Perfume FAQ, Part 3

Part 3 of the Perfume FAQ for common questions that keep coming up regarding perfume. I collect these questions from common misconceptions and queries I get regarding fragrances.  If you have a perfume related question, please leave a comment.

Q. What is the best perfume in the world?
A. No perfume is widely recognized as “the best”. Labeling a perfume as the best would be like labeling a color as the best. It’s too subjective, there’s too much variety, and everyone has a different opinion. There are classifications for most widely known perfume (Chanel No. 5) and best in class for the year according to certain organizations (FiFi Awards). Then there’s recognition for things that veer away from the fragrance itself such as world’s most expensive packaging (here’s lookin’ at you, Clive Christian). But as for best perfume in the world? Can’t be done. What’s the best depends entirely on you when it comes to this one.

Q. What are some nice perfumes that are inexpensive?
A. Enjoying fragrances doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. If you like chasing brand names or niche lines, you will punch a hole through your wallet sooner or later. But if you just want to enjoy some nice, inexpensive, scents then check out Victoria’s Secret ($10-70), Bath and Body Works ($10-40), Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab ($17.50-25), The Body Shop ($20-40) and the huge variety of celebuscents that can often be purchased from discounters (like FragranceX) for much less than at a department store. Reputable discounters are good for some designer brands though you shouldn’t expect too much of a discount when you’re dealing with designers like Chanel or niche lines like Creed. Wal*Mart also usually sells legitimate fragrances for a bit cheaper than a department store would. If you know what you’re doing and are confident, then eBay can have a lot of good fragrance deals. And if you want to hook yourself up with some vintage perfumes, estate sales can sometimes yield excellent results and of course, the aforementioned eBay for vintages is always an option.

Q. Is there a difference between a counterfeit fragrance and a designer impostor fragrance?
A. Yes. Counterfeits are fragrances that are manufactured to look like and mimic the appearance of a real designer perfume. It is  illegal to sell, trade or deal in fake or counterfeit fragrances. Many counterfeit fragrances contain poor  quality materials, volatile materials, watered down perfume, and sometimes harmful ingredients. A designer impostor fragrance is a fragrance produced by a company to mimic the smell of a designer perfume. Many times these impostor scents get a few of the predominant notes right but miss when it comes to the rest. This often results in a less complex imitation of the original fragrance and some perfume lovers prefer this. The perfumes marketed as designer impostors are not counterfeits as they are clearly marked as impostors and not as the “real” thing. The designs of the packaging are also not at all supposed to resemble the designs of the real fragrances to further avoid confusion (and lawsuits). Because perfume recipes are kept secret (for the time being anyway) these impostor scents may get close to mimicking the smell of a perfume but rarely get the entirety of the real fragrance correct. Many people confuse these two terms but it’s important to note that there is a difference. You can read up more on Parfums de Coeur, the leading impostor fragrance producer, and how they conduct their business at JiffyNotes >>

Q. What’s the difference between essential oil, fragrance oil, perfume oil and carrier oil?
A. Loaded question. Essential oils are raw materials extracted directly from the plants they were derived from through a variety of extraction methods including distillation, enfleurage, and other techniques. Essential oils are volatile and potent making most of them inappropriate and sometimes even dangerous for straight use on the skin. Essential oils should be carefully diluted in a carrier oil prior to use. If you do plan on using essential oils on yourself, make sure you read up on them very well first because as innocent as many people like to think essential oils are, improper use  by someone inexperienced can result in injury. Fragrance oils are a mixture of natural and synthetic components that produce a specific scent. Scents from fragrance oils can be composed of entirely natural materials or entirely synthetic materials. Often, it is a mixture of natural and synthetic. Sometimes fragrance oils can be made to mimic a natural scent like vanilla or iris. Sometimes fragrance oils can smell like something abstract like aqua or ozone. Fragrance oils, like essential oils need to be researched prior to use. There are fragrance oils made for cosmetic use and those that are not. There are also fragrance oils that need dilution and some that do not. Make sure you know what you are buying and doing before  putting anything on your skin. A perfume oil is a mixture of fragrant oils to create a scent. Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is one such company that blends essential oils and fragrance oils to produce perfume oils. Carrier oils are oils that are used to dilute perfume, fragrance, and essential oils. Oftentimes these carrier oils have very little aroma or no aroma at all. Jojoba oil and sweet almond oil are two such examples of carrier oils.

