Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Is it Safe to Wear Old Perfume?

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

9 comments:

Fifi said...

Hello, Amelia - so glad I found your blog. What a refined nose you have! Your 2008 review of Dana perfumes was so helpful. I found a small box of old perfumes belonging to my late sister, who died young, 30 years ago. I planned to give the bottles to a local charity, but decided to try the two Dana colognes - 20 Carats and Ambush - and maybe wear them as a way to feel closer to her. These are, of course, 30+ years old. I wish I knew what they were "supposed" to smell like! Your 20 Carats review definitely helped. I didn't notice much change of scent on my skin as time went by. From start to finish there was a pleasant cinnamon smell that got a bit more powdery. The Ambush was interesting. Wish I could describe what it smelled like - very odd at first. But after 10 minutes it morphed into the most delicious scent, very feminine, just bordering on sweet but not really. The 20 Carats lasted longer, but I like the Ambush. If they're still making it I can compare old and new. Thanks again for a fascinating blog.

Amelia said...

Fifi: Welcome and I'm so glad you've found your way to the Vault. Bravo on your brave decision to try the scents you found... Wear them in good health and keep poking around- some people say that once you start wearing them, the vintage perfumes themselves seem to seek us out! I think you might be surprised at the things you'll find...

Melissa said...

When people find out I collect vintage perfumes the usual question is "Do you really wear those old perfumes?". Well of course! To me it's no more insane then the show I watched where people gathered (at a price) to sample a bottle of 18th century wine. I too have had some minor allergic reactions but nothing to deter me. I've also read the warning on some of the ingredients such as the nitro musks. But I figure as much as we humans are bombarded with unwanted smells, I might as well give fair play to the wanted ones! I say, experiencing perfumes that haven't existed in decades, from bygone days, is worth the risk. To me they're liquid history.

Amelia said...

Melissa: You are so right, it is liquid history. I really feel privileged to wear those old perfumes and to those who turn up their noses at it, well, that's just more for us!

Perfumella said...

I wear vintage perfume all the time and have never had a problem.

The amounts we're talking about of nitromusks etc. are tiny, and possibly no worse than drinking carbonated diet fizzy drink.

I figure I have to die of something eventually - it might as well be from something I dearly love....

P.S. When were Helen Mirrens' norks so large...?!

Amelia said...

She's got quite the rack and the rest of her isn't so bad either- did you see her in Calendar Girls?

Perfumella said...

I did! She has aged like a fine wine (or perfume!).

www.hagenpahytta.wordpress.com said...

Oh dear! What a fascinating blog, and what truly fantastic pictures you chose for this particular post. At the age of 53, with a fairly new passion for perfumes, this was the perfect medicine for me tonight!
You're in my blogroll from just now :D

Amelia said...

Welcome D! Glad you're with us now!