How to Wear Cologne

Here’s the thing about cologne: it’s supposed to smell great. So why do so few men know how to wear it properly?

Whether the scent is non-existent, overpowering, or wrongly layered, it turns out that how to wear cologne isn’t as simple as it seems. Don’t worry, it’s easy to master when you follow just a few steps.

The subtle art (yes, it’s supposed to be subtle) of wearing cologne has been destroyed by commercials on which body-spraying galoots coat under, over, and everywhere in between.

We know you get smelly, but a guy bathed in fragrance isn’t exactly on the spectrum of what others find appealing. Cue the signature breath-hold here.

So if cologne by design smells good, then it must mean that somehow, somewhere, the proper way to wear it got lost in translation. That’s exactly what this guide on how to wear cologne is here to correct.

Up ahead, we’ll walk you through the best way to put on cologne, including where, how, and when you should apply it, so you can stop wondering if you’re doing it right and others can breathe a sigh of relief.

What is Cologne?

First things first, cologne is not body spray. Repeat, cologne is not body spray and it should not be used as such.

With a water to oil concentration of about 2-4% (perfume has 20-30%), cologne, by nature, doesn’t last as long as perfume does, and thus, many men struggle with knowing how much of it to wear.

If you’re here wondering how to wear cologne, it’s cool, we’re going to teach you exactly how much cologne to use in the coming sections. Hint: it’s a lot less than you think.

When it originated in Cologne, Germany, eau de cologne was made from a blend of herbs and citrus. Today, the men’s fragrance formula has taken a turn into thousands of different scent combinations. that typically use a few different types of scents including floral, oriental, woody, and fresh.

There are four main scent types but thirteen different offshoots. For example, the fresh category contains four subcategories of water, aromatic, green, and citrus.

Let’s take a look at one of the top-selling men’s scents, Chanel Bleu.

The iconic cologne has top notes of citrus and pink peppercorn, middle notes of spices and white jasmine, and base notes of patchouli, musk, and cedar. Citrus falls into the “fresh” category while cedar would fall into “woody,” and so on.

Usually formulated with top, middle, and base notes, the top notes are what you’ll smell as soon as you spray on your cologne. As it wears off throughout the day, you’ll be left with mostly the base. Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s get into exactly how to wear cologne.

How To Apply Cologne for Maximum Effect?

If you’re wondering how to apply cologne for maximum effect, then this is the section you’re really going to want to pay attention to. “Maximum effect” has to do with two things—first, longevity, and second, the overall scent experience.

By now you know that cologne is more watery than perfume and that means by its nature, it’s only designed to last a few hours, though, how long a cologne lasts depends on the type of cologne itself. Those with higher alcohol contents tend to last longer.

With that said, whether you have a cologne that lasts a long or short amount of time, there are ways to elongate the time your scent is present for, defying nature and with any luck, your natural aroma.

Even if you’re new to the whole fragrance thing, you still probably have some basic knowledge about how to wear cologne and where to spray it. Maybe you already spray it on your wrists or at the base of your neck as you head out the door for your day.

If so, you’re on the right track but the process of how to properly apply cologne starts way before you ever think about grabbing your keys.

Now, we’re talking about maximum effect here, not a suffocating cloud. There’s a big difference between the two and it has everything to do with the amount of cologne that you spray.

But before you ready your finger on the nozzle, let’s dial things back to the start of your day.

To get the most out of your cologne, it’s suggested that the right process of how to apply cologne is actually as soon as you get out of the shower.

Since scents last longer on moisturized skin, we recommend lathering up with an unscented or complimentary lotion before you spray on your favorite cologne.

Pump one spritz of cologne onto 1-2 of your preferred pulse points. That could mean the inside of your elbows or on the base of your neck. Basically, you’re looking for the warmest parts of your body, and by nature, pulse points tend to have the most heat.

Instead of rubbing the cologne in, let it air dry. This simple switch in technique will help it last longer.

