The Grooming Journal

How To Buy Fragrances Online Without Testing Them

There's no need to avoid buying fragrances online, just because you haven't had a sniff. 

Man soaking in the fragrance of a flower
Words by Rebecca Loades
Jan 16, 2023 

Are you someone who prefers to shop online? Can’t stand those weekend queues or simply get overwhelmed in the store?

We completely sympathise! It’s more convenient to sit in the comfort of our own home without any pressure from a salesperson, or the hassle of our other halves telling us to ‘hurry up’ and make a decision. Plus, our shopping habits have changed after the global pandemic.

However, there are some drawbacks to shopping online and the main one being that we can’t physically see a product and test it out. This can call for disaster, especially when it comes to fragrances as we all need our noses to get a sniff before we press the purchase button. 

Buying a fragrance without testing it, can feel high-risk, particularly if it’s a gift for someone else. However, once you know what you’re looking for, it will make for a much easier process.

A question you need to ask, if the purchase is for yourself, is do you want a similar fragrance to what you already wear, or something completely new? If you want to play it safe, it’s best to take note (no pun intended) of the notes in your favourite eau de parfum or cologne and find one with the same notes. Otherwise, if you like wearing, say a citrusy fragrance, and want to go rogue, why not try something more earthy or spicy? It’s good to mix it up!

Fragrances can trigger emotions and memories and buying online may not achieve the same impact, but if you’re willing to dip your toe in something different, it might be time to make some new memories! 

When choosing a fragrance, the best way to start is to make sure you understand the different fragrance categories and ‘families’.

Do you know your cologne from your eau de parfum? Do you know which is the longest lasting and which will give you a lighter spritz?

Also, understand the ‘structure’ of a fragrance; the heart, middle, and base notes. The notes, and layers, are what make up the characteristic of a fragrance. Once you’ve understood all of that, you’ll quickly find yourself becoming a fragrance expert! 

Fragrance oils being dropped with a pipette

The Fragrance Pyramid

The fragrance pyramid (also known as the olfactory pyramid) explains the composition of a fragrance: the top, the heart, and the base. Professional perfumiers are paid the big bucks for formulating just the right balance of notes throughout these layers.

The notes are what give the fragrance its unique character, and place it into a specific category (see more on that below). The top notes are what you will pick up first, when you smell a fragrance. It will be a powerful hit which will give you your first impression, but due to the size of the molecules, it is the top notes that disappear the quickest. Once the top notes have evaporated, your nose is exposed to the heart notes which are the ‘chunkiest’ part of the fragrance.

The heart gives the fragrance an intensity and can last and develop on the skin for a few hours.

The base notes are then what is left, but they certainly aren’t any less important as they are the notes that are evident when your fragrance has settled (known as the ‘dry-down’).

Think about when you pick up your jumper at the end of the day and it still smells of the fragrance; the majority of what’s left are the base notes. 

When it comes to shopping online, make sure you read about the notes for each fragrance.

This is really important as it will give you an idea of how it will smell when first sprayed, and then what scent you will be left with after a good hour or so.

A high quality fragrance should develop down through the layers of notes, and won’t just smell of alcohol after you’ve sprayed it. 

The Fragrance Wheel & Fragrance Categories

You might have heard of The Fragrance Wheel. If you haven’t, this is a diagram which was originally created in 1949, by Paul Jellink, and since then has been altered and developed.

The original ‘wheel’ breaks down fragrance into 4 categories: Oriental, Woody, Floral and Fresh.

Since the introduction of the first fragrance wheel, a couple more categories have been added: Fougere and Gourmand. These key categories are then broken down further into subcategories (i.e green, water, citrus, soft floral, dry woods). Although these are quite specific, more modern fragrances tend to blur the lines between the categories and a fragrance can quite easily slot into multiple categories. Hopefully, that hasn’t confused you further!

If you look where your favoured notes fit into these categories, you’ll find it a lot easier when shopping.

Fragrance wheel by Michael Edwards, 1983.

Fragrance Strengths

So, sitting on your bedside table you might have a collection of fragrances with different concentrations, i.e a cologne, eau de toilette, or eau de parfum. It’s easy to get confused when it comes to determining which one of these is the ‘weakest’ and which is the ‘strongest’.

The higher the concentration of oils within the fragrance, the less amount of alcohol there is, and therefore the higher the potency of the fragrance and the longer it will last on the skin (known in the industry as the sillage). The downside is that a stronger fragrance will cost you more! 

You can see the list of fragrance strengths below:

Eau Fraiche - 1-3% concentration of perfume oils (also contains water)
Eau de Cologne - 2-5% concentration of perfume oils - lasts around 2 hours.
Eau de Toilette - 5-15% concentration of perfume oils - lasts 3 to 4 hours.
Eau de Parfum - 15-20% concentration of perfume oils - lasts 4 to 5 hours.
Parfum - 20-40% concentration of perfume oils - lasts 6 to 8 hours. 

The most popular fragrances are eau de parfum (EDP) and eau de toilette (EDT). When it comes to deciding what strength of fragrance will suit you, think about what you will be using it for.

An eau de toilette is a great strength for the summer months as it can offer a light and fresh spritz; which also makes for a good day-time option.

A stronger eau de parfum would be suited for the evening, if you want to make an impact, and for taking you into the winter months with a deep and rich scent. It can be cost effective to use an eau de parfum because you need less of it and a few spritzes in the morning can last you through the day. 

Top Tips For Buying Fragrances Online

1. Samples & Travel-Sized Fragrances

One of the best ways to try before you buy is to get your hands on a sample. A lot of fragrance brands offer samples which are mini vials of the scent. These can be picked up in-store (if you happen to be out and about) and online.

Depending on the size of the sample, it will usually be available for a relatively low price. The other option is to buy a travel-sized version. These are larger than a sample and are designed to be slipped into your hand luggage for a weekend away. These sizes are a great way to get to know a brand and their fragrance ingredients.

Keep an eye out for Discovery Sets too which usually contain around 3 to 5 different travel-sized vials for you to test out. 

2. Reviews

Brands depend on reviews; they need a good review to boost their ratings and sales online.

Check out their key retailers to find a list of consumer reviews. Also, search for videos on YouTube or TikTok to find some genuine thoughts on new releases - just watch out for any sponsored content as there may be a touch of bias…!

Trending fragrances
will undoubtedly receive a wealth of online reviews. These are obviously subjective, as everyone has different tastes with fragrances, but it might give you a general gist about whether a fragrance is worth a spritz or not. 

3. Descriptions

Brands spend a lot of time on fragrance descriptions in order to really get those sales in! Although they are a well-thought out form of fragrance marketing, they can actually be extremely useful when it comes to finding a fragrance that you will enjoy wearing.

Retailers and brands generally list exactly which oils have been used and which notes are most prevalent. If you aren’t sure what the ingredient is, get google out! It’s worth doing because brands are coming up with more and more unusual ingredients, and you don’t want to end up being disappointed. 

 4. Ask Around

We’ve all walked past someone and thought “wow, they smell great” and wondered what fragrance they are wearing. Well, we say, don’t be shy! Why not ask them?

Most people will be flattered to be asked what fragrance they are wearing. Take a mental note of it and then get yourself online. Just a reminder though, that fragrances can actually smell slightly different from one person to another. Also, ask your mates what they like to wear - is there a better way to get a genuine review? 

5. Quiz Yourself!

Keep a look out for fragrance quizzes. You will be asked questions about what scents and notes you prefer: citrus, aromatic, floral; if you like something subtle or strong; and if you’re looking for something to wear for the daytime or nighttime. 

Discover Your Scent On Humanery!

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