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Making your perfume work for you

Hints and tips

Perfume

Perfumes are a very idiosyncratic thing, as anyone will know who's ever had a perfume bought for them that simply doesn't work - or even when you've bought something for yourself that later doesn't work (the 'what was I thinking?' issue). Here are some common problems and tips on making your existing perfumes work for you. 

It's too strong 

Use less of it. Well, doh. But the average spray delivers quite a blast and when your perfume's made of strong ingredients, it might all be a bit too much. The old trick of spraying the fume into the air and then walking through it does work, but it gets it all over the outside of you - your clothes and hair - and this may not be the best option, especially if you're just about to get on the Tube. One trick used by perfumistas is to spray perfume on a cotton-wool pad and tuck the pad into your bra, where your body heat will warm it and create private wafts of fragrance that only those close to you will pick up. You can also use the cotton pad to just apply the fume to your wrists, cleavage and backs of your knees: with a very strong perfume like Giorgio of Beverly Hills, a Q-tip is enough. You can also use strong perfumes to revitalise your car air freshener, in your vacuum cleaner filter, on a cotton-wool pad at the bottom of a wastebin or in your trainers or sportsbag, or sprayed into bicarb of soda and sprinkled as a carpet freshener. 

It's too weak

No matter how much of it you put on, you can't smell it 30 minutes later. To start with, you're probably using either a cologne or eau de toilette, which is a weak formulation, so if you like the fragrance, look for an eau de parfum or parfum extrait. If that's not do-able, you can slow down the escape of the volatile molecules in perfume by rubbing some Vaseline on your wrists or wearing a heavy body cream, and spraying the perfume onto that. Perfume is also slower to evaporate if you spray it on your clothes rather than yourself. With notoriously volatile lemon and citrus fragrances, however, you may have to accept that they lack longevity - this can really be quite useful if you just want to spruce up before going out to dinner, as you won't interfere with the food. Consider also using weak perfumes in the bath (just spritz the water 10-12 times before you get in), or sprayed on your towels just before wrapping yourself in them, or as a pillow spray. Better still, look for the same fragrance in a body lotion, soap or bath product - some scents just work better as toiletries rather than perfumes and are none the worse for that.

You like the top notes but not the base notes

Spray it on your pillow before sleep - that way you get the best half hour and are asleep before the rest of it kicks in.

You like the base notes but not the top notes

This one is trickier, as you do have to live through the worst of it before you get to the best of it - something that afflicts me with First by Van Cleef et Arpels. Keep the perfume on your wrists only and don't put your hands near your face for an hour or two, or spray it on a scarf and don't wear it until the fume sweetens. 

It's too flowery or too spicy

Try using it to scent drawer liners and cotton-wool balls placed among clothes in storage. Both florals and orientals last well on paper and any perfume at all will work as a moth repellent, including citrus. When scenting drawer liners, spray abundantly and then leave the paper to dry for 10 minutes or so. With cotton-wool balls, soak the cotton-wool, then place it in a cloth bag (those little organza bags that so much jewellery comes in are useful for this), so that the scent doesn't stain your clothing. This technique has worked well for me to use up some cheap musks I bought at a discount store in a moment of madness. 

It smells like room freshener

Use it as one. There's no obligation to use perfume on yourself. I use Yardley's Lavender EDT this way - way too harsh a perfume to actually use on the body, but it's nice enough in the loo. The same applies, sadly, to Serge Lutens' Gris Clair.   

It's just not right for you

A perfume has to hit you at the right stage of your life - often, as women get older, they find they can wear fragrances that were just too grown-up and glamourous when they were younger. If you really like a fragrance but it's 'not you', either give it away to someone who'll appreciate it (the best solution if it's too girly), or close it tight, rebox it and put it somewhere cool. Take it out once a year and try it, and if it's still not you after three years, it's time to pass it on. IMHO, a perfume has to be worn several times before you get a grip on its true character, so don't throw out what may one day be your true love until you've given him enough time to reveal himself. 

 

 

 

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Starting from scratch

When it comes to perfume, I'm beginning to realise I didn't really get a head start...

