Beauty Bible's guide to choosing your perfect scent


When you’re looking for a new perfume, the same rules apply whether you’re drawn to more natural scents, or ‘mainstream’ fragrances. To avoid making mistakes – which equates to disappointment and a waste of money – follow these simple guidelines (which appear at greater length in our book The Ultimate Natural Beauty Bible): Most of the time, most of us hurtle through life. Which is certainly not conducive to finding a new fragrance. In fact, choosing a new fragrance when en route from your desk to the school run, or in five lunch hour minutes, is a recipe for disaster. So schedule in time - to park, to stroll, then sniff, let it dry down, and sniff again - with each scent you try.

• Plan to shop in the morning, when your nose is fresh and the department stores are blissfully empty. Consider making a special expedition just to seek out a new perfume.

• Don’t eat spicy foods or garlic the night before. They can alter the nature of a scent on your skin.

• Apply a totally unscented body lotion or oil to your arms/wrist, where you’ll be trying the perfumes. This gives fragrances something to ‘cling’ to.

• Don’t wear any scent or even a perfumed deodorant; they can clash with what you’re sampling.

• Wear a clean t-shirt or something recently washed to shop in. Fragrance clings to clothes and influences what you’re smelling, and traces of the scent/scents you already wear will be detectable on cashmere jumpers, wool jackets or anything made of silk, in particular.

• If possible, dress the way you’d dress to wear the type of scent you’re searching for. Long evening dress might be a challenge on a busy street (well, anywhere really) but you could take a gorgeous scarf and earrings with you.

Don’t instantly start spritzing your skin. Ask at the counter for special absorbent ‘scent blotters’, if they’re not on display. Spray scents onto blotters to establish which appeal to you at first whiff.

• Smell a maximum of four fragrances. The trick is to wobble the blotter under your nose; hold it at one end between thumb and longest finger, and tap it lightly with your forefinger to make it vibrate.

• Whatever you do, don’t ever feel pressured to make a decision because a sales person is breathing down your neck.

• Once you’ve narrowed your choice down to one or two scents, try them on your skin. Top American ‘nose’ Anne Gottlieb prefers the crook of the arm to the wrist area, because even jewellery can distort a fragrance’s smell.

• Don’t rub your wrists together after spritzing them; friction can alter the molecules of a fragrance, too.

• Give the fragrance at least an hour to develop. Fragrances traditionally have three ‘levels’ of notes – but where most of us go wrong is choosing on the basis of the first fleeting burst of a scent, or the middle notes (which unfurl after around ten to fifteen minutes). In fact, it’s the base notes – which may not develop for an hour or two – which are ultimately what you’ll live with. So walk away. Come back later, if you still like the scent then.

• If you’re still in love with one of the scents after this, nip back another day and spray the scent all over. It’s the difference between wearing the dress rather than looking at it on the hanger.

• Better still, ask for a sample and wear it for a few days. Not all ranges include samples but it’s worth trying. Get feedback from friends and loved ones - if it matters to you that they love what you smell like (we think it should).

• Then, and only then – when you’re truly happy – flex that credit card. And if all this sound laborious, in a world when there’s too-much-to-do-in-too-little time? Just ask yourself: how many bottles have you bought – and fallen out of love with, almost faster than you can say eau de parfum?

PS Since we wrote this, Jo's gone on to launch The Perfume – which is like a 'wine society' for perfume, with opportunities to try many different fragrances, learn about them, attend events and read more in their award-winning online magazine The Scented Letter. Do check it out!