How to Apply Cologne: A Man’s Guide to Fragrance Usage
This article was updated and republished on November 20, 2021.
Most men are applying cologne the wrong way.
Knowing how to apply cologne is an art form which, if not done properly, can lead to either over-application or a scent that fades almost immediately. Since cologne for men is often an afterthought, they spray it on their clothes right before they walk out the door to start their day. This is, unfortunately, the worst way to apply cologne.
What’s more, most men don’t put much effort into choosing their personal scent. If planned properly, a man’s cologne can be an important part of their personal style. A good cologne can make you feel more attractive and confident, which helps you appear that way to those around you.
If fragrance is so important, why are only 36 percent of men wearing cologne on a regular basis? A lack of education may play a large part. If you’re wondering how to properly purchase, apply and store cologne, read on. You can also find our handy infographic below.
One of the fears many men harbor about fragrance revolves around over-application. Most people have known or worked with an individual that wore way too much cologne. In order to avoid being “that guy” you should apply sparingly. You should also apply strategically so that the cologne you put on lasts all day. This is the proper way to apply cologne:
How to Apply Cologne
- Apply right after you shower onto dry skin.
The shower cleanses your body of any other scents and opens your pores, which helps the scent absorb. Completely dry your skin and then spray.
- Hold the spray bottle 3–6 inches from your body.
If you hold the bottle any closer you risk over-applying; any further and you will likely under-apply.
- Apply cologne to heated areas of your body.
The heat helps diffuse the scent throughout the day and allows it to meld with your body chemistry to develop your signature scent. Heated areas include your neck, chest, pulse points, forearms or inner elbows.
- Start with a light application.
If you are new to using fragrances do not apply cologne to all of the aforementioned heated body areas. Choose one area and start with one spray. If you notice that your scent fades quickly, choose another area and spray the cologne there next time you apply. You might want to ask the opinion of a close friend or family member if the application is appropriate, as you can become nose-blind to scents you wear often.
- Re-apply if needed.
Depending on the type of cologne you buy you may need to re-apply — especially if you are going out in the evening. When doing so, simply dab a little onto your pulse points.
Common Mistakes When Applying Cologne
There are a few mistakes men commonly make when applying cologne that can prevent them from getting the most out of their cologne usage. When applying the fragrance you should avoid:
- Spraying the fragrance on your clothing. Spraying cologne directly on your clothes prevents it from mixing with your natural oils, which is what gives it its unique quality. This can also prevent the scent from going through its scent stages (more on that here), rendering the scent flat and monochrome. Finally, spraying a fragrance directly on clothing can be harmful to some fabrics.
- Splashing the cologne on your skin. If using a fragrance that does not have a spray nozzle, some men splash cologne onto their skin. This is an easy way to over-apply. To apply correctly, you should place one finger over the opening of the bottle and gently tip it upside down before dabbing the scent on your body.
- Spraying a mist cloud and walking through it. While it may seem like this method prevents over-application, it actually renders the cologne almost useless. The majority of your cologne needs to be placed on your body, and applying cologne this way means most of it ends up on the floor.
- Rubbing the perfume onto the skin. Rubbing the cologne into your skin actually makes the scent fade faster as it breaks the molecular bond in the fragrance. If you’re not going to spray the fragrance then simply dab, but don’t rub.
- Applying too much cologne. A man’s fragrance should be a subtle enhancement to his image. Less is more when it comes to cologne and you do not want it to be overpowering. Start light and don’t be afraid to ask a friend or significant other if they think you need more or less cologne.
How to Buy the Right Cologne
While applying cologne the correct way is important, it’s also important to start with a scent that complements your natural body chemistry and fits your lifestyle in terms of how long the scent lasts.
For example, some colognes (usually the more expensive ones) last longer than others. There are some that start out smelling one way but smell slightly different throughout the day. You can learn which cologne is right for you by educating yourself on the complexities involved with men’s fragrance.
The Difference Between Fragrance, Perfume, Eau de Toilette and Cologne
Fragrances are mixtures of different “raw materials” or perfume oils. These “raw materials” can be natural or synthetic and are mixed with a solvent (usually alcohol) to preserve and dilute the scent.
The level of “raw material” in your fragrance will determine the length of time it will last when worn. The most diluted fragrances are the most affordable, but the more concentrated fragrances last longer and have a richer scent. The scent categories are listed below:
- Eau Fraiche: 1–3% perfume oil; usually lasts less than an hour
- Cologne (Eau de Cologne): 2–4% perfume oil; usually lasts around two hours
- Toilette (Eau de Toilette): 5–15% perfume oil; usually lasts around three hours
- Perfume (Eau de Parfum): 15–20% perfume oil; usually lasts five to eight hours
- Parfum: 20–30% perfume oil; long-lasting for up to 24 hours
While cologne is listed as a scent category, most men’s fragrances are sold in several of these concentration levels. The concentration level is usually indicated on the bottle and the fragrances are often categorized by price.
