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How to Get a “You Smell Great!” Compliment

Find a fragrance and concentration that suit your style

spinner image Woman sniffing her wrist after applying scent, holding perfume bottle in other hand
Getty Images

“You smell great!” can be a really nice thing to hear on days when you need a boost. While applying and wearing scent in any form from full power eau de parfum to whisper-light body mist is undeniably a first-make-yourself-happy thing, choosing a crowd-pleaser that everyone from your coworkers to a significant other likes counts too. Here’s how to pass the sniff test:

Find your current “love”

spinner image Henry Rose Torn Eau de Parfum; Jo Malone London Earl Grey and Cucumber Cologne; Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady Eau de Parfum
Henry Rose Torn Eau de Parfum; Jo Malone London Earl Grey and Cucumber Cologne; Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady Eau de Parfum
Credo Beauty, Jomalone; Nordstrom

This doesn’t mean the so-called signature scent you’ve been wearing for years or the trendiest fragrance all over social media. It’s the sensory cocktail of favorite smells you’re into right now. Think outside the box. You’re loving the smell of your coconut-scented shampoo or vanilla body wash? Or maybe it’s the fresh cedar and cinnamon deodorant you’ve been using, the lemongrass incense at your yoga class or the earthy smell of pine trees and woods on your morning walk. Updating your fragrance each year — just as you do skin care, jeans and hair style — is a way to stay relevant and renew your looks and attitude.

Look for words that resonate

spinner image Lancôme Idôle Nectar Eau de Parfum; Jimmy Choo I Want Choo Eau de Parfum; Valentino Voce Viva Eau de Parfum; Le Labo Santal 33 Eau de Parfum
Lancôme Idôle Nectar Eau de Parfum; Jimmy Choo I Want Choo Eau de Parfum; Valentino Voce Viva Eau de Parfum; Le Labo Santal 33 Eau de Parfum
Ulta(2); Sephora; Nordstrom

So how do you know what will smell great to you when shopping around online? Blind buys where you’re going purely on a description or a photo of a gorgeous bottle are tough. How many of us know what fig, amber or cashmere smell like anyway? And realistically that bottle is nice on a vanity but scent is invisible once you’ve got it on. Look for a general category like floral, fresh, woody or spicy, or just head for specific notes you respond to most like bergamot, jasmine or sandalwood. Feeling edgy in your black leather pants and boots this season? Maybe a mysterious hint of incense or coffee can spice up the florals you enjoy. Prefer a clean outdoorsy scent? A hint of sea salt or lemon is what you need now. Love rose scents but want something new? Try one with a pop of caramel or vanilla.

Test a new fragrance in person, when possible

spinner image Dior J’Adore Parfum D’eau; Diptyque Tam Dao Eau de Toilette; Ellis Brooklyn Sun Fruit Eau de Parfum
Dior J’Adore Parfum D’eau; Diptyque Tam Dao Eau de Toilette; Ellis Brooklyn Sun Fruit Eau de Parfum
Sephora; Nordstrom; Ulta

An in-store spritz on the inside of your wrist — not a blotter strip or magazine/catalog flap — will give you the most accurate idea. Try spraying and then walk around for about a half hour to give the scent a chance to mingle with your own. The temporary top notes will flare off, and the heartier and more lasting middle and base notes will remain for a more accurate sniff test. And no, just because a perfume smells great on your best friend doesn’t mean it will smell the same on you. Individual body chemistry plays a big part here.

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Keep your fragrance choice vibrant for hours

spinner image Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb Ruby Orchid Eau de Parfum; Pacifica Tuscan Blood Orange Women’s Spray Perfume; Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Intense; Gucci Flora Gorgeous Gardenia Eau de Parfum
Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb Ruby Orchid Eau de Parfum; Pacifica Tuscan Blood Orange Women’s Spray Perfume; Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Intense; Gucci Flora Gorgeous Gardenia Eau de Parfum
Ulta; Target; Ulta (2)

Losing a scent quickly after application is common in the parched air of winter or if you have dry skin. That’s because hot weather and body heat amplify scent. Applying your eau de toilette or eau de parfum to warm hydrated skin sets the stage for it to linger. Be sure to mist hot spots and pulse points like the inside crook of the elbows, wrist veins, back of knees, between the breasts and the sides of the neck where scent will keep reactivating as the day or evening goes on. For a refresh, try dabbing on a clear lip balm or travel size cream first if possible. Do not rub your wrists together! This alters the scent.

