Applying a cologne is one of the most impactful things most men—even those interested in fashion and grooming—don’t even try. Smelling good isn’t just about attracting others; it makes you feel more confident and appealing to yourself. But only 23% of men regularly wear cologne.
I imagine one of the main reasons most men won’t try colognes is the fact that they can be tricky to apply correctly. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be very easy to under-apply your cologne so that it is barely noticeable and wears off immediately. Or even worse, to put it on too strong. No one wants to be “that guy” overpowering everyone around you with Drakkar Noir.
But I’ve got you covered. With this simple guide, you’ll be picking the perfect scent and smelling great in no time.
How to Choose Cologne
Before you’re ready to learn how to apply it, you need to pick out the right cologne for you. There’s a wide variety of different factors to consider.
The scent of a cologne comes through in three stages. The initial scent is the top note. The top note comes from the evaporation of the lightest molecules in the cologne and lasts for the first few minutes.
The mid notes, or heart notes, typically emerge just after the top notes fade. That is the most robust scent in the cologne. Next come the base notes, which mix with the heart notes as they fade and remain for several hours after they are gone.
It is imperative to keep these stages in mind when selecting a cologne. If you only pay attention to the first thing you smell, that will only be the top notes, and not the primary scent of the cologne.
Cologne is made from scented oils diluted in a mixture of alcohol and water. The more oil is in the mixture, the stronger the scent will be, and the longer it will last (and vice versa). There are several different concentration levels, with specific classifications. Those include:
- Eau Fraiche: 1-3%
- Eau de Cologne (EDC): 2-4%
- Eau de Toilette (EDT): 4-8%
- Eau de Parfum (EDP): 8-15%
- Parfum: 15-25%
I recommend purchasing a scent in one of the middle tiers. And if you’re new to cologne, it is probably best to start on the low end, with an EDC.
Colognes come in scent profiles of just about any variety. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what scent profile fits your personality. But here are a few pointers to help you get started.
I recommend rotating your fragrance with the seasons. In the fall and winter, earthy scents with heavy spices work great. In the spring and summer, lighter scents with floral or citrus notes tend to be a good fit.
Another critical note—when you are sampling colognes, don’t just spray them onto paper or in the air. Spray the ones you like directly onto your arm. Colognes react with the natural oils on our skin and actually produce different scents on different people. So it may have a completely different scent when you’re wearing it than it does in the bottle.
It’s also essential to remember to wait past the initial top notes. If you’re strongly considering a cologne, you can even apply a sample and go about your day, to ensure you get the full spectrum of top notes, heart notes, and base notes. If you like the whole package, you can return later on to make the purchase.
What Not to Do
Ok, so you have your cologne picked out. Before we dive into the best approach to application, let’s run down this list of common mistakes. These application techniques lead to barely noticeable, quick-fading scents, or overpowering overapplications.
Don’t: Apply Directly Onto Your Clothing
We start with one of the most common application techniques: just spray some cologne on your collar as you’re walking out the door. And it is little but a waste of time and money.
When you spray cologne on your clothing instead of your body, it doesn’t mix with the natural oils on your skin and therefore does not produce the fullest fragrance. It also won’t last as long and won’t go through the full array of notes.
You need to spray quite a lot, or else the scent will be faint. And to top it all off, the oils are harmful to some fabrics. This is a common technique, but you shouldn’t even consider it if you want your fragrance to be effective.
Don’t: Spray a Cloud and Walk Through It
Next is a classic technique for beginners who are worried about applying too much. And it’s true that it effectively ensures you won’t have an overwhelming scent. Plus, the cologne does get on your skin to interact with your natural oils, so it is a better approach than spraying it on your clothing.
However, it also means a faint, quick-fading scent. And it’s not a very economical technique. You need to spray a sizeable cloud each time, and most of it ends up on your bathroom floor.
Don’t: Spray Too Close
If you spray from an inch or two away, you practically guarantee an overpowering scent. Cologne is made from concentrated oil, and if you spray it directly on your skin from up close, it’s going to be too strong.
It’s essential to spray from a reasonable distance (more on this later) to give yourself a nice subtle fragrance. Cologne shouldn’t be in your face; they should be a background, complementary feature to bring your persona together.
Don’t: Rub the Cologne On Your Skin
It seems perfectly intuitive: if you want the scent to be long-lasting, rub in the cologne. That will make sure the fragrance gets deep into your skin and lasts as long as possible, right?
Rubbing it in actually breaks the molecular bond that forms between the cologne and your skin. That means that rather than being long-lasting, the cologne will evaporate as quickly as possible, and the scent will fade fast.
Some colognes don’t come with a spray bottle, but you should still avoid rubbing it in. Don’t splash it on either, as this is an easy way to apply way too much. If you get this kind of bottle, carefully dab on your cologne, without rubbing.
How to Apply Cologne
So, you’ve selected your cologne, and you know what common mistakes to avoid. Here’s what you’ve been waiting for: my breakdown of how to apply cologne. Just follow these tips, and you’ll have a perfect, subtle fragrance.
Where to Apply
The first thing to consider is where on your body to apply the cologne. As we’ve discussed, spraying on your clothing, or walking through a mist cloud are not very useful techniques. The best approach is to apply the cologne directly to pulse points or other warm areas of your body.
That helps the cologne bond with your skin. It also plays a role in diffusing the scent all over your body. Pulse points emit more heat than other parts of your body, and this helps activate the cologne. That will ensure the scent lasts as long as possible without having to over-apply.
I recommend applying to your neck or wrists (where you would take your pulse), but a surprisingly effective place is the back of your knees! If you do apply to your wrists, make sure not to rub your wrists together. I know we’ve all seen people do that in the movies, but as we mentioned, that will break down the molecular bond and cause the scent to fade.
Wherever you apply your cologne, make sure you let it dry first and foremost.
When to Apply
Your cologne will work best if you apply it immediately after your shower. The warm water opens your pores, maximizing the molecular bond between the cologne and your skin. The shower also rids your body of any excess scents that might interfere with the fragrance of the cologne.
But make sure not to apply it to wet skin! Dry the area thoroughly before you apply, or the cologne will fade quickly.
How to Spray
The distance from which you apply your cologne makes an enormous difference in the cologne’s effectiveness. It’s best to spray your cologne from about 3-6” away.
Spray from too close, and it’s going to be too condensed. Even if you only apply a reasonable amount, it’s going to produce an overpowering scent. Conversely, if you spray from more than 6”, you’re practically creating that mist cloud we know now to avoid. Most of your cologne will wind up on the bathroom floor, and the scent will quickly fade.
If you’re spraying from the right distance, you don’t need to spray much to create a subtle, effective fragrance. If you’re a beginner, I recommend starting with just one or two sprays per day and gradually working your way up to three or four. Remember to do it each day, so that it becomes a natural part of your morning routine.
Ultimately, I wear cologne for myself. When I like the way I smell, it makes me feel more confident, and other people perceive that. But when you’re just starting out, one of the best ways to figure out what cologne you like and, even more so, how much to wear is to ask people you trust.
What do you think of my cologne? Did you notice it? Am I wearing too much? Some of your friends might give you a hard time at first, but if you ask people you trust to give you real answers, this can be a real help in finding the perfect amount to apply.
The Final Word
So there you have it. Finding the right fragrance, and applying it properly, can be a tricky proposition for a beginner. But once you do, it can make a huge difference in both the way you carry yourself and the way others perceive you.
And if you follow this guide, you’ll be smelling great in no time. Apply your cologne to clean dry skin right after a shower, preferably on a pulse point. Spray no more than a few times, from 3-6” away. That will ensure an effective, long-lasting fragrance that isn’t overpowering.