Q. I keep seeing people and websites that claim that perfume is dangerous to your health. Are any of these claims true?
A. Perfume has been associated with some contact dermatitis (allergens coming in contact with the skin) and general allergies such as sneezing, stuffy nose, and trouble breathing. It is true that fragrance ingredients always come under fire for potential danger but they are regulated and restricted on a rather rigorous scale. A perfumista can tell anybody about the deaths of many great fragrances and reformulations that destroyed classic scents that had to happen because a component was found to be dangerous or concerning. What people who read online about perfumes and the supposed numerous dangers of fragrances need to understand that this issue is not a simple matter of “I saw it online and it sounds convincing so it must be true”. There is a key element to online research that I feel a lot of people are missing when they choose to believe claims they read on a website. I don’t believe you should or would trust me 100%. After all, where’s my scientific research? Aren’t I some disembodied voice with a website too? And I am but an independent blogger who just happens to like smelling things. I  have no scientific credentials either. What I want you to take away from this rambling is my request for you to study the sources of where your information comes from prior to outright believing it. I am not imploring you to believe me or take my words for truth. I am imploring you to deeply research a subject from credible sources before deciding on a stance and this goes for everything you read about, not just perfume. If the website you’re on does not provide a solid scientific or medical background to its claims that fully backs up what it’s trying to say, do you really want to trust that it’s telling you the whole story? “Safety advocates” have an agenda too. Please keep that in mind.

Q. Does civet really come from a cat’s butt?
A. Almost as good as the “deer butt” question from Part 2. Civet is a musk taken from the rear region of a curious little creature by the same name. Despite popular belief, a civet is not actually a cat. It’s more of a mongoose, really. Civet notes used in modern perfumery are usually synthetic. However, some modern perfumes will still use natural civet as farming and harvesting of these animals is still going on.

Q. How do I check the ingredients of a perfume?
A. You can’t. I always find it a little off when well-meaning individuals with concerns over ingredients suggest to consumers that they should “check the ingredients” of a fragrance. It makes me ask myself if these well-meaning folks have tried to do the same before suggesting it to others. You simply can’t check all the ingredients of a perfume with the present regulations because perfume formulations are jealously guarded by the manufacturers who produce them. The list of ingredients on the back of a box of perfume lists the base that the fragrance was diluted in–not what the fragrance is composed of. The actual fragrant oils and components are kept secret to prevent the copying of the fragrance recipe. The notes list that comes out with  most perfumes is also not a definitive list of ingredients. Sometimes the notes mean absolutely nothing, oftentimes there are more components in a scent than the notes list would indicate, sometimes notes listed aren’t even present in the perfume itself. Notes lists are used to give the consumer an idea of what they should be smelling. They are not ingredients lists. Also you will be very lucky if you contact a perfume manufacturer requesting a full ingredients list and actually get one. Pretty much the only way for the average person to find out exactly what’s in a perfume is to perform a gas chromatography analysis–something highly expensive, complicated, exclusive, and far more trouble than most people would care to go through.

Got any questions not addressed in this FAQ? Please leave a comment.

Perfume FAQ, Part 2

Part 2 of the Perfume FAQ for common questions that keep coming up regarding perfume. You should not, by any means, stop your research at this page. If there’s a topic you’re interested in, Google  has opened up a very good resource for research and knowledge. If you have a perfume related question, please leave a comment.

Q. Why do perfumes give me headaches?
A. I’m not a doctor and cannot diagnose what might be a more serious condition that you have but in my experience, related entirely to perfume, people who get perfume headaches may have smelled a particularly large dose of perfume or a particularly strong perfume. If all perfumes give you a headache, you may be sensitive to scents. Some people also get headaches from perfumes that are too sweet or cloying. Others might get headaches from perfumes that are too spicy, or sharp, the list goes on. We’re all different and so are our perfume headaches. It should be noted however, that a perfume headache does not necessarily indicate a perfume allergy. Allergies can sometimes cause headaches but if all you experience when you smell a trigger perfume is a migraine an allergy may not be what you have. It should be reiterated that I am not a medical doctor and you should consult with a licensed physician if you are having any physical ailments.

