouse! October 5, 2020 at 8:41pm Reply

  • Eric: Great article!

    I recently bought a bottle of Une Fleur de Cassie and was shocked that after two hours I could barely smell it on my wrists. But then I moved around and caught wiffs of it even through my mask. One of my favorite sensations.

    Related to musk anosmia, the is something in Chinatown I just could not smell. After the gorgeous opening, all I smelled was candle wax. Nevertheless I have owned two bottles and now–sometimes when I wear it–I can smell the cinnamon-polished woods instead of that wax smell. I wish I knew exactly what musk it was but I’m glad my brain is doing is best. October 5, 2020 at 11:25am Reply

  • Debby: Interesting article, thanks.
    I’ve often wondered if it’s anosmia to certain elements when you see such differing views on the longevity of perfumes. It’s not something you can work out for sure unless you’re absolutely sure there should be a really strong presence of a note.
    Which was the experience I had with L’Artisan’s Mur et Musc, I cannot smell any musk at all, it was all berries and obviously didn’t last very long! I was astounded as I’m normally very sensitive to musks! I tried the travel spray I got in a set a few times to see if it was a one off, but no.
    Shame I can’t smell that classic as it should be! October 5, 2020 at 12:11pm Reply

  • John Luna: Thank you for this clear & concise outlining of a phenomenon that I have certainly noticed in the past but cannot always pin down. Some molecules certainly seem to come and go (ISO E Super seems to be a common culprit for many, which perhaps accounts for the varied reports one reads concerning the longevity of Encre Noire, for instance…)

    Today I’m wearing Guerlain’s Vetiver, a fragrance I love but often cannot detect, even when others seem to enjoy the sillage that trails behind me.

    Today I sprayed a little of it on my scarf and the lining of my suit and have been surprised at its duration and radiance. One reason for this is that I seem to become nose-blind very quickly to the vetiver note itself (the same thing happens to me with older bottles of Azzaro Pour Homme), but in this case, the fabric has prolonged the nutmeg, pepper and orange notes that seem especially noticeable in the newest (green cap) bottling of Guerlain Vetiver. It’s lovely! I’d never realized how much the nutmeg note accounts for the pleasure I take in this fragrance; on the first cool days of autumn, it seems to rhyme with a grey flannel suit. October 5, 2020 at 12:22pm Reply

  • Subashni: I have always loved angel. It used to last the whole day and when I walked past someone heads use to turn. Now no one can get the smell unless they hug me. What would you recommend. A perfume that stays whole day and is clearly noticeable to people. October 5, 2020 at 12:57pm Reply

  • Sandra: I wear Shalimar often and find that I can’t smell it.
    However, I don’t mind spraying more and more, nowadays people should keep their 6 feet distance. 😉 October 5, 2020 at 2:17pm Reply

  • Adina: Thank you for the lovely post and the interesting information on musk! I find it fascinating that perfume is such a personal experience, and the longevity, is, I believe, a factor that demonstrates this one more time. Even though a perfume is objectively very long lasting and even has a great sillage, we may experience its intensity in various degrees, depending on season or the clothes we wear, for example. I started to wear LVEB Intense, a favourite of mine, again after few months when I used other perfumes and I couldn’t smell LVEB as before anymore. Now it is very intense. Another thing, I purchased La Petit Robe Noire by Guerlain, remembering how, after I sprayed it on my wool sweater in a store, I could smell it in my room for three days and I was amazed by its longevity. However, on skin, it seems to be less intense, but I love the fragrance overall. Do you think, from your experience and documentation, that we may be influenced in our “availability” to smell/feel a perfume in its full potential, by our psychological relation with that aroma or our representation, or even by our mood? October 5, 2020 at 2:59pm Reply

  • okat: Scents tend to leave me quickly and that’s not because my nose has gotten used to them. I stopped asking people if they like my perfume (I never get compliments) since the question is most of the times followed by a puzzled ‘You’re wearing perfume?’ Of course one should wear perfume for one’s own pleasure and that’s what I’m doing now. However I’ve noticed that scents that contain hydrolyzed jojoba esters tend to have more staying power. October 5, 2020 at 4:40pm Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo Victoria. This post has prompted lots of informative discussion with response from you. I also use John Luna’s trick of spraying perfume on fabric. I spray my cotton t-shirt in the chest area. This seems to give added resonance to my fragrant aura. Of course, beware that perfume may stain precious fabrics. October 5, 2020 at 8:19pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: I’ll keep it away from all my velvet jackets, then! I can put it on t-shirts, like you and John. October 5, 2020 at 8:25pm Reply

