Dear Heather

Dear Heather,

Recently, there was a column in our local newspaper in which the columnist complained about people who wear too much perfume. Now I’m worried that I may be one of those people. I thought everyone liked the smell of perfume. I would hate to think that mine was bothering others. This is going to seem like a silly question, but, how do you know if you’re wearing too much?

Lacey R., Vancouver

Dear Lacey:

Most people have been in this situation before: you get onto a crowded bus, and someone is wearing so much cologne that it almost makes you gag. It’s worse when the scent is one that you don’t personally like, but even the nicest fragrance becomes cloying and unpleasant when too much is used. The ‘too much perfume’ issue is more than a case of personal preference, however: for people with certain health conditions, scents can be really harmful. Perfume can trigger allergic reactions and aggravate respiratory problems in these people. A friend of mine can’t be in the presence of any artificial scent, or her eyes swell shut and stay that way for days.

Knowing how much perfume to wear can be difficult, because everyone’s sense of smell is different. What seems like too much to one person will be hardly noticeable to someone else. Furthermore, when it’s you that is wearing the perfume, you quickly become accustomed to the smell, so you notice it less than other people. This is why a quick touch-up in the ladies’ room is a bad idea: you may think your scent has worn off, when in reality you’ve just gotten used to it and can’t smell it anymore.

If you want to be sure you’re not irritating others or setting off their allergies, it’s probably best to wear no perfume at all when you’re going to be in a public place. (Personally, I only wear it at home, for that reason.) If, however, you love perfume and would feel a little naked without it, just use the smallest amount you can possibly apply. (Spray bottles are bad because it’s difficult to control the amount, though spraying the air and walking into the cloud is better than spraying directly on the skin.) Just one dab will do; you don’t need to put some on every pulse point.

For reasons given above, don’t reapply the scent halfway through the day. And you should never, ever wear perfume if you’re visiting a hospital or nursing home, or any crowded place where people can’t escape your scent (such as a bus or an airplane). As a general rule of thumb, the only people who should be able to detect your scent are those standing close enough to converse with you. If someone ten feet away can tell that you’re wearing perfume, you’re using too much.

If in doubt, ask a trusted girlfriend whether she thinks you’re overdoing it. (Don’t ask a guy: their sense of smell is less acute than ours, which is one reason why so many men overdo the cologne themselves. Men who wear cologne should definitely consult with a woman to ensure they’re not in this category.) With perfume, as with so many things, less is definitely more.

There’s something very seductive and mysterious about a person who smells wonderful, but only up close! Perhaps it has something to do with the mystique of not trying too hard. With perfume, as with so many other things, less is definitely more.


E-mail your questions to Heather at Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. Heather is an AU student offering objective advice to her peers; she is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.