A fragrant debate: Dab or spray?

dab belovedA while back when we here at the Posse were putting together our “best of fall” perfume picks, Amouage Beloved Woman was on my list of three. After initially not being wild about it, it has definitely grown on me over time and has become a favorite, especially now that temps are deep into the cooler autumn range. But up to now, I’d just been doing the dab thing out of sample vials and had not experienced the joys of this scent via atomizer. So I got industrious the other night and dumped one of them into a small sprayer and gave myself a spritz.

Oh, dear, it didn’t take long before it became obvious: This was not quite what I had come to expect. The spray brought a few elements up into the spotlight that were not there before quite so early or so prominently: beloved dab 2I got a wallop of leather paired with a heavy animalic presence, leaving the florals and any other notes pretty much in the dust. Thus playing havoc with the smoother, gently fluctuating, sophisticated scent that I adored. It did settle back down shortly to what I had come to know and love, but the early going was a bit bumpy.

I guess less is definitely more with this one, on my crazy skin at least. So it’s back to dabbing only for this beauty. Which, considering its price tag, might be a blessing (no spendy decants or heaven forbid, full bottles for me).

I’ve also found a few other scents that I can dab only, among them: Bond No. 9’s Chinatown, Serge Lutens’ Jeux de Peau and Frederic Malle’s Portrait of a Lady (although I like that one best in the body cream).

So although for the most part, spraying fragrance is the way to go, I’ve found that several just smell better when simply touched on my wrist. (Oddly enough, I tried the dab vs. spray experiment with Amouage Memoir Woman, and although the sprayed side was obviously stronger in intensity, their scent progression was fairly parallel right from the start, so go figure.)

Do you have any scents that are either way too much sprayed on or simply beg to be dab-only?

  • I generally prefer spraying, but I think just about anything by Thierry Mugler might be better dabbed. I mean, I can spray Angel and Womanity if I do it more sparingly than I’m normally inclined to do, but I think Alien might be dab-only. I have a spray sample and found it overwhelming when I wore it. Now I need to check at home whether I still have that sample and spray it into a dabber vial to see if it’s different.

    I have some other things that I’ve only ever had as dabbers (mini bottles, samples, etc). I’m curious if they would be different sprayed, but of the scents that I’ve tried both ways, I haven’t really noticed huge differences in how they smell on me sprayed vs. dabbed.

    • Ann says:

      Amen, Jennifer! I can only dab any of the Mugler scents, although I really can’t wear Womanity (something in its figgy-ness just doesn’t sit right with me somehow). Do try the Alien experiment (gee, that sounded weird!) and see what you think. I’m wondering if just certain scents smell significantly different dabbed vs. sprayed. Several of the others I’ve tested seem fairly similar, save for the difference in actual intensity.

  • London says:

    I’m pretty much always a 2 spray girl. One on the neck, one on the wrist and rub. I don’t generally have the time for dabbing. Oddly I think you may have replicated my Beloved experience. I got a sample, liked it and was contemplating a decant when I sprayed it in a shop and really disliked it. I couldn’t believe they were the same scent.

    • Ann says:

      Hi, lady! Glad you stopped by — so nice to see you! I do the same thing you do, except one spritz on the wrist and dab it on the other wrist and the neck. I’m sorry about your (our) Beloved experience, but it does make me feel a little better that someone else found it to be that way, too. At least I know I’m not imagining it 🙂

  • tammy says:

    I almost always prefer perfumes when dabbed as opposed to spraying; I think I don’t like topnotes as much as basenotes.

    I can remember being SO disappointed when I got a FB of Elisabethan Rose after having gotten the sample vial in dauber form. SO different!

    The worst was Creed’s Fleur de The Rose Bulgare… it was my first super expensive FB, and about a year after I got it, I ended up giving it away to a group of army nurses in Iraq, and I bought myself a hefty decant…wow, what a HUGE difference! SO much citrus, which I hadn’t even noticed when I used it from the splash bottle it came in.

    Now if I like a fragrance in a dauber sample, I always get a spray sample before I purchase a FB, just to be safe.

    • Ann says:

      Hi, Tammy! What a surprise that must have been to spray it and get that unexpected blast of citrus. But did you end up still liking it, or just not as much? And how nice of you to donate your bottle to the nurses — so lovely and generous!
      BTW, I’m on the same page with you on getting a spray sample after the dab vial, just to make sure you like it sprayed. And if I really, really like it and make it through the spray sample, then I’ll “splurge” and get a bigger decant.