I was corresponding with a perfumisto friend recently when it dawned on my that in some ways, you know, I really am starting from absolute scratch when it comes to perfume. 

Tania Sanchez defines the first phase of perfume addiction as watching your mum put it on when she gets ready for the evening - the first hint of the fascinating, glamourous world outside your four walls when you're a small child.

The problem there is, my mum never went out. My parents literally went out once a year - to the 'do' at the colliery where my father worked as a miner - and that is precisely how often she wore perfume (one of those many things of which my father did not approve).

She used a tiny weeny little black bottle of Coty's L'Aimant (which means slightly more than just 'magnet' in French). It was her favourite perfume, but she wasn't allowed to wear it the rest of the year, nor any form of deodorant, nor use fabric softener, or air freshener, nor did we have scented soap in the house (or toothpaste either, but that's another story).

Our toilet (nothing so grand as a 'bathroom) smelled of the puritan wholesomeness of shit, carbolic and Vim and to this day, the smell of Jeyes Fluid can make me homesick. Maybe once a year I was given a present of skin-scouring bath salts (six to a pack) or bath oil pearls by some kind relative, and then I'd have to wait for another year.  

When I was 13, my aunty Margie gave me Astral Skin Creme Soap and the luxury of it overwhelmed me. Soap that actually lathered (my father baked the coal-tar soap, which he got free from the pit, in the airing cupboard until it was rock hard. It lathered like a stone in your hands). But this was different - soft, and fluffy, embracing, and left my hands feeling soft and fragrant.

On holidays to my glamourous Aunty Glad's house in Gayton, the scent of her bathroom, with its Lux and Camay soaps and little ladies in crinolines to hide the bog roll, was an earthly delight to me. I bought myself Norfolk Lavender perfume on trips into Norwich, and revelled in it, quickly followed by cheap-as-chips Jovan Musk, still made by Coty, and which I probably smelled of from the age of 11 to the age of 20. 

The slippery slope, clearly, though it's taken me a long time to really start sliding down it - something very common, I'm told, in young women who came of age in the era of the big heavies - Poison, Opium, Samsara, Giorgio - but who couldn't bear the olfactive reek of those big aromachemicals. Personally I retreated into the world of soliflores like Yardley's English Lavender and Jasmine from Culpeper (sadly no longer with us), or 4711 Cologne. 

So, for me, as once it was for the world of wine, the world of perfume is an unexplored territory,  which I must say I am having great fun charting. I got my first Diptyque fragrance recently, and a stack of Etat Libre d'Orange samples is on its way from an Ebay friend. 

I will report back from the frontiers...

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Eco-friendly beauty

As times goes by, I realise I'm very much going back to basics with my beauty products

It made me smile recently to realise quite how much my bathroom is beginning to resemble my kitchen.

Partly it's to do with money - the desire to not keep sending it down the drain has sent me in search of cheaper, easier options for things like washing and cleaning. But it's also to do with not wanting to constantly surround myself with chemicals. Little by little, I am stripping chemicals out of the house and out of my beauty routine. 

Firstly, to cleaning. I now use only five things in the whole house: white vinegar, alcohol, washing soda, essential oils and detergent (basically washing up liquid). These five items can be used for every type of surface - loos, sinks, floors, work surfaces, windows etc. A quick spray of white vinegar works as well to clean the tub or the toilet as it does to neutralise cat odours or brighten up the windows, while washing soda will remove dirt and grease like nothing else in the world.

No more toxic soups under the sink - no more Dettols and Dettoxes, Zofloras and God knows what else, combining nastily together to fug up the house. In the flooding that Britain was subjected to last year, under-sink chemicals became a major health hazard and water polluter and I don't want to be responsible for anything like that. 

Even our air-freshener is eco. We gave up on commercial air fresheners many years ago, due to my asthma, but I forget sometimes how generally it isn't known that you can simply use essential oils. In each room, I have a small glass spray bottle with water containing about 10 drops of essential oil: shake it, spray it and Bob's your uncle. A recent visitor was incredibly impressed with how effective this is - he'd never come across anything like it. My favourite oils, personally, are clove, cinnamon, citronella and lavender, but this method means you can use whatever you want - in winter, it's quite nice to turn to eucalyptus or pine to help prevent colds.