The Fragrance Lifecycle
Fragrances almost always contain three “notes”: a top note, medium note and a base note. When you’re wearing a fragrance it goes through three stages of evaporation. Top notes evaporate first, then the medium notes and then the base notes, so you should take this into consideration when choosing a scent.
- Top notes: The initial, lighter set of smells that linger on the skin soon after application. Depending on the type of fragrance you use, these smells can last from 15 minutes to two hours.
- Medium notes: The “main” elements of the fragrance that usually include heavier scents like spices or florals. This stage lasts 3–5 hours.
- Base notes: These scents develop last and are the boldest scents in the equation. These can be detected all day and are the last to evaporate, lasting 5–10 hours.
As the layers of fragrance notes evaporate the scent will change. While this may sound strange, this evolution is actually what makes a scent interesting and attractive. The higher quality fragrance you buy, the more you will notice these changes.
There is an enormous amount of scent types, and the way they blend with your particular skin can vary. It’s best to determine what scents you are initially attracted to and then test them out on your skin. The fragrance color wheel above can give you a good idea of what kinds of scents are available on the market.
For more information about scent types, read our Fragrance Wheel and Scent Families guide.
How to Test Your Cologne
Testing a cologne before you buy it is important so that you can see how it will react with your particular skin chemistry. Of course, you will not be able to test more than a few scents on your skin at a time, so there are a few steps you can take to ensure you get to sample a wide variety of scents and choose the one that is right for you.
- Research scents online. Using the colored scent wheel above and any previous knowledge of scents you might have, think about which scents might be appealing to you. Use Google to search for the fragrances that include these scents so that you have a starting point once you reach the store.Remember, you can always decide that you don’t like a certain type of scent after smelling it in person and the store representative should be able to direct you toward another scent based on your preferences.
- Use scent blotters to initially test fragrances. Choose a store that has plenty of scent options (usually a department store or specialty fragrance store). Once you’re there, use the scent blotters available to test the fragrances you are initially interested in. Scent blotters are usually small, white cardboard strips that absorb the fragrance and help you smell the scent without putting it on your body.When applying the cologne to the scent blotters, spray two or three times in a downward motion onto the blotter. Be careful not to get the scent onto your skin just yet and sniff the papers individually until you find a few scents that you really like.
- Test the fragrance on your skin. Once you have narrowed it down between two and four fragrances, it’s time to see how they react to your skin’s chemistry. Spray one cologne type on each wrist. If you’re testing more than two, spray onto your inner elbows as well. Do not test more than four at a time or this could confuse your sense of smell.
- Give the scent time to develop. Walk around the store or do something else for 30 minutes. Once the scent has had a chance to mix with the oils on your skin, give them each another sniff. In between each sniff, it can be helpful to smell something different to cleanse the nostrils (coffee works well for this).Notice how each smell has developed once it’s had a chance to work with your body chemistry. This will give you a true idea of what each cologne will smell like on you.
- If you still love it, buy it! If there is one or more fragrance you really enjoy after the 30 minute development period, it’s a good chance you’ll enjoy owning that scent.
Don’t forget, you can also do this from the comfort of your home by ordering fragrance samples online. If you prefer the help of a human attendant to help you pick your fragrance for the first time, you can always order the fragrance online next time at a discounted price.
How to Make Your Cologne Last
Cologne does not have an infinite shelf life, and many bottles will have a date on the bottom that indicates its optimal use-by date. To make your cologne last longer, keep it in its original box as light exposure over a period of time can cause fragrances to deteriorate. You can also choose to keep them in a dark drawer or cabinet, but avoid exposing them to direct sunlight if at all possible.
Fluctuations in temperature can also shorten the lifetime of a fragrance. This means that storing them in the bathroom will likely increase their likelihood of spoiling. The fluctuations in temperature and humidity can destroy the molecular integrity of the fragrance. Another place to avoid storing your fragrance is in your car, where temperatures can fluctuate rapidly.
While some colognes naturally have longer shelf lives than others, properly storing the fragrances should allow you to enjoy them for many years.
Now that you know how to pick a fragrance that speaks to your personality and mixes well with your body chemistry, you can enjoy the perks of daily cologne usage. If you apply it correctly and appropriately you may start to notice a boost in confidence and maybe even the occasional compliment. Feel free to try different fragrances in the same scent family to develop a personal scent brand that your friends and family will associate with you from now on.
For more information on the best fragrances and brands, read on:
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