Beauty Q&A: Why Does Perfume Smell Different on Everyone?

August 19, 2020
Samantha Holender
By: Samantha Holender | Makeup.com by L'Oréal
perfume smells different on differnt people

If there’s one thing we’ve learned through our love of fragrance, it’s that online shopping for your signature scent is definitely not the move. Perfume can smell a heck of a lot different on your friend or on the paper blotter in Sephora than it does on your skin. Take, for example, a citrusy perfume that smells deliciously sweet on one person yet oddly sour on another. To figure out why perfume oxidizes differently on different people and what scent profile is best for each skin type, we turned to fragrance expert Matthew Miléo and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Howe


Why Does the Smell of Perfume Change?

If you love the smell of a fragrance on a friend, it can be tempting to order what they’re wearing right then and there. We suggest trying it before buying it though because depending on your skin type, the perfume may smell a lot different on you. “Perfume is going to smell differently based on your individual skin condition like how oily your skin is and its acidity,” says Miléo, who founded the oud-based skin-care brand Miléo New York. “One’s own pheromone make-up also plays a role in how a scent will unravel and which notes will heighten or soften from the fragrance accord.” He explains that someone with oily skin will retain the smell of top notes, which are typically from citrus peel and flower tops, whereas someone with dry skin will pull in the perfume’s natural oils and make the smell dissipate faster. 

Dr. Howe explains that the oxidation of fragrance is also heavily connected to the skin’s pH level. “The pH is a measure of the acid or base level of the skin eventironment,” he says. “Skin that is either too acidic or too basic can cause a perfume to break down.” The way in which your skin either eats the perfume (think: acidic or dry skin) or emphasizes the essential oils (think: more basic or oilier) in the fragrance will change the notes emphasized. He adds that other factors, such as your body’s temperature or natural odor, can also alter how the perfume wears on your body. “When we smell a perfume on us, we’re really smelling the blended mixture of that perfume and our own body scent — that’s always the case,” says Dr. Howe. “It’s like when someone applies foundation, you know the result you see is a mixture of both their own skin tone with that of the product.” 

What Scent Profile Should You Look For? 

While it’s always best to test a perfume before investing in the bottle, knowing your skin type can help inform what notes you should look for in a perfume. Dr. Howe says that oilier skin types cause fragrances to “pop” more and can emphasize sweet top notes. Drier skin types, however, have a tendency to weaken the scent from the smell in the bottle and should look for bolder scents.

Miléo agrees, adding that oilier skin types should look for lighter, more delicate fragrances with top notes like mandarin, lavender and white lotus petal. We love the Giorgio Armani My Way Eau de Parfum. “They will naturally smell richer and more pronounced on oily skin than on normal or drier skin types,” he says. “To the contrary, dry skin types do best with fuller, robust fragrances that are anchored with heavy base notes like sandalwood, oud, violet leaf or vanilla.” We suggest the Maison Margiela Replica By the Fireplace. And if you have normal skin? Rest assured that your perfume should smell the most true to the bottle. 


Photo: Chaunte Vaughn, Design: Hannah Packer

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