Banish Buyer's Remorse With Our Best Online Perfume-Shopping Tips

Blake Lively, known for her iconic Met Gala looks, her time on Gossip Girl, and her marriage to Ryan Reynolds, has also been the face of a number of different ad campaigns, including for Gucci perfume. Perfume is important to Lively; she told British Vogue that "if I'm not wearing makeup, if my hair's not done, if I'm walking around in pyjamas — I still put my fragrance on." And the reason for perfume being so important to her? "For me, fragrance is bottled confidence," Lively told Harper's Bazaar U.K. She's not alone, either. All but 10% of women surveyed in a scientific study reported feeling greater confidence when wearing perfume, according to Elle.

Scent has a way of bringing up memories and emotions better than any other sense because the things we smell go straight to a part of the limbic system, which is what helps with memory recall and emotional response, per The Harvard Gazette. As a result, the scent of perfume that you wore on a special day or the scent of flowers from a special vacation or holiday can trigger those positive memories. 

Because of the profound effect it can have on your life, the fragrance you wear can be important. And if you're going to buy a perfume online, you don't want to end up with a scent that you can't stand. Here are some things to consider before buying perfume online to make sure you end up with a fragrance you don't love.

Perfume changes through the day based on its notes

As pretty as a perfume bottle might be, for most of us, it's what's inside that counts. To help navigate buying a new perfume online, it's vital to understand how the scent of a perfume is created and some different perfume terms. Admittedly, it can be a bit overwhelming. To start with, perfumes aren't just one unchanging scent; they have layers: top/head notes, middle/heart notes, and base notes, according to FragranceX. All of these combined make up the olfactory pyramid where the top notes are the peak of the pyramid and the base notes at the bottom, per I Love Cosmetics.

You'll notice the top notes the most at first, though you'll still get the heart and base notes on the first whiff. However, the top notes will fade the quickest. That leaves you with heart notes as the dominant scent, and then base notes as time goes on. This means that the same perfume you spritz on your wrists — which is one of the best places to spray your perfume — at the beginning of the day will have a different scent to it by the end of the day. The base notes of a perfume are what you might be able to smell even days later on clothing.

Perfumes are classified into different families

When you have a perfume that utilizes all of the different notes, it combines to make accords. This is similar to how music notes combine to make chords, according Sylvaine Delacourte. Changing one element within any of the notes or accords will give you a different perfume, which is why there are so many fragrance options out there. That also means you shouldn't just look for one recognizable scent to determine if you'll like the perfume. For example, you may see citrus noted in the description of three different perfumes, but it may be in a different note level and combined with other elements, which will mean each has a unique end result, per The Invisible Stories.

You might think it stops there, but along with notes and accords, perfumes have different families depending on their characteristics. Those families may be the best way to think about your perfume choice as a whole. Perfume families can be broken down and understood in a couple of different ways. One way to categorize perfumes is into four basic families in a fragrance wheel: fresh, floral, woody, and amber/oriental, according to Fragrance X. And within those families are subfamilies like fruity floral for tropical, edible scents; mossy woody for scents like amber; and green fresh for the smells like freshly cut grass. 

Do your research on perfume types to know what you like

Some perfumers, including the French Society of Perfumers, break it down even more, making for a total of seven olfactory families: citrus (lemon, grapefruit, bergamot), floral (lilac, rose), ferns (rosemary, lavender, geranium), chypre (oakmoss, patchouli), woody (sandalwood, vetiver), orientals/ambers (cinnamon, pepper), and leathers (tobacco, burnt wood), per Carrement Belle. There are also gourmand scents, which can fall under the amber category, as noted by The Invisible Stories. Those are perfumes with generally sweet smells of something you'd like to eat, like chocolate or toffee.

One classification that you're pretty much able to ignore is whether the scent is labeled for men or women. Mathilde Laurent, perfumer at Cartier, told Allure "a perfume should never be reserved for one sex because smells have no sex." The main difference between men and women's scents — aka cologne vs. perfume — is often the concentration, with colognes less strong/long-lasting in comparison to perfume.

The amount of classification can seem overwhelming, but it's important to understand the different types of perfumes to more easily figure out which one you're most attracted to based on an online description. Armed with all this information, research perfumes you've liked in the past for the different notes and its family and characteristics. Websites like Fragrantica let you search perfumes by notes you want to include and exclude. Additionally, Sephora and Ulta both have fragrance finders. That can also be a good way to find a gift fragrance.

Try out samples and pin down scents you love

If it's not a drastic change of subfamily, you're probably good to go to click check out on that new fragrance. But if you want to try something different, it could be a mistake to completely flip the script without more due diligence. For instance, if you've always worn a floral scent, choosing a woody scent might not feel like it's showcasing you at your best. But you could likely sidestep to a fresh scent. You can also think beyond perfume, according to Bustle. What scents do you like in things like soaps or detergents? What natural perfumes around you, like cinnamon or apple blossoms, do you love the most? 

If you've never found a perfume you really loved or you're looking to evolve your signature scent, go for samples first. Look in fashion magazines for those paper perfume strips, and pay a visit to stores like Sephora or Ulta for free small samples of perfumes as well as sample size packs of various perfumes that can help you pinpoint your new favorite. You might also try out fragrance subscription boxes like ScentBird or ScentBox. Remember that since top notes of the perfume will fade, you should take time with your samples to see how you like the scent at the end of the day.  The more that you practice and research, the better you'll get at recognizing the key notes and families that you gravitate towards or want to avoid.

Think of your skin type and read reviews

Another thing worth considering when buying perfume online is the customer reviews. Of course, not all reviews are created equally, and people inevitably have a different scent palate. Do a deep dive on the reviews to see specifics listed, like if it came off as medicinal, if the scent fades quickly or, conversely, is particularly strong, according to Bustle. Be aware of adjectives that may hint it's right (or wrong) for you based on your research about perfume classifications: musky, powdery, fresh, warm, etc.

And it may seem easier to just ask for a friend's recommendation if you think they smell nice, keep in mind that what smells good on someone else may not smell the same on you for a number of reasons, including hormones, skin pH, and diet, via Byrdie. Another factor is skin type. Oily skin can amplify the sweetness of a perfume while perfume won't stick around long on dry skin, so a heavier scent may work better, per Taste the Luxe. Trying out samples may take time but will be worth it in the long run.

Once you're satisfied with what you want to order, make sure to buy from a reputable online retailer. You want to make sure you're getting the actual perfume you want and not a knock-off. Counterfeit fragrances may come at a bargain price, but they could be dangerous, according to the FBI.