Have you ever wondered why vintage perfumes all have that smell? No, the answer isn't that every woman from decades gone by wanted to wear a heavy, syrupy fragrance, but you probably already knew that. The answer is that perfumes can change over time, and you may have even experienced a "suddenly heavy" scent emanating from a once bright and vibrant bottle nozzle of your own.
That perfume hasn't necessarily gone bad, though. Well, not entirely bad, explains Charna Ethier, an award-winning perfumer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Perfumer's alcohol is typically 98 percent ethanol, which is incredibly potent, she says, making it virtually impossible for the liquid to go "bad." To give you some perspective on how strong perfume alcohol is, know that medical instruments are sterilized with 80 percent ethanol.
"What does happen over time is fragrance will lose the sparkling top notes," she says. "Top notes are the most volatile of perfume materials, which means they evaporate quickly. Even a well-stoppered bottle of perfume – kept in ideal conditions – will lose the sparkling citrus, spice, and aldehyde top notes over a period of time."
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That is the reason why many vintage perfumes smell base-heavy. All those light and delicate notes have evaporated, leaving a rich, woody resinous scent in the bottle. Knowing that, Ethier recommends using any light, citrusy, fresh-smelling or natural perfumes within two years of purchase. Another alternative is to buy the smaller version, especially if you're more of a perfume rotator than a "staple perfume" person. The more sensual, woodier fragrances will stay true to scent for longer, so you don't have to use them quite as quickly.
Another way to preserve your fragrances for longer is to store them in a cool, dark place.
"Both light and heat can compromise your fragrance," explains expert organizer Shara Koplowitz, whose job requires her to know how to store everything properly. "Keeping your precious perfumes away from both elements just makes sense, pun intended."
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If you really want to show off a bottle collection, try to keep the dark or opaque bottles on display and the clear bottles out of the sun. She also suggests keeping your perfumes out of the bathroom, where heat and humidity can break them down at a faster rate. Your bedroom or a linen closet is a much better option than right next to the shower.