How to find a perfume without smelling it

It seems like an impossible task. But fear not! We got you

Hero image in post
photo: Instagram via @billieeilish
Hero image in post
photo: Instagram via @billieeilish

It seems like an impossible task. But fear not! We got you

By Sophie Williams22 Nov 2022
7 mins read time
7 mins read time

It’s always nice to smell nice, and for however many years, we’ve been buying perfume for exactly that reason. Whether it’s an expensive one solely for going out purposes or it’s a cheapy for an everyday spritz, the smellies we buy will come via the internet, just like so much of our shopping. But when it comes to buying perfume online, it’s not as simple as ordering a pair of jeans that you know will fit. Master perfumer Ruth Mastenbroek, a former president of the British Society of Perfumers and her son Nic admit that trying to find the perfect fragrance without having access to it “is notoriously challenging because of the obvious limitation – you can’t smell through a screen.” But it’s not over, people - there are ways that you can make the process easier, and knowing a little bit about different scents in the first place is a start.

It’s handy to know this for reasons other than whether you think you’ll like the smell of a perfume or not, too. Like did you know that fragrances can be good for mental health and well-being? A 2005 study titled Effects of Fragrance on Emotions: Moods and Physiology found that an aroma has the capacity to promote stress reduction and improve mood, and positive scents are important invisible elements that can be used to reinforce the way we act and uplift us within miliseconds.. It’s no wonder the essential oils market was valued at a whopping $20.28 billionin 2021.

But now we know there’s more to perfume than just smelling great, it makes picking the right one even more important.

What are perfume notes?

Perfume notes are basically the ingredients that make up a fragrance, and according to Ruth, they help to “tell the story of the perfume.”

“As perfumers, we distinguish between top, middle and base layers which we often depict in the form of a triangle,” she says.

The top tier is what you’re going to smell on the first spritz and comprisestop note ingredients that can include citrus, herbal and fruity scents. The next tier is the heart notes(we’re talking spicy, floral and green, etc.) and you’ll smell them once the first layer of scents have evaporated. The bottom tier is the fragrances that will stay on your skin for the longest, and they’re called the base notes. They typically have a lot of depth to them and include tones of ambers, woods, musks and resins.

Ruth says it’s important to “pay attention to all three of the layers.” Why? Because in a shop setting, a lot of people make their final decision on the initial smell without letting the rest of the layers develop. So, when it comes to buying perfume online, shoppers might not realise that they’re not actually a fan of the middle or base notes. Or that they’re not sure about the top note ingredients, but they actually love the middle and base.

Unpacking this in such a logical way can be really beneficial when you’re not actually able to smell the fragrance. It means you can check the ingredients on the website and work out whether or not the perfume is for you - or whoever you’re buying it for.

Understanding perfume descriptions

When it comes to descriptions, it’s a lot less technical than understanding fragrance notes. In fact, the narrative describing the scent is somewhat like the synopsis of a film. It’s meant to touch the emotional side of someone and capture their imagination - like who are they channelling as they spritz and walk into the perfume?

Essentially, descriptions can set the scene of the scent. Brands want the people writing them to use language that paints a picture in the buyer’s mind, and of course, make their product sound as desirable as possible.

What are fragrance families?

This is the simple way to describe where the fragrance belongs, in terms of type or style. Ruth suggests looking at it like you would with the genre of a film. Is it comedy? Horror? Thriller? This is an easy way for a shopper to know what to expect, especially when you’re buying perfume online.

However, in perfumery, the rules aren’t necessarily that strict when it comes to which family a scent resides in. Apparently, it’s pretty common for brands to decide how to categorise the scent, and it’s often open to interpretation.

That said, there are four key fragrance categories that live on the fragrance wheel (a round diagram that shows the different scent families and subfamilies). These are woody, fresh, floral and amber. The subfamily scents are organised based on their similarities and differences, plus showing the relationship they have with one another. For example, a scent can belong to more than one subcategory, like fruity which can live under floral and fresh, or aromatic, which can come under woody and fresh.

Once you’ve understood how to interpret perfume notes, knowing which fragrance family a brand has placed a perfume in can be especially helpful when you’re purchasing on the internet. Basically, it gives you a quick glimpse of the types of notes you can expect.

The best tips for buying perfume online

All clued up on the technicalities of fragrances and now eager to get spending? Whether you’re buying for yourself, your mum, your gran, your best mate or literally anyone you know, we’ve got a bunch of great tips for getting perfume online. (With a little help from the professionals, of course.)

  1. Make use of your other senses: This includes sight (photos, videos, imagery), and written texts (look at the fragrance ingredients and the fragrance descriptions.) Brands go into a lot of detail when it comes to creating the perfect picture for potential customers, so utilise the information you’ve got in front of you.

  2. For those who need a bit of inspo or guidance: There are loads of fragrance finder and scent quizzes online. They’re the perfect opportunity for consumers to gather free information based on their likes and dislikes and then be presented with a perfume based on their preferences.

  3. Look at reviews: You can always look at the reviews of perfumes to see how other people have responded to them. For example, if there’s a fragrance that’s being plugged by a celeb, or in the middle of a big marketing campaign, chances are, a lot of people will have been swayed to buy it. Which means there’s likely to be a lot of reviews online. See what others have said before committing to buying a bottle, as many times, people will describe their perfume preferences in reviews and then compare them to the fragrances.

  4. Buy a sample: This is obviously the safest way to decide whether you like a scent or not. Samples are usually pretty cheap, and most websites offer them as a “try before you buy” marketing technique. Plus, lots of brands also sell “Discovery Sets”, which consist of several of their fragrances. You can try them all out on your skin before you buy a full-sized bottle, and it helps to avoid major disappointment when you’ve shelled out lots of money.

Buying perfume without smelling it and picking the perfect scent? Completed it, babes.