Q. What’s the deal with old lady perfume?
A. I don’t know what the deal is, but here’s a run down. Poor Chanel No. 5 often gets accused of smelling like “old lady perfume” but I find that most people who often say this are also the kind of people who have never actually gone out of their way to smell Chanel No. 5 before and are just repeating a public misconception. Old lady perfume is whatever you want to make of it. Some people will call anything over-applied an old lady perfume. Some people call any perfumes old lady perfumes. Many people equate old lady perfumes to floral heavy perfumes, lavenders, nerolis, jasmines, powdery scents, bitter scents, earthy scents, cloying scents, tuberose scents, sometimes incense-heavy fragrances get lumped into this classification too. In fact, we’d save time by saying perfumes that smell like candy, cookies, cakes, or chocolate brownies, sweet fruits, massive infusions of citrus, and giant mountains of vanilla ice cream are pretty immune to being classified as “old lady”. Many of the vintage classics made earlier than the 1980s suffer from this derogatory label. If you ask me, the phrase, “old lady perfume” should be stricken from the records as it’s an ignorant classification of a certain group of people as well as an equally ignorant classification of a huge selection of fragrances and fragrance history. For a more eloquent entry on “Old Lady Perfume”, check out Perfume Shrine >>

Q. Are designer perfumes better than non-designer?
A. No. Not necessarily. Designer perfumes are sold as a brand. Unless brands matter to you, wear what you like to smell and don’t worry about it. The composition of most designer perfumes versus non-designer such as Victoria’s Secret or celebrity fragrances are not all that different.

Q. I think I have a counterfeit fragrance on my hands, how do I confirm my suspicions?
A. Get on a fragrance forum like Basenotes or Makeupalley, take several clear photographs of your suspected fake and ask people if they can identify whether or not you’ve got a counterfeit on your hands. I personally cannot identify every single bottle as I have not seen, held, or owned every single bottle of perfume available. Therefore, I may not be able to tell you if you got swindled or not but other people might.

Q. Why is there Arabic writing on some of my perfume boxes or bottles and what does it say?
A. Your perfume was imported from another country. Possibly grey market but not necessarily counterfeit. Just to re-iterate; Arabic writing on your perfume box or bottle is not one of the indicators of a counterfeit. As for what that says, I can only assume it might say something like, “For external use only” or something equally unexciting. So rest assured, you did not stumble upon a secret message that will lead you on a journey of self-discovery and hidden treasure. That would be pretty neat though. To read about the difference between grey market fragrances and counterfeits, go Here >>

Q. Someone told me that all perfumes expire after two years. Is this true?
A. No. Perfumes do not have a set expiry date. Some last for much longer than two years, other expire in even less time than that if they’re not stored properly. How long your perfume lasts depends on how well you take care of it and what kinds of components it was made with. A bottle of citrus-heavy fragrance for instance, is more volatile and prone to spoilage. Generally, the two years to spoilage date is given as a precaution, not a hard and fast date that all perfumes will expire by. The rule of thumb I go by is, if the liquid is clear, it hasn’t changed color, and it still smells the same then it’s probably fine to use. I also recommend keeping perfumes out of the sunlight and in an environment with a relatively stable temperature to prolong their lifespan.

Q. Why do people say it’s bad to spray perfume in your hair or on your clothes?
A. I’m not a hair or clothing expert but I assume spraying hair is a no-no due to the alcohol base in most perfumes which can dry out or damage your hair. As for the clothes thing, perfumes contain coloring agents so I assume if you spray enough you might stain your clothes.

Q. Is it true that perfumes contain ingredients that come from a deer’s butt?
A. You won’t believe how often this gets asked. “Deer’s butt ingredients”, more eloquently known as, natural musk,  used to be widely present in perfume. In some rare instances, musk, and other such natural animal-based ingredients still are but the use of natural musks and animal ingredients is rare in modern perfumery due to the versatility and efficiency of synthetic musks.

Q. How do you train your nose to pick out individual ingredients in scents?
A. Picking out individual smells in a fragrance is a purely subjective exercise for a hobbyist like me. But I find that as I smell more perfumes, fragrance oils and essential oils, I start to recognize these same smells in certain perfumes and can sometimes pick them out. So it’s just a matter of the more you smell, the more you know.

