Choosing and Using Perfume

Perfume, in its strictest sense, is a blend of fragrant oils diluted in a high-grade alcohol in a concentration containing about 15—20 percent oil, the alcohol being about 90—95 percent pure. This is a parfum, also known as an extrait or extract. Any mixture with a lower proportion of oil to alcohol is an eau (water).
There are different strengths of eau, principally eau de parfum, with 15-18 percent of oil mixed in a slightly weaker alcohol, eau de toilette (4-8 percent of oil in an even weaker alcohol); and eau de cologne (3-5 percent of oil in a still weaker oil/alcohol mix). Recently eau fraiche has come into use, which is a cologne with a purer alcohol. Sometimes the mixtures go outside of these percentages.
Most perfumes come in a line which contains a parfum or eau de parfum (or both) as well as an eau de toilette,but sometimes the highest available concentration is only at eau de toilette strength. The line may also contain body lotions, soaps, bath foams, and so on, but these are just toilet preparations to which a small dash of the fragrance has been added.
The question sometimes arises of where best to purchase a perfume. It is difficult to give advice on this, as everybody’s circumstances are so different. You will not find a fully comprehensive range of perfumes anywhere, as there are so many on the market that retailers themselves have to be selective. If you have decided exactly what you want, then you might as well get it from the cheapest source you can find, always bearing in mind that if you buy on the sidewalk it will probably be a fake which ceases to exude fragrance after about ten minutes!
The connoisseur who likes to make a careful choice would do well to go somewhere that offers both a good range of products and good advice. In subtle ways different perfumes suit different people, so selecting what to buy is a matter of personal preference and taste, but there are trained consultants behind the counters of the larger department stores and the specialist perfumeries who can be very helpful and may save you a lot of time.
For a real experience, however, try the store of a perfumer selling his or her own creations. Buy a small bottle, to reduce the chance of its going stale before you’ve finished it.
Always try a fragrance on your own skin, but preferably not if you have just been eating strongly flavored food, or vigorously exercising, or if you have not quite recovered from an illness, feel out of sorts, or have just been smoking. All of these can affect the fragrance or your appreciation of it. Test an eau de toilette version of the perfume rather than any stronger concentration. Take a very small sample and don’t rub it into the skin. The best point to apply it is on the wrist; you can then put a different perfume on the other wrist and, if needed, two more on either upper arm. Try to wait at least 20 minutes, preferably an hour, before deciding, so that the notes unfold.
Some perfumeries now provide blotting-paper wands on which to apply the fragrance; these may be useful as a first stage, since you can test several different fragrances with them, but they are no substitute for your skin in the final selection.
Perfume lasts longest when applied to the pulse points, so your wrists, navel, collarbone area, or even behind the knees, are good places when you come to wear it—not behind the ears though, as the alcohol dries too quickly there. Some people find it lasts longer if sprayed on after a shower or bath, when the skin is still slightly damp.
There are also people who like to layer fragrances, especially for evening wear—use the soap and bath foam of the fragrance line at first, then the body lotion, finally apply the perfume itself; this may be expensively luxurious, but you will end up gorgeously fragrant.
Perfume is affected by air, heat, and light, so try to keep your bottle closed in a cool, dark place. Unopened, it may last 20 years, but once you have let air get in it will start to deteriorate and become acidic, the top notes going first. The more air, the worse the effect, so once opened it is really best to use it all within a year or two – and that, of course, will give you every excuse to choose a replacement without delay!

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