5 Things That Impact Fragrance Longevity

GrapefruitCreed Millesime Imperial is like a workaholic girlfriend: you’ve barely spent 20 minutes together and she has to run.  Millesime Imperial and I had a great time together but it never lasted more than half an hour at a time.  The blog community warned me that’s how Millesime Imperial is – it smells great but it doesn’t last very long.  I thought, well, that’s them, maybe with me it will be different.  I fell hard for it – the fresh melon note, the salty calone, the mild iris, it was just perfect…for 20 minutes.

First, I got on this guilt trip.  Maybe it’s me.  I’m not good enough.  Maybe if I make my skin oilier, it will stick longer.  No such luck.  Okay, what if I put more of it and spray it on clothes.  I got a 10-minute improvement.  I figured, okay, then I guess I’ll have to reapply throughout the day and load up on it.  The problem with this was that Millesime Imperial wasn’t cheap: $300+ a pop could get me two or three other fragrances.

So, after thinking long and hard about it, I had to do what I had to do: I cut Millesime Imperial loose.  This whole experience got me thinking how to make better perfume choices in the future.  I figured there are several things to keep in mind when it comes to perfume longevity.  I am going to share them with you here, so you don’t fall in love with gorgeous fragrances, which don’t plan to stick around for the long run.

1. The oiliness of your skin

Generally speaking, perfumes don’t like staying around on dry skin.  Oilier skin tends to retain fragrances better.  I suspect this is because the natural oils of your skin form stronger bonds with the essential oils and synthetic molecules in the fragrance.

One way to improve longevity in the case of dry skin is to make it oilier.  I used to apply Vaseline to the spots where I would spray perfume.  I cannot say for sure this worked but you could try it and find out for yourself.  A word of caution: putting Vaseline on your neck or wrists may stain your clothes, so you have to be conscious of the extra greasy skin.

Vanilla

2. Nose Fatigue

We often determine the longevity of a perfume by how long we can smell it.  If we can’t detect the scent in three hours after applying it, then the longevity is three hours.

This way of determining the longevity of a fragrance has little to do with its chemical properties and a lot more to do with our ability to smell.  Sometime after our noses are exposed to a scent, our smell receptors stop registering it, so that they can pick up new, different smells.  The real purpose of our sense of smell is warn us of potential danger.  Once the nose has figured out that the violet note in your Green Irish Tweed does not pose a threat, it ignores it in order to stay alert for other potentially dangerous smells.

If the theory of nose fatigue is correct, perfumes that go through noticeably different development stages will be perceived as longer lasting than linear perfumes.  The marked change in smell will keep the nose alert.

The key word here is “detect”.  Just because we cannot smell a fragrance anymore, it doesn’t mean it is not there and noticeable to others.  In fact, this is one of the reasons why people overapply perfume – they are so used to it that they cannot detect it on themselves and feel like they have not put on enough.

A testament to this phenomenon is when people compliment the scent I’m wearing long after I’ve stopped noticing it.

Lemon

3. Molecule Sizes

In very simplified terms, the smell molecules fall into two categories: simple and complex.  The structure of the simple molecules is simple and therefore, when exposed to air they break up quickly and disappear.  Complex molecules, on the other hand, take longer to break down and therefore last a lot longer on the skin.

Take a look at the molecule drawings of Limonene, which smells of citrus, and Muscone, which smells of musk.

Limonene

Limonene

Muscone

Muscone

As you can see, the structure of Limonene is a lot simpler and has fewer bonds than the Muscone‘s structure.  Because Limonene‘s molecule is much simpler, it breaks quicker than the Muscone‘s.  Therefore, citrus notes tend to last no more than a couple of hours and musks can last several days.

Even though this is a very simplified description of the chemical nature of scent, it explains why Narcisso Rodrigues for Her lasts a whole day and CK Summer One barely lasts two hours.

Perfumers, of course, are well aware of these properties and therefore they often add fixatives to prolong the longevity of certain fragrances.  These fixatives are usually musks but they could be any other more complex molecule.

4. More Does Not Mean Longer

I used to believe that if you just spray more perfume, it would last longer.  Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.  What happens if you apply more perfume, you just smell stronger for the same period of time.  I tried this trick with Creed Himalaya – I reeked in the first two hours and couldn’t detect any scent after.  If you consider the theory about scent longevity and complexity of molecules, the idea of spraying more to ensure longevity, doesn’t make sense. Whether you spray two pumps or twenty, you are spraying the same molecules that break down at the same speed.  There is no reason to believe that more of a citrus molecules will break down any slower.

Perfume Spray

5. Spray on Your Clothes

I’ve heard this advice even from heavy-weight fragrance experts like Luca Turin.  Technically, Luca is right – spraying perfume on your clothes makes the scent last longer.  If you take this approach, beware of two downsides:

1. Perfume can stain clothes;

2. Some perfumes smell differently on clothes than on skin.

I tried this theory with Eau D’Orange Verte.  The result was a prolonged pungent oakmoss and sharp citrus.  The scent wasn’t very smooth at all.  Millesime Imperial, on the other hand, worked just fine when sprayed on clothes.  I guess the only way to know if to try and find out.