Got any questions not addressed in this FAQ? Please leave a comment.

Perfume FAQ, Part 1

You spend a certain amount of time in the perfume hobby and a few things start to dawn on you that you didn’t know before. Feeling like a dummy for a few moments is the least of it until you realize that perfume and perfumery is a vast and complicated subject with a rift between the people who enjoy it and the people who enjoy it enough to sift through the how, what, and why of it. That rift is where misconceptions and confusions are born.

This FAQ was written on a bit of a whim to answer questions that keep coming up regarding perfume.

Q. What perfumes do guys/girls like?
A. This is like asking what food everybody in the whole world will like. There is a lot of variety in tastes and what people consider to be “good”. People can have more than one favorite. People might love something that everybody else hates. There’s simply no catch-all fragrance as it is all a matter of personal taste and opinion.

Q. What’s the difference between an Eau de Toilette and an Eau de Parfum?
A. Eau de Parfum has a higher concentration of fragrance oils compared to Eau de Toilette. Therefore, Eau de Parfums tends to smell stronger and last longer when used. Fragrance oils being those lovely things that give the perfume its scent. The higher the fragrance oil concentration in relation to the dilution agents, the more powerful the scent. Some houses also change the formulations between Eau de Parfum and Eau de Toilette versions, making one smell different than the other. Guerlain is known to do this with their perfumes. More info >>

Q. Is it okay to wear cologne if you’re a girl? How about wearing perfume when you’re a guy?
A. Fragrances do not have genders or gender preferences. It is the people and the marketing that assign genders to perfumes and colognes. Something can smell feminine or masculine but I treat that as a “good to know” sort of thing rather than a hard and fast rule. If you like how something smells but it happens to be marketed to the other gender then wear it anyway. As long as it smells good to you, do what makes you happy.

Q. Is this perfume better than that perfume?
A. Something being better than something else is a highly subjective topic that’s entirely personal opinion. Technically, nothing makes one perfume better than another if we’re talking about personal taste and asking someone else what makes one fragrance better is not necessarily the answer you want because they’ll be judging based upon their tastes when you should be judging based upon your own.

Q. How do I make my perfume last longer?
A. Layering. There is a reason why some perfumes come in sets with soaps, lotions and shampoos. The main goal here is to layer, layer, layer. If you wash yourself with the same scented soap and use the same scented lotion before spraying on the perfume then you gather a few more hours worth of enjoyment out of the fragrance. If a fragrance doesn’t come in a set then you can use unscented lotion on your skin to help your fragrance last longer. Also keep in mind that in hot climates, perfume will fade faster than normal no matter what you do.

Q. Are perfumes made from essential oils safer than the synthetic stuff?
A. Not necessarily because essential oil usage can be dangerous as well. Citrus essential oils can cause photosensitivity. Some essential oils are made from plants that are dangerous and harmful to humans. Certain essential oils need to be diluted or they can cause injury to whoever uses them. Synthetics have a murky reputation. But they are also tested and regulated quite stringently. Basically, you cannot assume that just because something is derived from nature, that it is automatically better than something manmade. In short, no, natural essential oils are not safer than synthetic oils. They are, however, beautiful and useful in their own ways.

Q. How do I correctly apply perfume?
A. Tons of schools of thoughts on this and there is no correct way, just preferred ways. But I’ll make it easy. Perfume will work wherever you want to spray it. Most people will spray it on their pulse points. The most popular locations are the wrists and neck. Some people also apply perfume to the back of the knees, back of the neck, the chest, and sometimes the insides of their elbows. So long as you keep it away from and out of any orifaces on your body, the perfume will work just fine.

Q. How should I store my perfumes?
A. Perfumes should be kept away from their three major enemies, light, air, and heat. Store them in a dark, cool place with a stable temperature. A dresser drawer would be okay. A closet would be okay. A fragrance fridge set to the right temperature would be ideal but expensive. Avoid sunlight especially as sunlight is powerful and can break down the components in your perfume very quickly. Avoid keeping your fragrances in your bathroom as well because most people’s bathrooms will experience frequent temperature fluctuations. More info >>

Got any questions not addressed in this FAQ? Please leave a comment. I plan on doing more of these in the future.