Fragrance: Finding Your Signature Perfume

Getting Started Without Going Out

So you're in the market for a fragrance. Bottom line: This is going to require a lot of sniffing. It's best not to rush this process, or if you have any fragrance sensitivity whatsoever, you will end up with a skull-crushing headache.

Now, most people approach perfume shopping the way they might approach shopping for produce. Touch each apple, sniff it, hold it, pick up the next apple... People who are shopping for fragrance this way are likely to, well, bite into a lot of apples. Then, by the time they find what they're looking for, they are on way too much sensory overload to notice. Worse, they might have a dull headache already, and so they might purchase something without actually knowing that they are sensitive to it. Being a fragrance-frenzied, somewhat allergy-prone person, I have had both of these experiences. These days, I shop smarter.

One of the ways that I avoid the headaches is that I approach fragrance shopping like I would approach shopping for a new car. I visit a few websites, read some reviews, check the stats. For fragrances, this means checking ingredients. For those of you with fragrance sensitivities, don't despair: you can still find a fragrance; you just might need to do some research to find something you can handle. Personally, I checked the ingredient lists of a few fragrances that I already knew bothered me, and noted the similarities. Now when I go to a counter, I come prepared, and let the associates know that I have allergies to jasmine and gardenia.

There are a few websites you can use as research tools before venturing out to the local department store:

Basenotes,, is an online forum completely devoted to fragrance. Some of the fragrance fiends who frequent this site know about and are able to get their hands on the newest fragrances before they even hit your local store, so there may already be reviews there for the newest thing.

Sephora,, is a beauty store that is also online, with very detailed ingredient lists for the fragrances it carries. I check for my fragrance allergies here before sniffing in stores.  There are also customer reviews. Also at is a Fragrance Finder tool that uses fragrances you already like to suggest ones to try. If you already know which fragrance families you enjoy, you can use that as a search parameter, as well.

Perfume Emporium,, not only sells fragrances, it also provides descriptions and message boards regarding those fragrances, as well as discussion forums.  It also has an interesting little gift finder tool.

Information Gathering

Your first trip to the store is not for making a purchase. Yes, I said first. Remember my car analogy? You don't walk into a dealership planning to finance the first car you test drive, do you? This first trip is an information gathering expedition. Your goal is to discover what categories of fragrances you most enjoy, obtain a few samples, and return home without stinking.

Here are a few tips for navigating department stores and still achieving your goal:

  • Be Fragrance-Free: Don't wear perfume or scented lotion. It will only confuse you.
  • Avoid the lady spraying things like the plague. She works for a specific company (not the department store) and will only steer you towards fragrances made by that company. Unless she is holding in her hand a fragrance you have heard of and were already interested in trying, say "No thanks" and move on.
  • If you really want the advice of the 20 year old behind the counter, by all means, ask for it, but if not, ask her to put out testers of the fragrances that interest you, and give you some time with them. If you don't know which fragrances interest you, she is a good resource.
  • You need cards. Cards are a good way to get to know the nature of a fragrance without getting it all over you. To go back to our car shopping analogy, cards are like show rooms. You can see it, sit in it, touch it, all before taking it out for a test drive. If you get ahead of yourself and start spraying onto your skin, you will not only confuse yourself, you will be inviting those fragrances into your home-- together-- for the rest of the day.
  • You also need a pen. You use the pen to write on the card the name of the fragrance you have sprayed onto it.
  • Keep those cards separated. Let them dry. Put one in each pocket, for example, or ask the sales person if they can be left on the side of the counter for a few minutes. Then walk around for 10 minutes. Look at some shoes.
  • After 10 minutes, sniff. What you sniff after 10 minutes is called the "dry-down," and it's the true character of the fragrance. If you still like it after 10 minutes, request a sample. If there are no samples available, ask if they can make one. Stores like Nordstrom and Sephora will make you a sample upon request. If no sample can be procured, take a long, deep inhalation of the fragrance on the card, and decide if it might be time to spray it on.
  • After spraying a fragrance on your skin, do not spray any other fragrances on. The fragrances will mix and confuse your already addled brain.  So, yeah, don't do that.
  • After you have 3-5 names of fragrances you enjoy, now it's time to engage the salesperson. Ask her if she can help you discover your fragrance family. If she can, you now know a lot about what fragrances you will like in the future. If she looks like a deer in headlights, thank her politely, ask for samples if you haven't, and go home.

