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Beauty Basics: How to Apply and Store Your Favorite Perfumes

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When it comes to perfume, I’m a fanatic. I own more than 50 fragrances, I read about scents, go online to talk about them, and weird out my friends by interrupting a nice dinner to demand, “Okay, who’s wearing Angel?” (meaning: Thierry Mugler’s incredibly distinctive fragrance).

And given my obsession with the stuff, I’ve come to realize there’s a right and a wrong way to apply perfume. The ultimate goal is for perfume to be subtly noticeable, yet not offend those sitting next to you at work. You want people to lean in to smell it and then think, “Ahhh she smells so good!” The other two things I’ve learned: there are little things you can do to make perfumes last as long as possible on your skin—and strategies for giving your beloved bottles the longest possible shelf life. For my fellow fragrance-heads, I present some of the most helpful intel I’ve gleaned from my own experience and favorite scent sources around the web.

Apply here: the ankles, the hair, and other unlikely yet optimal spots to spray

As it were (not shockingly), there are loads of differing opinions on where one should apply perfume. The wrist-and-collar routine? Amateur hour. Perfumer Frédéric Malle suggests targeting the_ back_ of the neck especially for special occasions. He writes: “The heat rising up your body and the movement of your hair will diffuse the scent, increasing your perfumes “sillage” (pronounced see-yazh) or scent trail.” Malle also recommends spritzing your hair, since the oils in locks help hold fragrance in. “Just don’t do it every day because the alcohol will dry out your hair,” he says.

Turns out that misting onto our clothes, too, may be the best way to extend the wear of your fragrance longest. Ever smelled a lover’s T-shirt when they leave on a trip or old-fashioned perfume on a vintage coat? Same idea. The fibers in cloth, especially natural fibers like wool and cotton, trap the perfume and hold it there, sometimes for years. (Except for silk! Never spray fragrance on silk, as it will stain.)

Where else? A friend of mine always sprays a streak of perfume down her belly—she swears it’s great for a night when there’s a chance someone will be helping to undress you. Turns out she’s not off-target here. Noted fragrance blog Perfume Shrine suggests “spraying your belly-button or under the breasts (or the equivalent spot for men). The belly is warm, [and] the scent rises uniformly.” When it’s sweltering out, and you don’t want your perfume to turn into a giant cloud around you, Perfume Shine has a simple trick: “Spray your calves (not the back side of the knees when it’s really hot, as these naturally sweat a lot when we bend them to sit down) and let the perfume rise slowly.” Never knew!

Exercise restraint: why a light spritz is your best bet

When applying, should we mist? Dab with a finger? Seek out a rollerball applicator? These are the dilemmas that plague me. Apparently, there’s no “best” way to apply perfume. The legendary tactic of spraying a cloud into the air and walking though it wastes a lot of expensive product. And fragrance blogs seem to be united in their hatred of rollerballs (which is really too bad, as they’re so convenient). Word on the street is that every time you apply with a rollerball, the perfume becomes more and more contaminated with your skin’s oil, because you’re dipping directly into the product itself. So dabbing a scent on with a finger does the same thing, contaminating it over time. The consensus seems to be: a restrained squirt at close-up range to the area you wish to scent. It wastes the least product and won’t compromise the quality of it.

Keep it cool: how too much sun or heat can spell disaster   

As for making sure your perfumes last as long as possible? Store them away from light and air. No matter how pretty the bottles might look lined up on the windowsill, the sunlight streaming in does irreparable damage. Perfumes left in the light can “turn” or “go off”—that is, lose their fragrance notes or even change composition completely—in as little time as a few months. If you have a prized perfume (mine is a huge bottle of Guerlain’s Mitsouko), your best bet is to keep it stored in a cool, dry area away from sunlight like in a dark closet or cupboard.

Adorn thy neck, belly, calves, and hair with scent and venture forth into the night, perfumed! Read more at Frédéric Malle, Perfume Shrine, and Allure.