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Time for a new perfume? Update your signature scent

Adrienne Wyper / 12 March 2019

Ageing can affect how scent smells on us, and how well we can smell it, making your 50s the perfect time to take a fresh look at fragrance.

Pretty pink perfume bottle surrounded by flowers

As we get older, our sense of smell starts to fade. It’s officially known as presbyosmia. And that can mean that, unable to gauge how much perfume we’re wearing, we wear too much.

This decline in our sense of smell can also mean that stronger scents become more appealing, as subtle aromas can be lost on us. Up to half of over-60s can be affected by a reduced sense of smell, and by the age of 80 over 60% of us will be affected. Women have more olfactory cells in the nose, where smells are processed, so are less affected than men.

How to tell if you're wearing too much

Ask a younger friend or family member with a good sense of smell. Ideally, your perfume should be perceptible only at close range, not leaving an invisible wake as you walk around. Remember, we can’t smell our own perfume after about half an hour, but others can…

Set your level by spritzing on a couple of sprays on your pulse points (neck, wrists, behind the knees) or as Coco Chanel put it: ‘where you want to be kissed’.

Start with one dab or squirt, and check with your assistant. When your assistant says enough, remember how much you applied, and apply the same amount in future. That way, you can be confident that you’re not surrounded by an cloying fog of fragrance.

How smell affects your body and mind

How smells change with age

You may have loved Chanel no5 or Aramis all your life, but do you find it doesn’t smell the same as it used to? 

Changes in the chemistry of our skin as we age, including changes in moisture levels, temperature and changing hormone levels caused by menopause, can interact with a scent’s ingredients, making it seem different. 

Declining oestrogen levels after menopause mean less sebum is secreted, leading to drier skin. This lack of sebum means that the active components in perfume dissipate faster from the skin.

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Facts on fragrance

Remember that the various forms of fragrance vary in intensity (and price), according to the concentration of the original blend of oils and aromatic compounds in alcohol. 

Eau de cologne is the lowest strength (and lowest price), lasting about two hours. 

Next is eau de toilette, lasting around four hours; eau de parfum, good for about six hours. Finally, parfum is the strongest, lasting all day.

Perfumes are divided into four main families: oriental, with exotic, spicy notes; woody, masculine and musky; floral, light and sweet, from flowers; and citrus, with zesty, fruity notes.

The structure of a perfume is also divided, into three sets of notes: top, middle (or heart), and base.  These refer to how quickly the scent dissipates. Top notes go first, then middle, leaving the base notes to linger longest.

How to shop for a new scent

Caught a whiff of an enticing aroma on a friend, or even a stranger? Don’t be shy; ask them what it is and make a note; they’ll love the compliment on their taste. Remember that it may smell different on you.

Go shopping with clean, unscented skin, an open mind and time on your hands. Don’t expect to find your new all-time favourite in five minutes.

Try scents from the same range as one you know you like, as a starting point. Ask advice from shop assistants. Tell them that you like, say, Miss Dior, or citrussy scents, but want to try something new.

First, sniff an open bottle, or, if it’s an atomiser, spray it into the air or onto on a paper strip, and inhale. Don’t spray it straight on to your skin in case you don’t like it. If you do like it, spray a little on one wrist. Allow to dry and inhale. Still like it? Remember, scent changes over time: the alcohol evaporates initially then the other ingredients interact with your skin’s oils, moisture levels and acidity. 

So leave it for 10 minutes and sniff again. Ideally, don’t do this with more than four fragrances: one on each wrist, and one on the crook of each elbow, or your sense of smell gets overwhelmed. Repeat the process until you find one that speaks to you.

Try an independent perfumer to get a really personalised service, and find a scent that not everyone else will have realised exists. Ormonde Jayne, for example, offer a Made-to-Measure service in their Bond Street boutique, which starts at £185 for a 50ml bottle of your chosen scent poured at 40% strength which includes engraving, gift wrapping and Champagne and chocolates to complete the experience.  

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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