You’ll find that no matter what you do, some colognes just aren’t built to last, and that’s ok. Take your bottle along with you if you care to reapply throughout the day. If you’d rather have a cologne that doesn’t need constant reapplying, choose one with oriental, woodsy, or musky notes.

How To Properly Apply Cologne: Things To Keep In Mind

Applying cologne may seem like a no-brainer to you. You spray it on and it makes you smell good. Simple, right? Well, it’s not always so cut and dry. If that’s what you’re doing, you may want to consider switching things up to get the most out of your scent.

For those who want to make their cologne last or are trying to avoid leaving a mile-long scent trail, proper application is important. After consulting a slew of scent experts from around the web, we put together a few tips about how to use cologne to help ensure you get the process right.

Apply It After the Bath

Like many men, you may apply your cologne as you walk out the door in the morning. And like many men, you may find that it wears off quickly throughout your day. Experts say that the best time to apply your cologne is immediately after you step out of the shower or bath.

Here’s the clicker though, don’t keep your cologne in your bathroom. To prevent your cologne from losing its scent profile or going sour, store it in a cool, dark place.

We’re not talking about that tiny black box beneath your bed, a bedroom dresser will do, or better yet, a drawer.

After you hop out of the shower and towel off, head right to your cologne stash. The idea here is to apply it when your pores are still open, letting them suck in and hold onto the scent for longer.

But as it turns out, scent particles prefer moisturized skin. For even longer wear, consider moisturizing with an unscented body lotion before you apply your cologne.

Rubbing It Into Your Skin

Ah, now this one is really interesting. From the dawn of time, the cologne application sequence has looked like this: One spray at the base of your neck, one spray on each wrist, then you rub your wrists together. It’s a classic formula we all can picture clearly.

But guess what? Rubbing cologne into your skin isn’t doing you any good. In fact, it makes us question why people ever did it in the first place. Rubbing your cologne can break down top notes as soon as you apply it. That’s a no-go for anyone who wants to make their scent last.

Instead of rubbing, lightly dab your wrists and then let the cologne air dry. Alternatively, you can just let it air dry. The less you touch it, the better since it gives the alcohol a chance to settle on your skin.

Don’t Use Too Much

When it comes to scent, a little goes a long way. We all know that one guy who smells like he bathes in cologne. And if that’s you, then, welcome, you’re in the right place.

Cologne pros say that all you need is one spritz on 1-2 of your pulse points (wrists, base of neck, inner elbows, etc.). Any more than 2 sprays can make the scent too overpowering, plus, at that point, you’re just playing with it.

There’s absolutely no need to spray your entire body with cologne. Even though the fragrance is more watered down than perfume is, it still packs a punch.

Consider Placement on the Body

Whether you’re new to wearing cologne or have been spritzing it on for years, you may be surprised to read that there are more than 1-2 places you can spray cologne. You know the classic spots, your neck and wrists are no-brainers, but you may not know why.

The neck and wrist are both pulse points on your body. That means they’re warmer than, say, the top of your knee since blood is running through them closer to the surface.

Now, we won’t get all Dexter here on you, so all we’ll say is that your pulse points are key to wearing cologne properly and for longevity.

The inside of your elbows and behind your knees are also pulse points, and though those are less frequently-sprayed locations, choosing them may give your scent new life.

Spraying cologne behind your knees will give off a nice little trail as you walk and it won’t be as heavy or noticeable as if you were to do it on your neck.

If you’re still asking yourself, “where should I apply cologne?” Knowing where to spray cologne has as much to do with your personal preference as it does the science.

Don’t Mix Cologne with Another Scent

Scent confusion is a real thing. What do you think will happen when you wash with a light, fresh scent, use a herby, citrus lotion, and douse yourself with a peppery, musky cologne? A real mess.

In fact, there are brands out there that were created to stop scent confusion by offering an entire line of cohesive products. Smart thinking.

Each fragrance is already made with an intended mix of top, middle, and base notes, and when you start combining those with another set, they get completely muddled.

