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Fragrance Buying Guide


Woman spritzing perfume on her neck

Shopping for new perfumes and fragrances can be tricky if you're not sure how to explain the scents you like. Talking about a fragrance can be as difficult as describing a glass of wine, with so many different layers of scents becoming noticeable as you enjoy it. This fragrance buying guide will show you how to identify the fragrances you are looking for and understand eau de parfum and eau de toilette concentrations, too. Make buying perfume and cologne easier, even when you're shopping online and can't physically smell the scents.

What Are Fragrance Families?

Perfumes and fragrances are intricate creations with many layers of scents, called "notes," that become noticeable as the fragrance dries. There are usually three main layers: top notes, middle notes and base notes. Perfumes and colognes fall into a fragrance family based on the most noticeable notes -- the scents in the middle layer. Because there are many different scents in perfumes and colognes, a fragrance may not fit precisely into one group. These are the general families of fragrances, and when you know which ones appeal to you, you can shop for new perfumes by looking for the middle notes that you like.

  1. Floral: Although many people associate all perfumes with the scent of flowers, floral fragrances are just one type of fragrance. This is one of the most popular types, however. Because there are so many floral fragrances, they range from soft florals to bright florals, with many different variations in between. Florals can be warmed up with spices and often feature rose, lily, gardenia, jasmine or tuberose scents. They tend to be romantic and feminine and often make up women's perfumes (although, as with all perfumes, sharing is allowed).

  2. Amber: Amber fragrances, also known as Oriental fragrances, are based on the warm, incense-like scent that comes from an old perfume ingredient, ambergris. Natural ambergris, which was used historically as a scent stabilizer, comes from the digestive tract of sperm whales, an endangered species, so synthetic ambergris is used now. In addition to synthetic ambergris, amber fragrances feature labdanum, the resin of a plant that grows prolifically in the Middle East and Far East. These perfumes are often combined with vanilla and wood scents. Amber fragrances have a spicy warmth that makes them appropriate for men and women who like an exotic, mysterious cologne or perfume.

  3. Woody: Scents that recall the sensory experiences of a forest, woody perfumes range from light, mossy and fresh to warm, dry, dark and spicy. Woody fragrances combine well with amber fragrances and vanilla. These scents feature woods like cedar, agarwood (also known as "oudh") and sandalwood, often accompanied with lavender, patchouli, lime, bergamot or ginger. Earthy, woody scents are popular in both men's fragrances and women's fragrances. These scents are perfect for people who love the rugged comfort of the outdoors and are not easily swayed by trends.

  4. Leather: While leather scents may not smell exactly like the leather interior of a luxury car, they do have a deep, warm scent that alludes to leather or suede. The leathery scents come from honey, cloves, tobacco and cedar and are often layered with citrus notes. Leather fragrances are for people who like the traditional feeling of a leather jacket, a tack shop or a leather armchair. Leather fragrances can come in either men's fragrances or women's perfumes, although they are more often men's.

  5. Aquatic: Also known as oceanic or ozonic fragrances, aquatic fragrances have a fresh scent that is often described as "clean." The aquatic fragrance of the ocean is often created with layers of light floral and citrus scents, although there is an ingredient called "calone" that is used in some fragrances to duplicate the slightly floral scent of an ocean breeze. Fans of aquatic fragrances tend to be sporty, youthful and energetic. Although there are a wide variety of men's aquatic fragrances, they are often marketed as unisex perfumes.

  6. Gourmand: Like the tantalizing scent of a gourmet meal, the appeal of food is undeniable. Gourmand fragrances mimic the scents of desserts and other edibles. Citrus and fruity designer fragrances are fresh and light, just like their food counterparts. The scents may come from blossoms or leaves, but many are synthetic. Vanilla fragrances are often accompanied by other spicy "flavors," and some vanilla fragrances smell like cookies, cupcakes or even pumpkin pie. Chocolate fragrances have a nutty, bittersweet scent like dark chocolate. Gourmand fragrances come both as men's cologne and women's perfume.

  7. Blends: Fragrances from the family of chypre (pronounced "sheepra") fragrances have a citrus top-note with a base of oak moss, labdanum or synthetic ambergris. Earthy, woodsy chypre fragrances often feature notes of patchouli or bergamot. The overall effect is an elegant, dry scent that is not at all sweet. Fragrances in the fougere family contain elements of other fragrances and usually feature a top note of lavender and base notes of coumarin (a chemical compound found in plants like tonka beans and vanilla grass), bergamot and oak moss. Woody and spicy fougere scents are often found in men's cologne.

How Strong Will the Fragrance Be?

Fragrances are categorized by the concentration of the aromatic compounds, the ingredients that provide the scent. The more concentrated the aromatic compounds, the stronger, longer lasting and often more expensive a fragrance will be. The rest of the fragrance is the liquid carrier, usually ethanol or a mix of ethanol and water.

  1. Eau de parfum or eau de perfume: Perfume is about 20 percent aromatic compounds; in some cases, it is even more concentrated.

  2. Eau de toilette: An eau de toilette is about 10 percent aromatic compounds.

  3. Eau de cologne: Colognes are made up of 2 to 5 percent aromatic compounds.

  4. Scented lotions and powders, splash perfumes and aftershaves: Scented products like these contain from less than 1 percent to 2 percent aromatic compounds, perfect for a light scent or for layering. Perfume gift sets often include lotions and other body products in matching scents.

How Much Perfume Is in the Bottle?

You may be wondering how many sprays you will get out of a bottle of perfume or cologne. While there is no exact way to measure how many spritzes you will get from each bottle, you can roughly estimate what you will get for your money. Remember that every manufacturer is different, so this is just an average. A woman might spray each pulse point, while a man should just spray his neck twice per wearing.

  1. 0.11-ounce Mini: provides approximately 20 to 60 sprays.

  2. 1.7-ounce Bottle: provides somewhere between 400 and 1000 sprays.

  3. 3.4-ounce Bottle: provides about 800 to 2000 sprays.

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