If you read down to the comments on my Chypre post, you will see a couple of my readers have asked some very good questions about vintage perfumes. So good, in fact, that I've decided to respond to those questions here in a separate post so more of you can share in the answers. Now for the disclaimer- I'm just sharing my own experiences and opinions; I do not recommend that anyone else should necessarily follow me! Use your own common sense and practice safety at all times.
OK, so let's get down to business. First, Alessandra asked about the safety of wearing vintage perfumes. The short answer is yes, it is safe to wear vintage perfumes.
Now for the long answer: it is safe, but only in as much as it is safe to wear any perfume. Skin can definitely become irritated by many different perfumes and other scented products, like soaps and creams, but that is regardless of the age of the product. I know that my skin can become irritated by a few perfumes, but they tend to be carnation-spicy scents (eugenol), chypres (oakmoss) and certain musk oils. The worst effects I've experienced amount to some slight burning sensations and in more extreme reactions, transient redness of the skin in the area where I applied. I've had problems when those scents are applied right after a shower or bath or in lavish amounts. I find the perfume in extrait or oil form can be especially problematic probably because the scent molecules are more concentrated in those formulas. I avoid applying over large areas, soft areas, untanned areas or along the insides of skin folds, or anywhere skin is often rubbed. But if one was actually to become allergic or chemically sensitive to a particular scent molecule or any scented product, old or new, the reactions could be quite severe. But I stress to you that for me it does not matter whether the product is old or new, just the particular ingredient.
On a tangentially related subject, I have read on many blogs the myth that perfumes expire quickly and must be discarded after a certain age. Well, I think that is just pure myth. Scents, especially fine scents, do change over time, just as fine wine or liquors change as they age. Certain scent molecules are more prominent in younger formulas, lending a boldness or brightness, while other notes are created and accumulate as things stew in their own juices. As some notes fade others emerge or become uncovered adding depth to the formula. So the character and color of a juice usually changes as it matures and ages.
As an industrial perfumer or any modern-day scent brander I can see where one would aim to capture a particular scent and set the scent profile in stone. In those cases, the formula might be designed specifically to be stable and consistent over time and from bottle to bottle as possible. It's fine for my Gain or Downey fabric softener but I reject that type of thinking in fine perfumery! I tend to think more like a vintner or gardener. You have to approach each harvest, each batch and each bottle of scent as it's own thing. You may know you prefer a certain type of wine or variety of flowers, but you probably also recognize that sometimes the scent or taste quality of these things are exceptional but sometimes, they are just OK. I say Carpe Diem provided you don't have to pay a premium for the bottle. The bottle or historical import of a presentation tends to impart most of the value in cases where vintage perfume bottles command premium prices. I am not a bottle collector, so I avoid those deals. But if you can manage to find a second hand bottle of perfume offered at a reasonable price, consider giving it a try. Because in the end, I've found that vintage perfume is a lot like life; things change, but mostly in predictable and agreeable ways.
The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives