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10 Fragrance Facts Every Woman Should Know

Perfumer Matthew Milèo shares insider tips on the 'ultimate accessory'


Are you fickle or faithful about fragrance? By 50 we've sniffed, loathed and loved every trendy scent from Giorgio Beverly Hills to Thierry Mugler Angel and Kai Perfume Oil. We're on board with Coco Chanel's quip: “No elegance is possible without perfume. It is the unseen, unforgettable ultimate accessory.” Our number 1 priority is smelling delish, but some of our scent questions continue to linger. Perfumer and aromatherapy expert Matthew Milèo, founder of Milèo New York, shared some surprising facts.

spinner image Giorgio Beverly Hills Perfume for Women; Thierry Mugler Angel Eau de Toilette; Kai Perfume Oil
Giorgio Beverly Hills Perfume for Women; Thierry Mugler Angel Eau de Toilette; Kai Perfume Oil
Walmart; Ulta; Amazon

1. Fragrance has a shelf life. Use it or lose it.

Don't get too nostalgic. Hoarding fragrance is a bad idea, so toss that unopened bottle of YSL Paris purchased years ago at the airport in Paris. “Five years is the absolute maximum a fragrance is meant to last and be safe to use,” says Milèo. “Shelf life can fluctuate due to chemical composition and the quality of the product, but remember that duty-free items have been sitting there much longer than those in department stores. The best duty-free scents to nab are more modestly priced favorites for less rather than luxury labels — the latter are more freshly stocked at department stores.” And no, the one you buy there is not any different than the one you buy here.

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spinner image Sampling perfumes
Tetra Images/Getty Images

2. The bottle is gorgeous? Stash it out of sight.

It's tempting to show off a beautiful bottle — even if only for yourself. But your fragrance belongs in a closed cool cupboard or drawer and not displayed on your dressing table or sink. “Even if the expiration window isn't up and you use it daily, your perfume is still exposed to damaging heat and light,” says Milèo. “Fragrance is like mascara. Once you open it the expiration clock starts ticking, and it doesn't stop when not in use. Check for color and scent changes, but even then don't hold onto a fragrance for longer than five years, no matter what. Chemicals start to degrade and cause other chemicals to form that can be harmful to your skin or lungs. Why take that chance?” Better to buy smaller — not larger — sizes and stash a rollerball of your favorite scent in your daily bag.

3. Fragrance stays best on a warm, moist base.

Fragrance retailers try to lure us into the entire line from bath gel to body lotion with claims your fragrance will last longer. Well ... it does! But that gets pricey fast, especially if you like designer perfume. Of course, you can use low-cost body moisturizer as a base, but here's the real secret: “Hydrated, warm skin holds fragrance best, so apply your perfume right after the shower or bath,” says Milèo. “If you're already up and about, simply apply a lip balm to your pulse points — wrists, neck, elbows — and then apply perfume to those spots. The waxy texture of the balm will melt as your skin heats up to hold the fragrance and help it last longer.”

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spinner image Black woman spraying perfume on her neck
Christopher Robbins/Getty Images

4. No two women smell the same when wearing the identical perfume. 

If you think a certain perfume smells incredible on your best friend and not as fabulous on you, there's a good reason. “There are lots of variables that relate to your individual body chemistry, such as pH and hormone levels, diet and medicines,” says Milèo. “Body temperature affects scent since a warmer body intensifies the middle notes of a scent. Your skin type influences your fragrance, too. Oilier skin holds top notes longer and sweetens a scent, while dry does the opposite.”

5. Test no more than two perfumes at a time for a realistic evaluation.

When shopping in a store, skip the skinny paper scent strips. They're great to stash in your bag for a yummy scent every time you dive in for something, but your skin is the best test surface. “Only really test two fragrances at a time ... one on either arm,” says Milèo. “Spray the outside of your arm if you want the true fragrance; spray the inside of your forearm to see how that scent will smell on you depending on your body chemistry.”

spinner image (l to r) Shalimar Eau de Parfum; Shalimar Eau de Cologne Natural Spray; Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Eau De Parfum Intense; Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Eau de Toilette; Chanel No 5 Eau de Parfum; Chanel No. 5 Eau de Toilette
(l to r) Shalimar Eau de Parfum ($80, ulta.com); Shalimar Eau de Cologne Natural Spray ($55, cvs.com); Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Eau De Parfum Intense ($86, ulta.com); Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Eau de Toilette ($80, ulta.com); Chanel No. 5 Eau de Parfum ($105, sephora.com); Chanel No. 5 Eau de Toilette ($85, sephora.com)
Ulta; CVS; Ulta (2); Sephora (2)

6. Eau de toilette (EDT) and eau de parfum (EDP) of the same fragrance smell similar, not identical.

Price and size of the bottle influence what you buy, but so does the concentration. “Many EDTs have heightened notes that are different in the EDP version,” says Milèo. “For example, Chanel No. 5 Eau de Toilette smells woodsier due to an intensified sandalwood note, while the Chanel No. 5 Eau de Parfum smells sweeter due to amped-up vanilla.” So, do that in-store test with the “juice” you're going to be wearing, too, to avoid disappointment.

spinner image Vera Wang Embrace Green Tea & Pear Blossom Eau de Toilette; Calvin Klein ck one Eau de Toilette; DKNY Be Delicious  Eau de Parfum;
Vera Wang Embrace Green Tea & Pear Blossom Eau de Toilette; Calvin Klein ck one Eau de Toilette; DKNY Be Delicious Eau de Parfum
CVS; Sephora; CVS

7. Layering fragrance is easier than you think.

You've probably wondered if spritzing one fragrance over another or mixing a dab of this here and a dab of that there is OK. “I love fragrance mixing, but you're playing with a wild card — you never know what the outcome will be until you try it,” says Milèo. “Try layering a sweet fragrance with something spicy or earthy. This will add complexity and balance. But it really depends on your personality, so if you love floral and sweet notes, stack away!” What makes this easy is that many popular fragrances are some variation of fruity floral now, so you can't lose since the ingredients are a saladlike toss.

Consider experimenting with Vera Wang Embrace Green Tea & Pear Blossom Eau de Toilette ($30,  cvs.com) a fruity floral with freesia, peony and pear + Calvin Klein ck one Eau de Toilette ( $64, sephora.com) a fruity floral with notes of pineapple, papaya, jasmine and violet -- or +  DKNY Be Delicious  Eau de Parfum( $ 40, cvs.com) a fruity floral with notes of green apple and magnolia.

spinner image Clinique Happy Perfume Spray; Estee Lauder Beautiful  Eau de Parfum Spray; Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker Eau de Parfum
Clinique Happy Perfume Spray ($30, cvs.com); Estee Lauder Beautiful Eau de Parfum Spray ($42, cvs.com); Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker Eau de Parfum ($57, cvs.com)
CVS (3)

8. Lavender, rose and grapefruit notes are mood changers.

If you wondered whether claims of certain fragrances to calm or energize are true, Milèo says they are — but that “the catch is the fragrance must be organic- or botanically-based, not a synthetic. Lavender is used for anxiety and depression, according to the Natural Medicine Journal, but the best evaluation is finding what works for you. Grapefruit, for example, contains a sparkling effervescent note that breezes through your nose to your brain for an ‘I'm awake and ready’ feeling. Rosy floral scents can do the same since citronellol is the main ingredient of rose oil, which has a rejuvenating effect that can perk you up.” So, hold the melatonin and coffee: Try Clinique Happy for a grapefruity flair, Estée Lauder Beautiful for rosy notes, and Sarah Jessica Parker fragrances for a lavender-laden bouquet.

spinner image Sand & Sable Cologne Spray for Women by Coty; Joy by Jean Patou Eau de Parfum
Sand & Sable Cologne Spray for Women by Coty ($27, walmart.com); Joy by Jean Patou Eau de Parfum ($190, nordstrom.com)
Walmart; Nordstrom

9. Trust your nose — not social media, fragrance quizzes or price.

Choosing a scent is very personal and so worth an in-person test. After all, once it's on, no one but you knows what it is or how much it costs, let alone whether it's a fruity floral or woodsy floral. “Nothing beats your nose when it comes to something you're gonna like,” says Milèo. “I've always been disappointed by computerized recommendations. That's mainly because most fragrances have many more ingredients than listed. There are always some you may not like, even though the fragrance as a whole is recommended. The real difference to consumers (not experts) between a $40 perfume and a $100 one is in the ingredients. Natural ingredients are simply more expensive than synthetics. The use of lush exotic flowers and woods is too costly for lower-priced fragrances to use. Take two similar scents — the $100 one is going to smell richer, more intensely floral and woody than the $40 fragrance, which will usually smell greener and sweeter.” A good example is Joy by Jean Patou Eau de Parfum ($190, nordstrom.com) and Sand & Sable for Women by Coty ($27, walmart.com) — both are jasmine and rose scents, but the fragrances are different.

spinner image Marilyn Monroe poses over the updraft of a New York subway grating while in character for the filming of "The Seven Year Itch" in Manhattan on September 9, 1954.
Marilyn Monroe poses over the updraft of a New York subway grating while in character for the filming of "The Seven Year Itch" in Manhattan on September 9, 1954.
AP PHOTO/MATTY ZIMMERMAN

10. Too much perfume? Skip the shower

It's easy to overdo the spraying when you love a fragrance, especially for a party, dinner out, date or special event. Milèo has a fast fix that really works. “Just pull out your portable hand sanitizer to remove some scent from your skin. The alcohol from the sanitizer will evaporate any excess scent quickly. A disposable wipe works the same way if you have those handy. But if you're without either, find a fan, a vent or outside windy area and just let it breeze off.” Maybe that's why Marilyn Monroe was standing over the subway vent in The Seven Year Itch: Too much Chanel No. 5.

For more beauty and style tips for women age 50-plus, check out The Makeup Wakeup: Revitalizing Your look at Any Age by Lois Joy Johnson and Sandy Linter.

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