  • Connie says:

    Only one in this category for me- L’Air de Rien. It used to not be, but then I wore six monster sprays to bed (what was I thinking?) and since then I’ve had some issues with it in large quantities.

    • Ann says:

      Wowza, Connie! Six big sprays, you say? You are a far, far braver woman than I will ever be. I can’t even do more than 3 sprays of the lightest EDT. But at least you can still wear the LadR, right? Just glad that spraying marathon didn’t leave you scarred for life. 🙂

  • Gwenyth says:

    I LOVE Musette! Her philosophy of” Spraaaaaay ’em. Spraaaaaay ’em, all!”. is exactly my philosophy.

    I have “scent eating skin” so I’m utterly doomed if I dab a perfume. When I am using a sample vial, frequently I upend the vial very carefully against my skin and then slide it along the surface — thus leaving a trail of the perfume. More than dabbing, right? It is more like a teensy, tiny river of scent.
    The strongest, loudest, boldest perfumes? I spritz! Sometimes a smallish spritz, however. ;-D

    • Ann says:

      Gwenyth, too funny — I do that too — draw a line of scent down my wrist. It does seem to help, and it’s still better on me than spraying, at least until I see how that does.

  • eldarwen22 says:

    Obsession is probably the only perfume that I would like to see dabbed. As much as I like Obsession, it’s one of those perfumes that I would prefer dabbed. But I do prefer the spraying to dabbing. Now, if the the Serge Lutens perfumes had better lasting power on my skin…

    • Ann says:

      I’m seconding you in a big way — dab Obsession only, please! So the Serges don’t last long on your skin, even when well-sprayed? Oh, dear …

  • Dina C. says:

    I dab my extraits: Chamade, Gucci 3, Diorella, since that’s the way they come, and in order to save the Precious (gollum, gollum). And there are lots of little sample vials that have to be dabbed. I realize I can transfer them to a sprayer, but I don’t usually bother. Since I like my scent to stay pretty close to me, less is more in my case. I do admit to spraying lavishly with colognes and weak, watery edts. I sometimes have those bad aim accidents with sprayers, but I think some sprayers are stiff and hard to press, so I put the blame on them. 🙂

    • Ann says:

      Hear, hear, Dina! I’m all about saving the Precious, especially as costly as extraits are these days. It sounds like we are on the same page with dabbing and spraying; and I agree, there are some lightweights that you HAVE to spray at least twice to get any decent wear time out of them. Yes, let’s blame cranky sprayers — some of them are notoriously difficult. And I have one that’s very loosey-goosey and dribbles a bit around the bottom of the sprayer so have to wrap it in a tissue to catch it. Then I throw the tissue into my purse or into a drawer as a sachet.

  • Tiara says:

    I am with you on Chinatown. Two dabs is just enough to enjoy without being overwhelmed. Daisy told me she once sprayed herself like 5-6 times. Can you imagine?! Definitely too much for her, too, BTW. I like controlling where the scent is going, especially with the more expensive ones. Like Jackie b above, my aim is often off and it ticks me off to waste even one spray. Except I like Coco Noir sprayed (even when I miss). Something gets left behind by dabbing.

    • Ann says:

      Tiara, my mind boggles at the thought of that many sprays! Poor thing, it’s a miracle she survived. I’m with you — I hate wasting even a smidge of lovely juice.

  • Lynley says:

    If it’s a parfum in a dabber bottle, I dab. If it comes with a sprayer, I spray. I only have Le Labo Patchouli 24 in a rollerball decant, but I’m sure it will, at some point, be upgraded to ‘reckless abandon’ 😉 A La Nuit was the same, though I find that if I wear either in the heat, I prefer to dab or else smother myself.
    As most of my perfumes are fb’s, and there are many, I find that I’m far more enthusiastic in my sprayings the more I own- just to get through some of it!

    • Ann says:

      Hey, Lynley! I tend to do the same thing, following the bottle’s lead. I can see getting walloped in the heat with both of those you mentioned if you started spritzing; in fact, you’re a braver woman than I to even attempt wearing the Patch in summer. And lucky you to have a collection of FBs — I’m up to my ears in sample vials and decant sprays 🙂 Some days it would be nice to be able to just grab onto a honkin’ big bottle!

  • Sherri says:

    Absolue Pour Le Soir and Fracas are both overwhelming sprayed, but gorgeous dabbed. In general, I love to spray, but once sprayed I think it was Narcisse Noir parfum (or maybe Narcisse Blanc) and soon lived to regret it…for the next three days I think! 🙂

    • Ann says:

      Amen, dear Sherri! A little dab’ll do ya with both of those (although it’s got to be really little for me with Madame Fracas — cowering as Fracas lovers hiss at me 🙂 ). Oh, dear, then I guess that Narcisse is off your Christmas list, eh?

