This Is Why Your Perfume Never Lasts More Than A Couple Of Hours

Illustrated by Olivia Santner
Dear Daniela,

What can I do to stop my perfume disappearing so fast? One of my favourite things about summer is wearing tropical fragrances that remind me of my holidays but it frustrates me that they only ever hang about for an hour or so. I’m aware that I might just be ‘getting used to’ the scent and no longer able to pick it up, but I really do want it to last for longer!

Nora, 26
There is nothing quite like the scent of the summer. For me, it’s sunscreen mixed with sea salt, cut grass, sticky remnants of rosé and juicy, ripe peaches. Just like you, I’m a big advocate of having a ‘summer scent’, something that you wear when the mercury rises to mentally shift you into the warmer months. For me, it’s Estée Lauder Bronze Goddess – one spritz and suddenly, I’m (mentally) in Tuscany.
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However, fragrance melting away into the ether is a big problem in the summer. It happens in winter, too, but the extra layers we wear in the colder months tend to carry our perfumes, and the lack of sweat means we hold onto them for longer. I’ve heard so many tricks to ensure fragrance longevity – most of which involve spraying perfume into odd places, where it’s theorised that the warmth of these spots will make the scent more potent. But I wanted to answer your question from a biochemical perspective so I asked Nausheen Qureshi, a cosmetic chemist.

"There’s a few factors that dictate perfume longevity," said Nausheen. "Generally speaking, woody and spicy notes tend to last longer, while fruity and floral notes fade faster." So-called summer scents do tend to lean towards hothouse flowers and exotic fruits, which may also explain why this phenomenon is so keenly felt in the hotter months. My go-to winter scent, Vanilj by Maya Njie, is rich with cedarwood and cardamom – a wood and a spice, respectively.

"Then, how dry or oily your skin is plays a big role," said Nausheen. "The oilier you are, the slower the evaporation process of the perfume from your skin. When the skin is dry, this happens much faster," she added, explaining that the drier air of winter makes for less evaporation, too. "For this reason, formulators sometimes add humectants (which are moisture-attracting ingredients) to a perfume to help it cling to the skin," explained Nausheen. "But the biggest factor is the percentage of perfume in the formula as a whole – and the amount of alcohol."
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This is where things get somewhat technical. You might have noticed that some scents bill themselves as an EDT or an EDP but these aren’t just marketing terms. EDT stands for eau de toilette and, according to Nausheen, contains 5-10% fragrance as part of the whole formulation, while EDP or eau de parfum has 7-15% fragrance. "The dosage of fragrance within a formulation will be the primary determination of its longevity," explained Nausheen. By contrast, a scented soap or body lotion is most likely only 1-2% perfume. This is why EDP tends to be the pricier option – it simply contains more fragrance and therefore is stronger.
Now, you also mentioned that you knew you might just be noticing your perfume less as the day goes on. But Nausheen pointed me to a recent study which suggests that how we perceive scents is more complex than just familiarity. "It shows that lots of factors change our perception of odour. For example, women seem to detect odour better than men, but age and genetics play a role too," said Nausheen. "As well as environmental factors – do you smoke or drink? Live in a polluted area? How hot is it where you live?"

There’s not much you can do about your genetic makeup (and no one’s suggesting you should move country to better enjoy your perfume). But here’s what you can do: "Moisturize your skin with a cream or serum prior to application to make the scent last longer," suggested Nausheen. "And spritz behind your ears – it’s less likely to evaporate as fast because your ears protect it from being exposed to the air and wind." I’ve heard something similar about the belly button, FYI.
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Also, maybe it’s time to switch up your summer scent. Something can be summery and spicy – I’ll never abandon Bronze Goddess altogether but Tom Ford Lost Cherry has started to work its way into my heart. Black cherry keeps it slightly sweet but it has a warmer base with almond and sandalwood. For me, it lasts incredibly well, as does Byredo Mixed Emotions. It’s woody and fruity, with blackcurrant, tea and birchwood. It’s unique, and definitely moreish.
Good luck!

Daniela 
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