How to Find Your Signature Scent, According to an Expert
Shopping for perfume can be, quite literally, headache-inducing. That said, finding a signature scent doesn’t have to be as complicated as you think. To find out how to choose a signature scent that works for both your personal scent preference and body’s chemistry, we tapped an expert Scent Sommelier.
See what he had to say in our guide to finding your signature scent, ahead.
1. Smell everything
According to Steve Johnson, Scent Sommelier at Scentbird, one of the most important steps in finding your signature scent is to smell everything. “The more perfumes you smell, the more drawn you will be to certain styles, even colognes for women or floral perfumes for men,” says Johnson. “Let your sense of smell be as curious as possible,” he adds.
2. Keep the smells you already love in mind
Another key factor in finding your signature scent? “Think about the smells you already love,” says Johnson. “If you love the smell of fresh bakery items, look for perfumes with similar notes — i.e. caramel, chocolate, etc. — If you love the scent from a neighbor’s garden, then green scents like geranium, galbanum, and ‘grassy notes’ will appeal to you, as well as floral perfumes.”
Before shopping for a signature scent, write down a list of the scents you already love, or the scents you discovered while smelling different perfumes in step one.
3. Consider your hobbies
One of the easiest ways to find out while smells you already love is to consider your hobbies. “If you love to cook, maybe spicy notes will draw you in,” says Johnson. “Use your hobbies and interests to pull you into the world of fragrance,” he adds.
4. Don’t worry about harmful ingredients
Believe it or not, when it comes to harmful ingredients, perfume is the one beauty product you don’t have to worry about. Because, according to Johnson, “no ingredients in perfume are harmful.” In fact, there is a special regulatory agency called the IFRA that “intentionally monitors just this kind of thing, and also makes it hard on perfumers to come up with alternatives to natural ingredients like oak moss, musk, etc.”
5. Temperature effects scent
One thing to keep in mind while shopping for (and wearing) a signature scent? Temperature matters. “The warmer it is, the faster your scent evaporates and the stronger it may smell,” says Johnson. “The heat from your pulse and skin surface will agitate the aroma chemicals a lot faster into scented motion than a blast of cold winter air will,” he adds.
6. Body aroma (and the food you eat) makes a huge difference
In addition to temperature, body aroma can also play a huge part in the way a perfume smells on your skin, especially when it comes to the way your food makes you smell. “A night sampling heavy onion and garlic, or Indian food will knock out any soft florals you’ve chosen,” says Johnson.
7. The order of notes matters
The order of perfume notes — aka, the Perfume Pyramid — isn’t as confusing as it may seem. “Perfumes are built a lot like cooking recipes are,” says Johnson. “You put the boldest, longest-lasting notes at the bottom as base notes (this would be your garlic, onions, [and] chicken stock in cooking),” he adds.
“The Perfume Pyramid idea is how these lightest, lighter, [and] heavy notes all blend together to create a perfume halo that’s more than the sum of its parts,” says Johnson. “The best brands blend these notes for a signature style: Think Jo Malone’s sporty citrus/ herbal scents, or Amouages’ decadent drama. Chanel No. 5 is an all-time classic example of how to use the Perfume Pyramid to create symbolic, chiaroscuro scents.”
Speaking of notes, take a look at how you can use the base, middle, and top notes to find your signature scent, next.
8. Base notes
Like cooking, you put your strongest flavors (or scents) in first. “You frequently see notes like patchouli, vetiver, oak moss, and resins like labdanum [and] apoponax as base notes. They last the longest and have heavy spice elements that tie the fragrance together,” says Johnson.
Find out why middle notes are the most impressionable part of a perfume, next.
9. Middle notes
Think of middle or hear notes as the backbone of a fragrance. These are the “notes that most people will remember the ‘style’ of a scent by,” says Johnson. “So, floral notes like jasmine, rose, tuberose, lily, orange blossom, etc.” Johnson also notes that in some instance you may see (or, smell rather) spicer green notes like galbanum, geranium, anise seed, and ambrette seed in the heart “to give a scent a spicy, green, forest/ mountainy feel.”
See why top notes are important, but not the most crucial part of a scent, next.
10. Top notes
The most important thing to remember about top notes, is that they evaporate the fastest. “Top notes are usually bright, engaging, [and] refreshing citrus or aromatic notes that evaporate quite quickly and serve as cheerful introductions to the bolder scents below in the Scent Pyramid,” says Johnson. “Bergamot, mandarin, apple, watermelon, lemon, lime, neroli, basil, black or pink pepper, rosemary, [and] thyme are all usually top notes,” he adds.
Now that we’re all squared away with notes, let’s go over packaging. See why packaging actually matters in perfume, next.
11. Packaging matters
Another important aspect of finding your signature scent? Packaging. Now, this is less about the aesthetic of a perfume bottle and more about the purpose. According to Johnson, “it [matters] when a perfume house intentionally makes their bottles, or flacons, out of dark, thick glass to prevent heat from altering the scent or allowing light to weaken it.” In addition, he notes: “You can always tell when a perfume house is serious about their work when they package their releases in heat/light-resistant colors.
That said, packaging can also be an unnecessary facet of perfume. See why, ahead.
12. When packaging doesn’t matter
While the bottle matters, the size doesn’t. “No one in their right mind is going to cart around an entire bottle of perfume, just to refresh themselves during the day,” says Johnson. “So, making bottles that have enormous stoppers of ornate, kooky designs isn’t going to change how the scent smells — [it] just looks cool at a department store or on your vanity at home,” he adds.
13. How to tell if its your signature scent
Once you’ve honed in on a scent, here’s how to tell if the scent is right for you. First and foremost: Do you love the way it smells? If yes, then it’s definitely worth wearing. Secondly, do you get a lot of compliments on it? If so, then you’re definitely on the right path — not only do you love it, others do, too.
Another thing Johnson says to keep in mind is memories. When other people make a comment like, “I always remember you wearing that gorgeous floral,” it’s definitely a signature scent.
14. Scents that travel well
Pulse points. We're all wrist…neck…hair. You? #scentbird
If you’re looking for a travel-friendly perfume, consider Scentbird. The monthly perfume subscription has a portfolio of 450+ designer and niche fragrances to choose from — all of which come in a month supply, travel-friendly bottle. In addition to being convenient, Scentbird’s $14.95/ a month subscription is an affordable way to experience luxury scents.
Another option for travel-friendly and simple packaging: The roll-on perfume section at Sephora. Sephora is home to many signature scents and most of them come in small roller balls that aren’t just travel-sized, they’re easy to use while on the go and you won’t have to risk spraying your neighbor on a plane, bus, or elsewhere. Not to mention: Many of them are a fraction of the price.
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