  • Hey Ann,
    Great question,
    I have a couple of extraits that I leave in the dabber but usually I decant and spritz.
    Shalimar parfum is a TOTALLY different fish when sprayed or dabbed but I also think you can get more on with a spritz so it makes the experience bigger and fuller.
    Bellodgia Parfum nearly took the back of my head off the one time I spritzed it, it was OUT RAGE OUS!
    Portia xx

    • Ann says:

      Yes, yes, Portia! So glad to hear someone else finds such a disparity in the same scent when applied differently. Ooh — I hope you tiptoe around that Bellodgia from now on (or do you even still have it? 😉 )

      • Om my yes. I LOVE the Bellodgia parfum and have got quite a bit of it. Just recently I scored an unopened 1oz in the HUGE crystal bottle. The wire is still in place and very little evaporation so far. MMMMMMM every time I open the cardboard box I get a sultry gust of sweet, spicy, carnation.
        Portia xx

  • Jackie b says:

    So is dabbing a safeguard against asphyxiating everyone? I am a terrible shot with a spray anyway.
    When you spray, perhaps the drops, being small, start developing very quickly. When I dab the scent keeps the top notes a bit longer. Also it feels decadent dabbing an extrait…Monroe dabbed No 5!

    • Ann says:

      “Terrible shot” — too funny, Jackie! Yay — another member for our club (see comment above yours). We are on the same page with the extrait — it just sounds like it ought to be dabbed 🙂

      • Mary P. says:

        And sample sprayers – don’t even get me started on those dinky little things that have shot out of my fingers like greased bb’s – and then I’ve had to get on my hands and knees looking for them everywhere – those things are dangerous I tell you! 🙂

        • Ann says:

          Oh, man, Mary — that’s the worst — down on hands and knees searching. I have a bad knee so heaven help me if my son wasn’t there to assist in retrieving fallen vials, ha!

  • Lisa D says:

    I have to dab Bois de Paradis, Kenzo Amour Le Parfum and Micallef Aoud Gourmet – I can’t imagine being able to breathe if I spritzed any of these. And, I’m a spray clutz, like Mary P.!

    • Ann says:

      Howdy, Lisa! I think we should form a group: Spray Clutzes of the World, Unite! BTW, have you tried any new teas lately?

      • Mary P. says:

        Ya, seriously! You don’t want to know how often I’ve sprayed the carpet or my face – and boy, I hate when that happens. I even check for the little hole and somehow I have too much ‘English’ in my pressing finger or something and it always ends up squirting out sideways, or dribbling or or or….. bleh…..

  • Furriner says:

    A lot of Serges I need to dab, especially Gris Clair…. Sprayed it smells very synthetic on me. There are some I can only wear in very cold weather. Maybe if I dabbed them I could wear them more often.

    It is interesting that you mention Portrait of a Lady. If I make the mistake of overspraying (which doesn’t take much), I get headaches all day. So dabbing may be the way to go.

    • Ann says:

      You are so right, now that I think about it; there are lots of SLs that I end up dabbing too. That PoaL does, indeed, pack a punch (I think if I sprayed it I’d have a headache as well). I’m thinking my 1.5 ml dab vial will last quite a while.

  • Jim says:

    I have to dab Chergui and Guerlain Heritage because when sprayed these two become iris/powder -bombs on my skin. When I dab them, it seems that I can appreciate the honey and hay in Chergui and the bergamot and sandalwood in Heritage.

    • Ann says:

      Jim, I could see that with Chergui. I haven’t worn it yet this season but will try it both dabbed and sprayed to see the difference. Yum — the bergamot and sandalwood sound nice in Heritage — must try soon!

  • Suzanne says:

    Ann, I completely agree with you on Portrait of a Lady. I love it, but it’s intensity makes it a dab only perfume for me. And another favorite, Puredistance Antonia, is one I prefer to dab (or just do one spray and distribute well). I would also agree with Caroline on vintage Joy parfum (to spray that one would be lethal, methinks!) 🙂 In general, though, I prefer to spray most perfumes, even those that come in parfum/extrait strength.

