I’m sure you’ve noticed. You come out of the department store with an affordable perfume that smells fantastic for its price. You rush to your car in a hurry to unbox it and spray it on. You do and, in less than an hour, it’s gone.
What’s going on? Why do lower-end perfumes fade so quickly?
Cheaper perfumes are more diluted and less complex than their pricier counterparts. For this reason, they also fade away more quickly. It’s not uncommon for lower-end perfumes to last 1-2 hours, while higher-end fragrances can last for 8-9 hours, some even longer.
Let us take a closer look at these two factors to understand why and how this works, and what you as a consumer can do about it.
First, there’s the concentration.
The smell of a fragrance comes from a blend of fragrant oils called “perfume essence.” To not overwhelm your sense of smell and to become commercially viable, perfume houses dilute that essence in alcohol and water (along with a few additives that protect it from the effects of exposure to air and sunlight).
The higher the concentration of perfume essence in relation to alcohol and water, the more intense and longer-lasting the scent. Concentrated perfumes, as you can expect, cost significantly more than their diluted counterparts.
That’s partly due to the higher cost of the raw materials, and partly thanks to the premium consumers are willing to pay for stronger scents.
In its simplest form, perfume essence is a concoction of fragrant molecules that, together, make up a specific scent. When sprayed, these molecules travel through the air and land on your skin. As they react to your skin’s chemistry, their scent starts to flourish—until they eventually oxidize and their smell slowly but surely fades away.
There are various scientific theories about exactly how this works, and biologists and chemists continue to try to unravel how the scent receptors in our noses exactly function.
As far as a perfume’s longevity is concerned, the consensus seems to be this: The more complex the fragrant molecule, the more time it takes for the scent to develop itself, and, therefore, the longer it tends to last.
This brings me to the topic of complexity, the second major factor that affects a perfume’s longevity.
The smell of perfume can be broken down into individual descriptors called “notes.” A note is a single and recognizable smell, such as that of Bulgarian rose or Bourbon vanilla. As anyone who’s into perfume already knows, notes are always classified into one of three categories:
- Top notes;
- Middle notes;
- Base notes.
The top notes are the first, lightest, most delicate notes that you smell when spritzing perfume on your skin. Think of citrus fruit and fresh herbs, such as tangerine or rosemary. They consist of the most uncomplicated molecules, and they typically last for no longer than 10-15 minutes.
The middle notes are the second, more elaborate notes that unravel after about 15-20 minutes. Think of herbal notes and gourmand notes such as jasmine or vanilla. They tend to last anywhere between 20 and 60 minutes.
The base notes are the third and last—deepest and most intense—notes in a fragrance. Think of animalistic, balsamic, and woody notes, for example, musk, labdanum, and cedarwood. They consist of the most cryptic fragrant molecules, whose formulas can’t fit on a single line of paper which take the longest to unravel but also last the most.
We’ve described these in detail at “Why Some Perfumes Last Longer Than Others,” where you will learn about all the factors that contribute to the longevity of a fragrance.
Less expensive perfumes are not only more diluted, but also more focused on the top and middle notes. This makes their fragrance less complex and shortens their longevity on the skin.
If you have ever wondered why most low-end perfumes are citrusy, floral, or sugary, and they rarely—dare I say never—have a deep and intense scent. That said, there is a way to make any perfume last longer.
Of course, there is an exception to every rule. And some cheaper fragrances can far outlast their niche-house inspirations.
Such is the case with sugary scents, for example. Not only does the scent of sugar come from affordable synthetic ingredients, but it can also last a very long time. Aquolina’s Pink Sugar, an $30/fl oz Eau de Toilette that stays on your hair for days, is a great example.
Synthetic vanilla scents are also highly affordable and quite long-lasting.
Making Cheaper Perfumes Last Longer
Perfume fades because the fragrance molecules that make it up eventually oxidize. Oxidation, as most of you have probably heard, is the natural decay that occurs when a substance is exposed to air, which contains about 21% oxygen.
Oily skin holds top notes longer, and cheaper perfumes are heavier on the top notes. But you don’t have to be “blessed” with an oily skin type for cheaper perfumes to last longer on you. Instead, simply apply the perfume after showering and on well-moisturized skin.
For more information, see my in-depth write-up on why perfume may not last on your skin.
Never rub your wrists together, and do not dab the juice. Let the fragrant molecules land on your skin and mix with their chemical composition without meddling with it; the latter is counterproductive.