Types of Fragrances

There are a few basic fragrance families:

  • Woody: These fragrances have wood and wood resin based scents. They might use a wood oil or resin to form the base of the scent, such as cedar or sandalwood. Many woody fragrances are masculine. A popular female example is: Miss Dior Cherie by Christian Dior. A popular male example is: Black by Bvlgari.
  • Fresh: These fragrances have some sub-categories. One sub-category is green or leafy scents. Another is marine or watery scents. A popular female example is: L'Eau d'Issey by Issey Miyake. A popular male example is: Acqua di Gio by Giorgio Armani.
  • Floral: Flowers are the main ingredients of these perfumes.There are sub-categories here, too, such as white floral. A popular female example is: Stella by Stella McCartney. A popular male example is: Fleur de Male by Jean Paul Gaultier.
  • Oriental: These scents are so named for their origins in the Orient. Oriental fragrances can include Chypres, or earthy/mossy scents, but they can also be spicy or sweet. A popular female example is: Angel by Thierry Mugler. A popular male example is: Obsession for Men by Calvin Klein.
  • Fruity: The most common type of fruity scent is citrus. However, in recent times, other fruits have also become fair game for fragrances, from pineapple to pink lady apple! Many fruity scents are marketed at teenagers. A popular female example is: Be Delicious by DKNY. A popular male example is: Happy for Men by Clinique.

Making a Decision

When you get home, hopefully with samples in tow, wear a different one each day before you make your decision.  Invite the commentary of those who live with you or spend a significant amount of time sharing airspace with you.  Please note, however, that men will in general compliment any scent that they feel you might have already bought.  Let them know that what you are wearing is only a sample and they may feel free to give their honest opinion.

It's a good idea to try a fragrance in the morning when your senses are at their most acute.  It is also important to try each fragrance more than once.  I would give you a three-day minimum trial period on anything you're considering.  A fragrance is, after all, a long-term commitment. 

When you've made your decision, check prices online, and if all other things are equal, consider offering the commission to any sales associates who may have helped you along the way. 

Happy Fragrance Finding!

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Comments 10 comments

ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Finding your fragrance takes some serious work huh? LOL I enjoyed reading your tips as they make sense to me. Personally I have to be careful in choosing my perfume because strong ones make me sneeze!

Well, as we are finding our fragrance, Hubnuggets found you! Did you know that you are a Hubnugget Wannabe? Congratulations!

Check out your nomination and vote:

To the Hubnuggets Learning Center:

Participate in the Hubnuggets Forum Thread:

Alternative Prime profile image

Alternative Prime 6 years ago from > California

Finding the right perfume seems a lot like finding the right wine...Sooner or later the small headache might turn into a major one unless you try a different way to test drive all the flavors...

Great job on the Hub & Congrats on the Nomination

Alternative Prime

Kotori profile image

Kotori 6 years ago from Chicagoland Author

Thanks for your comments and congratulations, ripplemaker and Alternative Prime! I do think that finding a fragrance is very much like finding a wine. Both are olfactory experiences, and if you have olfactory sensitivities, then headaches might abound in either case!

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

Great info. It is always so aggravating for me to try to find a new fragrance and avoid getting the h/a. Worse is when I think I have a hit and then a few times of use and it is dissatisfying. Nice job.

congratulations on your hubnugget nomination. Welcome!

travel_man1971 profile image

travel_man1971 6 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

I like the fragrance of clear water. I can wear it all day without affecting or confusing my sense of smell. It's not too strong or to pungent.

Congratulations on your HubNugget nomination! :D

songbird718 6 years ago

What a fun and informative hub! And, congratulations on your nomination, Kotori! Love the information! Someone very dear to me has pointed me in this direction when searching for my signature scent! I have been successful finding several that include the ingredients that work for me, especially since I am very fragrance-sensitive! Great job!!!

elayne001 profile image

elayne001 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

Great advice. I have my favorite scent and always come back to it after trying others. Congrats on your nomination and good luck.

Money Glitch profile image

Money Glitch 6 years ago from Texas

Nice hub on how to find a fragrance! For me that entails one that does not stir up my allergies, one that smells good on me and doesn't get weaker or smell really bad an hour later. So far, I've found two that meets that criteria. :0

I'm bookmarking your hub to see if I can find additional tidbits that will help in this process. Thanks for sharing. Congrats on being selected as a nominee for this week's HubNuggets Wannabe Contest. Good luck to you! :)

sandun81 profile image

sandun81 6 years ago

Good article. Congrats for Hubnugget Wannabe nomination.

Eau De Toilette Spray  6 years ago

Nice article in finding a good fragrance. thanks a lot for writing such a useful article

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