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How much cologne is too much?

If you asked me back in high school, I would have told you that the limit does not exist. As a teenager, I had my grooming routine down pat. I’d wake up, lather with scented body soap in the shower, and proceed to wreak havoc with my bottle of Axe. I’d generously spritz the deodorant beneath my arms, around my chest, and below my waist until enough wafted from the bathroom and into my bedroom.

Next, I’d walk over to my dresser and choose between L’Homme Yves Saint Laurent ($58; nordstrom.com), Davidoff Cool Water ($70; macys.com), or Liz Claiborne’s Curve for Men ($30; amazon.com). In similarly obsessive format, I’d splash some onto my left wrist, my right wrist, and the left and right side of my neck. The top of my head and chest would follow, and after that, I’d spray some into the air and walk directly into the mist.

I smelled like a walking mistake.

To my knowledge, there’s no metric that helps us gauge exactly how much fragrance to apply. However, wearing too much is a major cultural faux pas. We’ve illustrated ways to wear perfume intelligently and even figured out what to do once it’s too late. But what’s up with my inability to step away from the bottle after just one spray?

I’ll place the blame on my Latin family. Growing up as the youngest of three in a household with a mother, father, grandmother and two aunts, I was everyone’s human plaything. When it came to lathering up the baby, my family didn’t turn to expensive toxin-free products with zero harmful ingredients. Instead, they turned to a product that used to cost less than a sad desk lunch, Baby Magic Mennen colonia para bebés ($14; amazon.com). In English, baby cologne.

The product apparently originated in the 1950s and was marketed toward “every lady-in-waiting” by “notable models and actresses in couture.” In the ‘90s, however, this was Miami’s Talk. Of. The. Town. Every Latin mother obviously had to have the best smelling baby around, and every Latin mother obviously turned to Mennen. Claro que si!

Mine was no exception. My mom would gently apply the potion quite literally everywhere: on my forearms, my tummy, my thighs, in between those cute little ripples of fat every chubby baby develops on their body.

But why?

The act of applying fragrance on babies is something deeply ingrained in certain Latin American cultures and Nicaraguan families like my own. But we also turned to fragrance as a form of armor, a shield against criticism. As a child, the women I grew up with couldn’t afford to purchase a $60+ perfume bottle on the reg, but they could walk into a local discount store and go ham. And so they did. It made them, and, in retrospect me, feel like we had it all.

When I was a toddler, I’d run up to my mom after bathing and ask for la colonia amarilla, the yellow cologne. Dabbing it on made me feel comfortable. It made me feel fancy. Eventually, my tastes developed and I moved on from the baby cologne to cologne for men, but my love for smelling good all day long didn’t vanish.

Today, I’ve learned to keep my application somewhat under control. My two favorites? Maison Margiela Jazz Club ($126; nordstrom.com) and Tom Ford Black Orchid ($120; nordstrom.com). And despite the fact that these are each so potent, I can’t help but apply more than I now know I should.

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Indeed, there are a lot of opinions about how to properly apply perfume or cologne. You’re technically not supposed to rub your wrists together. For that, I’m guilty as charged. I spray one wrist, rub it with the other, and move on to spray my neck or chest. Oddly enough, I’ll sometimes switch it up and spray the top of my head as I did when I as a kid.

I know my process is intense, even a little weird, but as Gloria Gaynor once sang, “I am what I am.” Each spritz gives me confidence, makes me feel comforted. And that’s enough for me to continue to wear it proudly.