With so many fragrances available, how can we know which ones are best for us? We can choose from scented lotions and creams, fragrance oils in pocket sprays and rollerball bottles. Many fragrant products include a combination of both natural and man made materials; the latter are often developed in flavor and fragrance laboratories as a cost-effective way to create safer, more stable and often truer-to-life aromas.

Fragrance formats & application

When applying scent, it is best to apply to warm pulse points or naturally oily areas. I recommend the backs of wrists, behind the knees, on the front or back of the neck and even in the hair, and for men, on the chest and back. Because of the alcohol content of fragrance, it is best to avoid sensitive skin areas such as the face. Since perfume is generally oil diluted in alcohol and water, applying a hydrating body cream first will help hold perfume oils to the skin for a longer time.

Deodorants, shower gels and aftershaves are common for men, while body lotions and creams, hair mists and bath products are often marketed to women. Essential oils are often potent, undiluted essences of natural materials and should be used with caution on the skin due to their concentrations.

When it comes to choosing a fragrance, it helps to read blogs and websites to learn more about your options. However, nothing beats the actual experience of wearing a scent, because it’s how the scent works on you that matters, not the brand, packaging or celebrity attached to it.

When applying scent, it is best to apply to warm pulse points or naturally oily areas.

Words most commonly seen on bottles and boxes, eau de parfum and eau de toilette, are French terms that denote the concentration of fragrance oils in each bottle of alcohol and water. Pure parfum, or extrait (extract), has the highest concentration of fragrance oils and is the most expensive and often the longest lasting. Eau de parfum has a lower concentration than pure parfum, and eau de toilette has a slightly lower concentration than that.

Cologne or eau de Cologne — named after the city of its creation, Cologne, Germany — initially referred to a specific formula of ingredients including light and refreshing citruses and herbs. Cologne now often instead refers to a fragrance with an even lower concentration than eau de toilette. Aftershaves and body sprays have the lowest concentration of fragrance oils.

These terms developed over hundreds of years after a rosemary-based fragrance called l’eau de la reine d’Hongrie (“Hungary water” or “water of the queen of Hungary”) was created for a Hungarian queen in the 14th century.

Longevity refers to how long a fragrance lasts on the skin; development refers to how a scent changes over time; and sillage is a French term that refers to the trail or cloud of a scent.

Marlen Elliot Harrison is a columnist and the Managing Editor for Fragrantica.com. His articles about the fragrance industry have appeared in international print and online publications such as Men’s Journal, Men’s Health and the New York Times. Marlen is also a regular contributor to BeautyAlmanac.com and works as a graduate professor of English.