This list of things that impact longevity is not exhaustive. I do hope, however, it would take away some of your frustration with gorgeous scents that don’t last very long.  If you have any tips how to make your fragrance last longer, please share in the comments section.

  1. I found your comments on the molecule size to be incredibly interesting. Very self-evident once you mentioned it, but not something I would ever have thought of myself before!

    I’m one of those people for whom even the strongest of perfumes can die away. My body consumes perfume, but it never did. Never! This is something that only happened within the last decade. In my search for an explanation, I read that stress and body changes can definitely impact perfume’s longevity on a person. One of these days, I hope to stumble upon the exact scientific explanation for *why* stress can impact the absorption or projection of perfume molecules that lie *atop* the skin, but in the meantime, I really enjoyed your post.

  2. Thanks for your support Kafkaesque.

    You bring up an interesting point about how fragrance used to last on your skin longer. I guess this may have to do with changes in your body chemistry. Age, diet, and stress, among other things, can impact our hormonal balance and hence the chemistry of our skin.

    I think you are right about stress changing your body chemistry. It probably has to do with how it impacts hormones. I’m sure there must have been studies in endocrinology about the hormonal impact on skin and fragrance retention. I’m curious about it myself, so if I find anything on the topic, I’ll definitely let you know.

  3. Pingback: Perfume!!!!!! | beautyatanycost

  4. Reblogged this on Kafkaesque and commented:
    An extremely interesting post, particularly on the issue of the molecule size of certain ingredients and its impact on longevity. I’ve learnt quite a bit from Scent Bound on the more scientific aspects of perfume, so give it a look!

  5. Very interesting facts about perfume longevity. I have a problem with all Creeds staying longer than 2 hours, but doesn’t everybody? LOL Unless it’s the infamous Aventus that smells like dishwashing liquid and lasts forever and a day, not a good thing. Spraying your clothes is a help, but it can backfire. I tried that technique with Lanvin Pour Homme; felt like I was suffocating and I had to return home, take a another shower and change clothes. Not all fragrances take to being applied directly to clothes or fabric. It has such a different smell and it reeks ( on me at least)! As a contrast, fragrance that rubs off on your clothes during the day has a different smell and is quite pleasant. So when I can’t smell it anymore, I just smell my clothes. As I always say, when the perfume is gone spray something else on. LOL. Anyway, I really enjoyed reading for blog. I look forward to reading more. I want to follow you, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet, unless I clicked something by accident and did it already. LOL

    • Thank you for your support, dkchocoman. I’m glad you find the information useful and interesting.

      There is a “Follow” button on the black bar in the top left corner. You can also sign up for email notifications in the right bar on top.

      I found out the same thing about spraying perfume on your clothes – it smells totally different and can be headache inducing. I used to do it with Millesime Imperial and it worked okay. When I tried it with Eau D’Orange Verte, though, I wanted to change my clothes and my skin with them.

      Creed’s longevity is a major disappointment allover as you say. Aventus does last a little longer and I did try to like it but it never worked for me. Then the whole concept of it supposedly smelling like freshly printed money and that therefore it defines success didn’t make it any easier either.

      • Re. Creed & freshly printed money: Seriously? That was their concept and the ethos behind the scent?!??! Good lord. How utterly obnoxious. And yet, it almost makes one laugh.

  6. Here’s how Creed describes Aventus: ” CREED Aventus is inspired by the dramatic life of a historic emperor who waged war, peace and romance on terms he set, riding on horseback to victory. … a worldly blend and must-have for the individual who savors a life well lived.”

    I suspect the emperor is Napoleon. The notion of success and freshly printed money was suggested in several reviews I read on Basenotes and some other websites. Creed gets some points for class by not blatantly saying they purposely went for the smell of freshly printed money.

  7. The way a perfume behaves on the skin depends on how the various components of the perfume interact with the oils and fats present in the surface layers of the skin (the stratum corneium) and sebum.
    Perfume components can be broken down into three classes – top, middle and base notes. Top notes are very volatile and are the ones you notice first when smelling a perfume. It is very difficult to retain these. Middle notes are less volatile and last longer. Base notes are less volatile still and are those that last longest. This is why perfumes smell different over time – as the various notes evaporate and are lost, the balance changes. As already mentioned, you can increased the length of time the perfume is retained by adding oils to the skin – perfume components are hydrophobic – they are not soluble in water so given the choice they will dissolve in oil. However, some oils work, some don’t – there’s no hard and fast rule. It is also true that you become less aware of the smell over time – it’s called adaptation, and it’s the reason why you don’t smell your own body odours whereas everyone else can.