How Do I Know If I’m Wearing Too Much Cologne?

If you have to ask, chances are you already have a problem.

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The phrase “a little goes a long way” could have been created specifically for cologne. It doesn’t take much — at all — to go from smelling good to smelling like a department store’s perfume counter detonated on your shirt. But sometimes, it can be tough to tell if you’ve slipped over that fine line into walking-air-pollution territory.

Unfortunately, the most obvious way for you to know you’re wearing too much cologne is by gauging the reactions of those near you. Our sense of smell is powerful — the National Institutes of Health estimate humans can detect over a trillion odors — and if your cologne smells too strong, it can literally choke people, causing asthma attacks, setting off allergic reactions and more. 

Ideally, people shouldn’t be able to tell you’re wearing cologne unless they’re within arm’s reach of you. If people standing near you are coughing, have watery eyes, complain of a sudden headache, or move away from you at a rapid pace, well, those are all pretty clear signs you’ve messed up.

Another good indicator is how long your cologne lasts. “A rule of thumb is that if you’re smelling your fragrance on yourself non-stop, all day, you may have over-applied,” says  Gregory Dylan, of Gregory Dylan Skincare and Beauty. “Even with your own fragrance, you want it to pop up throughout the day, so you should notice it here and there, but not constantly all day. Remember that you’re the star — fragrance is a supporting role.” 

Obviously, it’s much better to figure out if you’ve used too much cologne before you’ve left the house, but you can become desensitized to the overabundance of your odor and unconsciously block it out, especially if you’re wearing it every day. The best way to keep from wearing too much cologne, then, is to know how to apply it properly.

Whether you spritz or dab, keep your applications limited. “The best places to apply fragrance are your pulse points — neck, chest, wrists and inner elbows,” advises Dylan. “These parts of the body are warmer and will help best emit the scent. For stronger scents or a more subtle application, you can mist [your cologne] into the air and walk into the fragrance.”

What to do if someone else is the cologne culprit, though? While there’s no “best” way to tell someone that they’ve radically overdone the scent, it’s still worth letting them know. Think about it — they’re wearing cologne to smell good, which means they should appreciate any advice that’ll help them smell their best, even if they’re embarrassed at first. Plus, as mentioned above, you can prevent actual health problems by getting your friend to ease up on the aftershave showers. So if you won’t do it for them, do it for everyone else on that packed subway car.