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How to apply cologne so you smell amazing all day

Apply cologne and smell fantastic (without overdoing it)

Your scent speaks volumes about you- it works an invisible magic, telling the people around you about your mood, taste, and personality. In classic cartoons, animated steam wafts from a pie and pulls everyone near. Personal fragrance can do the same thing. It can deeply stir the imagination of the smeller, connecting with memory and experience, or all too often hold the attention of passersby as an all-enveloping cloud. Wearing cologne may be one of the best applications of the never-fail rule “less is more.” What is the best way to wear cologne, though? How do you avoid applying too much? Let’s start with an explanation of this cornerstone of personal grooming.

All fragrances are a mixture of oils, alcohol, and water. While the strengths and concentrations can vary from one product to another, the higher the percentage, the longer they last on the skin. Traditional colognes don’t pack a huge punch, containing around 2 to 4 percent oil.  Eau de toilette (EDT in retail lingo) is the next highest concentration of fragrance, and lasts a bit longer- think lightweight champion. Eau de parfums (EDP) are the heavyweights, with 15-20 percent oil. Pure parfums, as well as extracts, clock in at around 20 to 30 percent concentration. They would be the Muhammad Ali in this scenario. Don’t worry about accidentally purchasing pure parfum or extract; you’ll hear your wallet screaming a warning.

Once released from the bottle, those mixtures will begin to develop into what industry professionals call notes. The top notes are the first aromas that hit your nose, the true first impression. As the alcohol and water evaporate and the oils mix with your body chemistry, heart or middle notes begin to take center stage. Finally, as the day wears on, base notes remain behind. This is also called the drydown.

Fragrances are straight chemistry, and chemistry is all about transformation. Given that changing dynamic, the scent also must work with any other scented product you may be using that day. Think about how your scent of choice may interact with anything from shampoo and soap to shaving products, especially body lotion. Layering fragrances can make them last longer, which is why so many brands will offer a kit of grooming products that all include the signature scent. (As with mixology, you may also discover a cocktail of different products that works for you.)

A side profile of a man washing his face in the shower.

Shower and moisturize

It’s best to start after you’ve showered while your skin is still warm and your pores are open. Once you are dry, moisturizing your skin will assist the fragrance in absorbing into your skin more efficiently, lasting longer.


If you’re using a spray cologne, hold the bottle about four to six inches from where you want to apply the scent, preferably the upper chest area. Be careful not to rub the product once it is applied as it can damage the molecules and cause them to dissipate faster. Stick to one to two sprays, maximum. Spritzing your neck is great for a date, but may not be best for an office environment; keeping the fragrance close to your skin and under your clothes ensures the application stays subtle. Your aim is to be an intriguing mystery, not an air horn.

Best travel cologne for men

Wax solid

Solid fragrances are an unexpected scent delivery method; they’re also airplane-friendly for frequent fliers. Perfect for application on the nape of the neck and the wrists, they simply require you to swipe and go. In texture, solid fragrances resemble a beeswax-heavy balm and are designed to be rubbed into skin.  Remember, less is more, so be frugal with how much you apply.


Your nose will get used to the scent, and you will start to lose the scent throughout the day. Keep in mind that just because you don’t smell your cologne doesn’t mean that your co-workers, date, or friends can’t. You develop nose blindness, or anosmia, throughout the day. If your scent has proven to be extremely light (citrus-forward scents are notorious for leaving the party early), a discreet reapplication at home or out of doors may be in order. A friend or partner can help you identify if a scent tends to stick around or make a French exit.

How to make cologne last

Like that expensive bottle of liqueur or wine you’ve been saving, don’t store cologne in hot places like your bathroom or too near a heat source. Find a little room temperature spot, preferably one without strong light. Sun and heat will break down the components faster and make the alcohol and water evaporate sooner. A fragrance should last about three to four years. (Some say to replace in a year, but those people are also probably selling cologne.) Rancid oils and a higher concentration of alcohol can alter the fragrance and might even harm your skin.

Choosing a fragrance

Choosing the right fragrance in the first place may mean that you don’t have to worry about how long it will last because you’ll wear it fairly often. Think about what kinds of fragrances you already enjoy. Are you into long walks through the woods? Does the smell of baking cookies bring back cozy memories? Do you miss the tobacco smell but are still glad you quit smoking? Any scent that has positive associations for you has probably been worked into a fragrance.

Follow your nose. Many brands now have guides and quizzes on their websites to help discover a combination you’ll like, but there’s nothing like the real thing. If you can, hit the store during off-hours when there are less likely to be salespeople to push the latest designer creation on you. You want a reasonably calm environment in which to see what you’re drawn to. Keep your budget in mind, but there’s nothing wrong with a cologne with a price tag under three digits. Remember that if you (or your significant other) like how a fragrance smells on you, that’s what counts.

Consider the occasion, too. A musky, sexy fragrance may be great for a night out, but if you’re looking for something for the workweek, it might not be the best choice. Your collection may be very minimal, with one scent for day and one for night, or it may expand into eight, one for the office and one for your off time in each season. A lighter fragrance may be better for summer’s heat and humidity, while a warm, woody one feels perfect in winter’s chill. Just like having a perfectly fitted suit or that comfortably broken-in pair of jeans, having the right cologne can inspire confidence and spark interest.

Editors' Recommendations

Claudia Savin
Claudia is a fragrance enthusiast based in the Pacific Northwest. She has a passion for exploring unexpected and overlooked…
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