I hadn't realised until last week quite how many of my beauty products I've also changed. The realisation came as the cat sat beside me on the edge of the bath and munched his way through my body scrub. I make this up every couple of weeks, from equal quantities of honey and almond flour, plus a few drops of lemon juice. Basically, as any cook might note, this is marzipan, and not only is it completely harmless and very cheap, it smells beautiful and leaves your skin delightfully soft. I can't imagine ever again buying a face or body scrub - they all smell disgustingly fake to me nowadays. 

Some months ago, too, I finally gave up on talcum powder altogether. I've known for a long time that you shouldn't use it because it's a suspected carcinogen, but a description I read of it being 'exactly like powdered asbestos' was what brought it home to me. Talc is a mineral, and it's not generally a good idea to grind up minerals and rub them all over yourself, especially if there's any danger of breathing them in.

I've switched instead to corn starch. Admittedly this has disadvantages - it has no perfume (though you can add some easily enough); it cakes, so you can't shake it; and it feels a bit squeaky on your skin. But lack of effectiveness isn't one of its drawbacks: corn starch is actually more absorbent than talcum powder ever was or could be. I keep mine in a nice old Edwardian era powder-puff container and apply it with a big fluffy puff but if you fancied something a tad more modern, Lush make body powders based on gram flour, and they're lovely to use, though you have to devote a bit of time to rubbing them in. 

When I ran out of conditioner recently, rather than shell out 5 euros for a new jar, I went back to an age-old method and simply made up some mayonnaise. It's not like commercial mayo, of course - it's simply an emulsion of egg yolks and olive oil without the vinegar or mustard. Apply it like any normal hair conditioner and leave for three minutes, then flush it down the drain as per. No parabens, no alpha-hyrdroxi-whatsits to bother the environment. It doesn't keep, though, so I only make up a small batch at a time, using a single egg. Between washes, I condition my hair with oil - any oil will do, but mine happens to be sweet almond. Just a drop on the palms of your hands, and combed in works well as a styling product and tames flyaway ends. 

On the side of the bath is also a bottle of cider vinegar. If you suffer from thrush, as I tend to, you really need cider vinegar in the bath, but even if you don't, a good splash of it helps to preserve the acid mantle on your skin. One friend, who is a roofer, uses it neat, rubbed into her hands and washed off, as a skin softener. You can also use it as a hair conditioner, rubbed well into the ends of your hair and rinsed out again. No, you don't end up smelling like a chip shop at all - it has a clean, pleasant smell that fades quickly in any case. 

And finally deoderant. I gave up anti-perspirants a long time ago, when I developed fibroid breast tumours. There's a suspected link, and it's only suspected, but why take the risk? So for a long time now, I've used a deoderant stone. This cost about 12 euros, and at the rate it's going, it will last a lot longer than I will. Mine is quite a sophisticated type, with a smooth top and you roll it on like any normal deoderant. I also made myself up a body freshener with witch hazel and essential oil of rosewood - a fresh-smelling oil that many of us associate with soap. And I also buy a commercial alum-only spray-on deoderant for days when I feel I need a bit more protection.

There's only one major snag to these kinds of natural deoderants - they don't work as well as anti-perspirants. So to be on the safe side, I always keep eau de cologne in the house, my handbag, and the car. A fantastic killer of bacteria (including the kind that breeds in your armpits), nothing kills pong faster than eau de cologne, liberally applied, as I learned when training as an aromatherapist. (It's required in French hospitals for bed-bathing and you have to bring it in yourself.)

Sadly, though, for those really anxiety-inducing days when you have to visit the ob-gyn or somesuch, I still haven't found a non-antiperspirant deoderant that can really cut the mustard, and I end up falling back on Dove or somesuch. So I'd be grateful for any tips if anyone else has found something that works. 

 

 

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