One of the most frequently asked questions in the world of perfumes is, “How long will this scent last?” The best fragrances cost a pretty penny, after all, and it can be least to say frustrating when your favorite one disappears into obscurity almost immediately after it’s applied to your skin.
There’s more than one factor that goes into the answer. And most people tend to have plenty of misconceptions, which they’re glad to state as facts when discussing the topic in forums and communities out there.
Today, we’ll help you get to the answer to separate fact from fiction—giving you the best tips from the members of our editorial team to max out the longevity of your signature scents.
The longevity of a perfume is the amount of time that its scent lasts on your skin. Longevity is affected by a perfume’s ingredients, formulation, and concentration, as well as your skin type. Scents last longer on oily than on dry skin types.
A perfume should last long enough for you to be able to go about your day smelling good, without having to re-apply it to your skin every few hours to keep it from fading away.
The rule of thumb is that short-lived perfumes last on your skin for as little as 1-3 hours, medium-lived perfumes for approximately 6-9 hours, and long-lived perfumes for as long as 12-24 hours.
Keep in mind that you may be anosmic to a perfume while the people around you are perfectly capable of smelling it on you. Unless you want the bus to yourself (who doesn’t?), be sure to check out the article I just linked to.
Why the Ingredients of a Fragrance Matter
When it comes to their ingredients, fragrances fall into one of three categories: natural, synthetic, and mixed-media.
Natural fragrances have ingredients obtained from plant extracts and—increasingly rarely nowadays—animal secretions. Their chemical makeup must not be tinkered with in any way. Think of resins, absolutes, essential oils, waxes, and others as examples.
Synthetic fragrances have lab-made ingredients concocted from artificial compounds. They may also have ingredients obtained naturally but whose chemical composition has been altered in a lab.
There are also mixed-media fragrances, which, according to many, make the best of both worlds by combining natural and artificial ingredients in the same formulation.
Each category has its own charms and witts, and we don’t really gravitate to any single one of them. Neither should you, too.
Though there are always exceptions to the rule, natural fragrances generally last less on your skin than their synthetic and mixed-media counterparts.
That’s the reason why the scents of some niche fragrance houses, known for using mostly natural ingredients in their perfumes, last less than those of their designer-house counterparts. To learn more about the differences between the two, head on over to “Niche vs. Designer Fragrances.”
Of course, that’s not absolutely true for all niche houses, 100% of the time. Some, like New York City’s Nomenclature, are famous for their synthetically-produced scents.
Complex Scents Last Longer Than Simple Scents
Perfumes fade away because the fragrant molecules that make them up will react to the oxygen in the air and eventually oxidize, losing their aromatic qualities as a result.
How complex those molecules are will determine how long-lived the scent that’s coming from them is.
Not to bring you back to high-school chemistry class or anything, but this basically means that notes with long and windy chemical formulas will outlast their peers with short and simple formulas.
It’s kind of logical, when you come to think of it: it takes you longer to read through a twenty-page magazine at the nail salon than it does to read through a hundred-page one.
That’s the reason why, given their uncomplicated molecular makeup, top notes dwindle first, heart notes peter out second, and base notes are the last ones to fade away in any scent.
It’s also why scents with musky and woody notes tend to last longer than those that have a fruity or floral base.
Higher Concentration Means Better Longevity
One of the most obvious factors that affect a perfume’s longevity is its concentration. But the reasons why are less obvious than most of us think.
If you are into fragrances, you know that everyone groups them into mostly five types—Eau Fraîche, Eau de Cologne (EDC), Eau de Toilette (EDT), Eau de Parfum (EDP), and Parfum—based on the percentage of pure perfume contained in the bottle.
The higher the concentration of pure perfume in a fragrance, the longer-lived it is when it lands on your skin (and, for the same reasons, the steeper its price tag).
A higher percentage of pure perfume in the bottle means that each spray results in more scent-carrying molecules landing on your skin. They take longer to oxidize and lose their fragrance, so their scent lasts longer on you.
But there’s a little more to it than that—and it goes back to my previous point about the complexity of the molecules.
Eau Fraîche, Eau de Cologne, and Eau de Toilette are structurally focused on the top and heart notes. Since these notes have simpler chemical composition, this also makes EF, EDC, and EDT shorter-lived.
Eau de Parfum and Parfum, on the other hand, are weighted heavily toward the heart and base notes, which are made up of complex molecules and, therefore, longer-lived.
Here’s what this means for the longevity of the fragrances in your wardrobe:
|Eau Fraîche||1-3%||1-2 hours||Lowest|
|Eau de Cologne (EDC)||3-5%||2-3 hours||Low|
|Eau de Toilette (EDT)||5-15%||3-6 hours||Medium|
|Eau de Parfum (EDP)||15-20%||6-9 hours||High|
|Pure perfume||More than 20%||12-24 hours||Highest|
The least-concentrated fragrances called Eau Fraîche (“fresh water” in French) contain 1-3% pure perfume, and the rest is water and alcohol. They’re meant to be refreshing, and will last on your skin for 1-2 hours.
Fragrances classified as Eau de Cologne (EDC) contain 3-5% pure perfume, the rest being alcohol, water, and other ingredients. Eau de Cologne is meant to be used as a body splash now and then and will last on your skin for 2-3 hours.
Eau de Toilette (EDT) fragrances contain 5% to 15% pure perfume and 95% to 85% alcohol, water, and other ingredients. Most EDT fragrances will usually last on your skin for 3-6 hours.
The most popular type of fragrances, Eau de Parfum (EDP), contain 15-20% perfume oil and 75-80% alcohol, water, and other ingredients. They will last for 6-9 hours based on their ingredients, their formulation, and how oily your skin.
Last but not least is Parfum, a type of fragrance with more than 20% perfume and less than 80% alcohol, water, and other ingredients. Made mostly by niche houses (and a few limited blends by designer houses), these products will last on your skin for up to 24 hours.
Remember to take all of these measures with a grain of salt, as concentration is far from being the only factor determining the longevity of a fragrance. An example is Aventus Creed, which is infamous for changing notes and longevity from batch to batch.
Another thing to note is that the same fragrance will have a vastly different character from one concentration to another because the composition of the entire liquid in the bottle is different.
So, at the end of the day, it’s not as simple as subtracting or adding a few percent.
Perfume Lasts Longer on Oily Skin
Many people are surprised by the fact that skin type affects fragrance longevity.
Perfume lasts longer on oily skin because oily skin forms stronger bonds to the essential oils and synthetic molecules in formulations than dry skin.
When you google the topic, you’ll see some people recommending applying vaseline on your skin. But take them up on their advice with caution, as it can stain your clothes, which can turn being fashionably late into downright disrespectful.
To make a scent last longer on your skin, take a warm (but not hot) shower or bath and apply an unscented moisturizer on it 10-15 minutes beforehand.
This works for two reasons.
First, a warm shower cleanses your skin and opens up your pores, which is something you absolutely want when putting perfume on. The water shouldn’t be overly hot because the heat, according to Harvard Health Publishing, “whisks away the fatty substances in the skin.”
Second, the moisturizer helps you deal with dry skin, which—as we already established—is one of perfume longevity’s worst enemies. It should be unscented as you don’t want it to interfere with the perfume (and I don’t know about you, guys and gals, but scented cosmetics totally f*ck up my skin).
Go on, try it out, and let me know how this worked for you in the comments below.