To avoid this, try using unscented soap or lotion, or matching your cologne to your personal care items. That’s one of the most recommended ways of how to wear cologne.

Most designers and perfumers often release lotions alongside their signature fragrances. Now you know why they do it.

Do You Put Cologne on Skin or Clothes?

There’s a little debate about the question: do you put cologne on skin or clothes? Aside from the fact that some alcohol-based scents can ruin your favorite suit jacket or silk tie, if it’s longevity and a personal scent experience you’re after, spraying cologne on your clothing is a definite no.

When you apply cologne to your skin, it seeps into your pores and intermingles with your own personal you-ness. Though the scent may be similar, when two different people wear the same cologne the result can be completely different.

Spraying it on your skin also means it holds on for longer. Clothing is made up of fibers, but they don’t hang onto scent the same way that skin does.

As for spraying your cologne in the air and walking through it, well, come on, now you’re just wasting it. We don’t consider this a good suggestion about how to wear cologne.

Walking through a cloud of cologne means that your clothing will get a very, very small amount of fragrance. It won’t last long either.

How Long is Cologne Good For?

There’s no one answer to the question of “how long is cologne good for?” Often, it depends on the chemical makeup of your cologne. Some brands will put an expiration date on the box itself. But even then, there’s a little wiggle room in how long you can use it after it expires. 

In general, colognes can last anywhere from 1-10 years, though the average is 3-5 years. After a certain date, your cologne will start to oxidize. This may mean that some scents in the blend are muted or are no longer present.

Like your toxic ex, your favorite cologne can become something it isn’t really—sometimes acidic, metallic, or even sour.

We mentioned before that the worst place to store cologne is in a humid, hot, and bright place, like your bathroom. These conditions can cause it to break down faster, so to slow the process, reverse the conditions. Some perfume experts even say to stash your cologne in the fridge.

The rule of thumb seems to be: the more oxygen in the bottle, the worse it is for your cologne. To get the most out of it, transfer it into a smaller travel-sized bottle.

If it still smells good, using an expired cologne isn’t the end of the world, but it can cause skin irritation and possibly ruin clothing.

If you decide to spritz on your favorite after it’s officially K.O’ed, do a test patch first.

Where To Buy Cologne?

One of the best things about cologne is that there are so many options out there. Scent is a personal thing, and discovering a fragrance that you identify with can be a lengthy process.

It’s not all complicated though, there are tons of retailers and experts to help make the process easy and enjoyable.

Now that you know how to wear cologne, if you don’t have a particular brand in mind, the best place to buy cologne is from a store that sells a selection of brands.

For this, we love department stores like Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Sephora that you can visit in person to try out an array of scents.

Want to find your new favorite fragrance without the headache? FragranceNet has a massive selection of discounted scents, while LuckyScent is all about finding unique fragrances.

If you’d rather try out a cologne before you commit to a larger bottle, check out Scentbird. The subscription service lets you try out a 15ml bottle of a variety of popular and lesser-known brands every month.

Final Thoughts

Even though wearing cologne is something made out to be super complicated (how many sprays, where, and when?), it’s definitely not. For a lot of men, using cologne is all about covering up certain scents, but for others, it’s about expressing their individuality.

Whatever your reason for wearing cologne, good hygiene is at the base of smelling great. That may be why the first recommended step of how to wear cologne is taking a shower, but we’ll buy into the whole pore-opening thing if you will.

Jokes aside, the science behind making your favorite cologne last a long time is simple. And that’s exactly what it comes down to, science.

Because cologne, at its base, is a mixture of elements (sometimes natural, sometimes synthetic), how long it lasts in the bottle and on your skin depends on how you treat it.

We hope that as you’ve learned how to wear cologne here, you’ve also discovered what cologne is and how to get the most out of a bottle.

At the end of the day, the more you know about something, the better your experience is with it. Happy spritzing.

Got you interested in colognes and perfumes? Check out some of our other articles for the latest in scents:

How to Wear Cologne – A Style Guide

10 Best White Musk Perfume for Women

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Best Gucci Cologne For Him

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