Master Perfumer Harry Frémont and I have something in common. Strong vanilla is not our favourite scent. That has nothing to do with my burning question: is it really so bad to rub your wrists together after spraying them with perfume? But discovering a shared opinion with one of the top experts in his field is delightful bonus.
Mr. Frémont and I also share a love of vetiver (naturally I told him about that one time I somehow sent a full bottle of Vetiver by Guerlain crashing to the floor in the Guerlain boutique's old location on Bloor St, during a press preview. The juice splashed halfway up my pants; my closet has never smelled better). And what a coincidence: Frémont created Tom Ford Grey Vetiver, one of my favourite scents, and one of his own favourites, too (he wore it the day I met him). But I'm off topic. The matter at hand is this: is it really true that if you rub your wrists together after spraying them with perfume, you ruin the scent?
I should tell you that Frémont has been in the perfume-making business for well over two decades. He works for Firmenich, one of the largest fragrance companies, and is one of only about 10 master perfumers in the world. (Achieving master perfumer status, says Frémont with charming bashfulness, involves many things, including years of experience in the industry, consistent success, and mentoring.) His creations includes Ralph Lauren Romance and Polo Sport, Calvin Klein CK One, Lancôme O Oui!, Vera Wang Vera Wang, last year's Estée Lauder Bronze Goddess Capri, and this year's Marc Jacobs Daisy Sunshine and Daisy Eau so Fresh Sunshine. So he should know something about how fragrance works.
Back to the question: if you rub your wrists together after spraying them with perfume, will you ruin the scent? I've heard this from various beauty channels over the years. Some experts make wrist-rubbing post-spritz sound catastrophic; others laugh it off with a reminder that splitting atoms takes much more than mashing skin to skin.
But according to Mr. Frémont, there is a good reason to stop that wrist-rub habit: it changes the way the scent performs on your skin.
Typically, complex scents are a combination of top notes, middle or heart notes and base notes. Top notes are more delicate, lighter, and dissipate most quickly; base notes are heavier molecules, longer lasting. And if you rub your wrists together right after putting on your favourite fragrance, you really do spoil those light-molecule top notes. The friction between the perfume and your skin's natural oils "rushes the fragrance," says Frémont. In effect, he says, you're fast-forwarding your scent experience, bypassing the opening and going straight to the heart notes.
Catastrophic? No. But when you spend what you spend on fragrance, and the top notes are what attracted you to the perfume in the first place (you have to love the top notes even to consider sampling the juice, right?), why would you skip the first-date stage of your day?
UPDATE: Harry Frémont is the master perfumer behind the new Estée Lauder Modern Muse fragrance.
Fragrance illustration by Patrick Morgan.