How to Spray and Apply Cologne the Right Way (Most People Do It Wrong)

We previously explored why it’s important to wear colognes and perfumes. (I’m going to call them “fragrances” for the rest of this article.) A great fragrance isn’t just an excellent method of self-expression, but can boost your confidence and help you stand out among your peers. Style goes beyond your clothing alone.

But once you have a fragrance that you want to wear, it’s important that you wear it the proper way. Fragrances are complex chemical mixtures that exhibit unique scent qualities, and each fragrance is designed to evolve in certain ways over the course of wear. That’s why in order to reap the full benefits of a particular fragrance, you need to wear them as their designers intended!

The Wrong Way to Wear Fragrances

The absolute worst thing you can do is spray a mist of fragrance into the air and walk through it. Yes, the chemicals will land in your hair and on your clothes, and you will carry the scent with you for a little while—but you’re missing out on a lot of complexity if you do this!

Most fragrances, like the ones you see in mall department stores, are alcohol-based solutions mixed with various molecular compounds in varying ratios. This is because alcohol is a quick-evaporating liquid, and that evaporation action is why a fragrance continues to smell and travel through the air long after it’s applied.

Alcohol-based fragrances are designed to be applied to skin because the heat from your skin encourages the fragrance to keep evaporating. Now, keep in mind that the different chemicals in a fragrance evaporate at different rates, and this is what allows the scent of a fragrance to evolve over the course of wear. For this to happen, the application needs to somewhat concentrated—walking through a mist of cologne is problematic because the mist is so thin that everything evaporates right away, leaving behind a shallow scent that doesn’t evolve.

This is also why people warn against “rubbing” a fragrance, as the heat from friction causes parts of the fragrance to evaporate too quickly.

Furthermore, the chemicals in a fragrance are meant to interact with the oils in your skin, and because not all skins are the same, fragrances can react differently depending on who wears them. That’s why a particular fragrance can smell amazing on one person and terrible on another person, and it’s this skin reaction that deepens the complexity of many fragrances.

Long story short? Don’t spray-and-walk! Don’t rub!

The Right Way to Apply Fragrances

How to Apply Spray Colognes and Perfumes

Hold the atomizer head approximately 6 inches from your skin. Spray and let dry naturally. If you want, you can gently touch (not rub) the wet fragrance with another part of your body so that each contact point gets half a dose. For example, if one spray on each wrist is too strong, you can spray on one wrist and then touch wrists for half-strength each.

How to Apply Dab Colognes and Perfumes

Dabbing is only necessary when you have non-atomized vials, which you’ll run into a lot if you collect a lot of samples and decants. When dabbing, pinch the vial between thumb and middle finger, then cover the opening with the tip of your index finger. Give the vial a quick shake, then dab your finger to where you want it applied.

Note: A single dab is a lot weaker than a single spray. Adjust accordingly.

How to Apply Roller Colognes and Perfumes

Roller applicators aren’t very popular, but you may run into one (especially if you delve into the world of non-alcoholic fragrance oils). These are vial-like bottles with balled tips that you invert, touch to your skin, and roll around for the liquid to apply. You have to make sure the liquid in the bottle first touches the ball, then make sure the ball rolls enough for that liquid to touch your skin.

Where Should You Apply Fragrances?

There’s a lot of pseudoscience out there about applying fragrances to “pulse points” because they are “hotter” than other parts of the body and therefore “activate” the fragrance to be more effective. This is all complete nonsense with no scientific foundation. Want the quick answer? Apply wherever you want.

Here’s how I personally apply fragrances:

First, I avoid the areas of my body that make constant contact with other surfaces. My inner wrists and backs of my hands constantly rub against my pants when I reach into a pocket, so I never apply there. My forearms are always on my desk as I work, so that’s no good. I avoid my armpits, elbow pits, and groin because the skin there is always rubbing. In the winter, I avoid my neck due to rubbing from scarves.

Second, I think about how someone else might experience the scent. For example, I like to apply behind my ears or around my temples because that’s a guaranteed whiff during hugs. I also like to apply on the outside of my wrists—the part that’s still exposed even when I reach into a pocket—as that lets my scent drift whenever I reach for something. The chest is also a good spot because the scent radiates forward through the collar during face-to-face conversations.

How Many Sprays Should You Apply?

My personal rule is that fragrances should only be detectable by someone who is in your proximity, ideally in your personal space. You don’t want to be the one who leaves the entire office smelling like your perfume long after you’ve left. You don’t want to be the one who people can smell as you’re coming down the hallway.

Nobody likes being smothered and suffocated by fragrances!

Rather, your scent should be one that’s enjoyed, which means limiting exposure to personal interactions. Speaking face-to-face? Walking by your seat? Coming in for a hug? That’s when you want people to get a whiff of your fragrance. A little goes a long way, and it’s more likely to leave them wanting more as they leave.

With that in mind, I typically split two sprays across four contact points: one spray on the outer wrist, then touched to the temple. Repeat for the other wrist and temple. Occasionally, I will also spray my chest before wearing a shirt.

Joel Lee

Joel is editor in chief at Modern Ratio. He contributes the occasional article and manages the overall vision of the site. He holds a B.S. in Computer Science and is based in Pennsylvania.