Know the strength you want

spinner image Nest New York Seville Orange Perfume Oil; Hermes Un Jardin Sur Le Toit Eau de Toilett; Aerin Cedar Violet Eau de Parfum
Nest New York Seville Orange Perfume Oil; Hermes Un Jardin Sur Le Toit Eau de Toilett; Aerin Cedar Violet Eau de Parfum
Sephora; Macys; Sephora

Eau de parfum is the strongest concentration of fragrance, followed by eau de toilette and eau de cologne. Perfume oils, which usually come in rollerballs, are powerful but since the touch of the ball is small, the effect is intimate for you the wearer or those very close around you. Carry a travel-size atomizer or rollerball for a quick reset. Be mindful about the amount you apply: You don’t want your scent to arrive before you or linger after you leave.

Layer all your scents strategically

spinner image Yves Saint Laurent Libre Le Parfum; Vitabath Lavender Chamomile Body Cream; Yardley of London Moisturizing Bath Bar English Lavender
Yves Saint Laurent Libre Le Parfum; Vitabath Lavender Chamomile Body Cream; Yardley of London Moisturizing Bath Bar English Lavender
Ulta; Walgreens (2)

In the past, pairing a perfume with its same scent bath and body products was a traditional way of building a longer-lasting smell. Almost no one does this anymore. It’s an expensive habit and truthfully many women prefer having more than one fragrance in rotation. However, selecting unscented bath and body products or choosing those within the same scent niche — floral, coconut, vanilla or citrus — can enhance your perfume choice for a more powerful statement. For example, the Yves Saint Laurent Libre Le Parfum ($95, ulta.com), Vitabath Lavender Chamomile Body Cream ($9, walgreens.com) and Yardley London Moisturizing Bath Bar English Lavender ($1, walgreens.com) are all lavender scented.

Maybe it’s not your perfume

spinner image Caress Daily Silk White Peach & Orange Blossom Body Wash; The Body Shop Coconut & Yuzu Hair & Body Mist; Beloved Coconut & Warm Vanilla Hand Lotion; Bath & Body Works Frosted Coconut Snowball Ultimate Hydration Body Cream
Caress Daily Silk White Peach & Orange Blossom Body Wash; The Body Shop Coconut & Yuzu Hair & Body Mist; Beloved Coconut & Warm Vanilla Hand Lotion; Bath & Body Works Frosted Coconut Snowball Ultimate Hydration Body Cream
Target; Ulta; Target; Bath & Body Works

Scented hand and body lotions, and bath and shower gels, waft some pretty potent smells these days and they’re usually applied to skin that’s warm, moist or damp where scent sticks best. Don’t be surprised if they are the source of compliments, especially when worn solo minus a perfume. It’s a good way to wear a light scent in a professional environment without overdoing it.

Find your sensitive-skin solution

spinner image Kai Perfume Oil; Skylar Vanilla Sky Eau de Parfum; The 7 Virtues Lotus Pear Eau de Parfum; Kayali  Deja Vu White Flower Hair Mist
Kai Perfume Oil; Skylar Vanilla Sky Eau de Parfum; The 7 Virtues Lotus Pear Eau de Parfum; Kayali Deja Vu White Flower Hair Mist
Anthropologie; Sephora (3)

Some women love perfume but know it gives them a headache or produces an itchy or burning feeling or redness on contact with their skin. You can still get that “Mmm, delicious!” compliment, enjoy wearing fragrance and avoid any negative reactions with three possible solutions. Try an oil based roll-on like the Kai Perfume Oil ($36, anthropologie.com) rather than an alcohol-based spray. These may be less drying and irritating. Spray perfume on your clothes or try a hair mist like the Kayali Deja Vu White Flower Hair Mist ($40, sephora.com). The latter are designed to be less drying than regular perfume would be on hair. And last, explore the category of hypoallergenic perfumes (yes, this is a thing!) like the fruity floral The 7 Virtues Lotus Pear Eau de Parfum ($85, sephora.com) or warm spicy Skylar Vanilla Sky Eau de Parfum ($85, sephora.com) scent.

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