      • Jazzy: Highly agree with your second point! These days I go to fragrantica and half the reviews under practically every single perfume say something about how the scent is gone in 10 minutes… I’m sure they’re getting far too used to their perfumes. I’m a fragrance newbie and I have NEVER had a perfume disappear in an hour, even Jo Malone perfumes. And I am not a big fan of the idea that some people have that perfumes must project on “beast mode” to be considered high quality – I much prefer to wear them lightly for myself only. (That’s just my preference though, I’m sure most people think differently.) October 6, 2020 at 1:44pm Reply

      • Jazzy: (sorry, my previous reply seems off topic – meant to reply to Victoria’s post itself.) October 6, 2020 at 1:46pm Reply

    • OnWingsofSaffron: I’ve done that, and then ended with three or more squirts visible on my shirt or jumper. Snarky remarks at office: oh, over-sprayed your perfume, have you? Bit embarrassing!
      Of course, all stains have washed out quite readily! October 7, 2020 at 4:39pm Reply

  • Filomena: I also wear perfume to bed. The next morning I awaken to a lovely smell on my pillow or sheet and try to remember what I sprayed (I usually do remember). It’s an enjoyable way to start the day. October 5, 2020 at 11:06pm Reply

  • Brooke: I think longevity is overrated. I hate when a perfume lasts all day. Then I’m stuck with it. I like putting on different perfumes throughout the day. October 6, 2020 at 7:05am Reply

    • Monika: I think I agree with you Brooke! In the afternoon my mood might be different from how I felt earlier, so it’s fun to change my scent. I like a perfume to last long enough that I can enjoy it though, and not be searching around on my arm trying to work out if I did apply it at all! October 6, 2020 at 8:23am Reply

      • Christine Pryce: Yup that sounds like me 😂 some scents I end up just spraying on my clothes, hair, scarves etc instead of just wasting them by spraying them on my skin that simply seems to reject certain types within seconds 😢 October 7, 2020 at 8:41am Reply

    • Fleurycat: I also agree with you Brooke! Longevity is definitely overrated. I prefer changing my fragrance as my mood shifts throughout the day. I like wearing something different at night, at midday, in the morning, OR I like wearing nothing at all, a lightly scented body lotion or merely the residual fragrance from a shower gel.
      I loath feeling trapped in a scent, for whatever reason!
      I remember when perfumes were first developed to LAST ALL DAY (and then some): marketed for the modern working woman: chemical, astringent, frequently scrubbers. In fact it was that shift which resulted in my pursuit of vintage perfumes or natural essential oil blends, which were lovely, but didn’t give me headaches. Now there are plenty of contemporary, especially niche, fragrances to choose from, and variety is good!
      As to anosmia: I know I do experience it sometimes (even though I am well known for my keen sense of smell) which is just another reason why switching things up and alternating fragrance choices is a good habit. October 15, 2020 at 4:55pm Reply

  • Deanna: Could a very strong perfume be more difficult to read?
    I’m thinking of Paris, YSL, no one could deny its power, yet I just don’t get it. I Keep trying!
    But Ican’t smell any individual notes.
    So it keeps going back in the cupboard.
    One that keeps coming out of the cupboard is Parfum de Therese, so beautiful and strong and long lasting. Changing throughout the day. October 6, 2020 at 12:14pm Reply

  • Christine Pryce: This is so timely … I usually love big, green chypre aldehydic scents and deep, luxurious woody ones, and they of course last well and offer generous sillage. However recently my tastes increasingly lean towards oceanic, aquatic, citrus, and herbal-florals, and they simply … Disappear! Ive tried bottle after bottle, all with incredibly disappointing (not to mention expensive!) results… Until I tried Orange Blossom by Jo Malone. This is a fabulous scent! which somehow combines the exhilarating sparkle of pure orange blossom and fresh florals with a sort of deep heavy oiliness or depth of concentration that means it lasts and lasts and the sillage is… Room filling! (Thankfully I’m working from home lol!) So happy to have found it. And to think, I had avoided it for ages because I’m generally highly resistant to frag fads and fashions… Lesson learned. Sometimes the hype is real! October 7, 2020 at 8:37am Reply

  • Tourmaline: I just had to add that, yesterday, I wore Lipstick Rose with a red rose-printed dress when I took my father to the medical centre in the morning and then to lunch with a relative, and then to water some plants. That evening, eleven hours after applying the scent, I had lightly washed my wrists, yet I could still smell the fragrance on them. That’s really excellent longevity, and it helps to make up for the high price. October 9, 2020 at 7:10am Reply

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