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Elisa Gabbert: 4 Perfume Myths, Debunked!

Elisa Gabbert is a fragrance obsessive. Her perfume column, On the Scent, appears monthly in Open Letters, an online arts and literature review. She currently lives in Boston, where she reads, writes, and occasionally teaches poetry and blogs about technology for a software startup. She spends too much time on the Internet and too much money on perfume. You can keep up with her via Twitter or her blog, The French Exit.

I hear these myths over and over again--don't believe the hype!

1. Don't put perfume directly on your skin; spray it in the air and walk through it.

Yep, I saw that scene inUntamed Heart too, but this really isn't necessary. In the '70s and '80s, perfumes got so strong that this advice made sense. These days, few perfumes are so strong that you can't just spray them right on. Test your perfume at home before wearing it out, especially to work, to see how strong it is. I usually wear at least three sprays: one on each arm and one on my chest/neck.

Marisa Tomei in Untamed Heart. Photo Credit: moviepro.net

2. Natural perfumes are less likely to trigger allergies.

The exact opposite is true. Natural materials are far more complex, and therefore contain more potential allergens. The good news for allergy sufferers is that industry restrictions limit the number of potential allergens a commercial perfume can contain. (The bad news: Older perfumes are frequently reformulated to keep up with changing restrictions, and are often ruined in the process.) I'm allergic to practically everything (cats, dogs, dust, grass--I'm lots of fun on a picnic), but perfume doesn't bother me a bit. If you have sensitive skin, try spraying it on your clothes.

3. Perfume is for women; cologne is for men.

"Cologne" can actually refer to two things--the eau de cologne concentration, which is weaker than eau de toilette, eau de parfum, or pure parfum, so it doesn't last as long; or a specific "accord" (which is like the scent equivalent of a chord in music, a familiar arrangement of notes) of citrus notes layered over light herbal or floral notes and woods. It's true that both the formulation and the accord are associated with the men's side of the store, but that doesn't mean women can't wear them. Similarly "perfume" isn't only for women. (I wish more men would stray to the women's department; men's scents all smell the same!) More and more lines are dropping the distinction between feminine and masculine scents entirely--see Serge Lutens.

Serge Lutens "A La Nuit", $120 for 1.69oz, aedes.com

4. You have to find your "signature scent."

Unless you already have one, don't make finding your "signature scent" a life quest. I think of perfume more like jewelry or shoes, something you vary based on your mood, the weather, your outfit, the occasion. Having at least two scents is a good idea: a fun one and a serious one, say--you can't wear Angel to the board meeting--or a lighter one for summer and a heavier one for winter. If you do find one perfume you can never live without, stock up--perfumes get changed or discontinued all the time.

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