    • Ann says:

      Hey, sweetie! I think it would have to be a pretty brave perfumista to spray PoaL with abandon, but if they can pull it off, more power to them. Someone on here a while back (Sherri, maybe?) said she’d dropped a vial of that on her bathroom floor — wow! And yes, that Joy would have to be tiptoed up to and very daintily applied.
      You know, it’s funny but I seem to think of extraits as dab only, when of course, they can be sprayed like anything else. But if I really love it, I’ll haul out the sprayer and give it a gentle spritz. And I know you’ll join us in dunking ourselves in Carnal Flower! 🙂

      • Musette says:

        You wussies! 😀 I spray the living daylights out of PoaL!

        “Spray them! Spray them ALLLLLLLL!” bwahahahaha! (cough! ack!)

        except: you know…I wonder if that was The Shift with Drama Nuui. I fell in love with the 1ml sample, WHICH I DABBED! When I got the FB I sprayed – and that Dreaded Musk Note came stomping out, all over my nasal guts. hmmmmmm….

        I thought Dia and Gold extrait would be too much, sprayed. Nuh-uh. They are way more glorious!

        Then again, I work alone.


        • Ann says:

          Whoo-hoo, Musette! You are just a big, bold, spraying machine 😉 I love that you can enjoy your extraits sprayed. Is the Gold a bit more subdued in pure parfum or is bigger than the EDP?

          • Musette says:

            it’s big like Godzilla. But not overdone. There. That makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? I’ll be reviewing the extraits a bit down the line – will try to make it clearer then! xoxoxoA

          • Ann says:

            Oooh — can’t wait to hear all about them, you lucky girl, you!

  • Caroline says:

    Ann, your mention of Beloved had me look it up on Fragrantica. Is the lavender prominent? (not a note that usually suits me).
    I prefer spraying, with the exception of my vintage Joy–a tiny dab suffices!

    • Ann says:

      Howdy, Caroline! I only get a hint of lavender peeking out of Beloved (a note I’m not crazy about either but don’t mind it in discreet doses, so I don’t think it would bother you here). But the time I sprayed Beloved, the leather/animalic notes seemed to wipe out any of the florals, vanilla or spices for a little while, then they came easing back.

  • Mary P. says:

    I am a dabber through and through…. I like a more personal experience with it, it tends to stay closer to the skin when I dab…..and the other reason is that I am a spray klutz, truly I am. I invariably end up spraying it in the air next to my wrist or it sprays into my face or into my hand, gets all over my clothes, I waste more than I use – but not everyone is as sprayer challenged as I am :))

    • Ann says:

      Oh, Mary — I’m with you — dabbing is a far more targeted application for me as well. And even when I do spray, it’s usually only one spritz and I’m done. Having said that, I can’t imagine Carnal Flower dabbed on (for me at least) — that beauty deserves at least one spray (or maybe an extra if I’m feeling especially bold).

  • Darryl says:

    Unfortunately, I almost always prefer spraying – I feel it delivers the fullest expression of the fragrance, and I don’t have to worry about washing my hands or contaminating the juice with dead skin or bacteria, etc etc. I can think of two dramatic exceptions, though. Tauer’s L’air du Desert Marocain, which I imagine might suffocate me if sprayed; and Mugler’s Angel, which is so much less of a rib-jabbing, nostril-searing drama queen when it’s dabbed judiciously on the skin.

    • unseencenser says:

      I agree with you, Darryl – I love Angel, and also White Diamonds, but they’re delights dabbed, rather too many shoulder pads when sprayed.

      • Ann says:

        Amen, Darryl and Unseencenser! Angel really is more palatable for all concerned with just a dab or so. And I can’t imagine spraying the LDDM — I’ve only ever had vials and one or two dabs on the skin was a gracious plenty!

  • Gwen says:

    White florals, roses, and anything with vetiver or musk I must dab, or I get a ripping headache and/or nausea. Citrus, greens, and chypres I can do either way, but I’m a cheapskate, so I usually dab. I’m not a big proponent of sillage, though, albeit longevity makes me very happy. I like rollerballs because they fall in between; I can get plenty of scent with little effort (like a spray) but have excellent control of the amount (like dabbing). Yes, there is a minimal amount of waste (what dries, unused, on the ball), and I guess technically your skin cells can contaminate what’s left in the bottle too, but I’m not worried with decants of 5 ml or less.

    Actual difference in the scent I always thought was due to an overload on my olfactory nerves, but maybe something else is going on? Compared to the other four senses, smell is so little understood by the masses, which would be me.

    • Ann says:

      Bless your heart, Gwen! I’m so sorry that spraying some scents makes you so ill — you do have to be very careful with new ones then.So glad that there are some that you can spray if you want though. As for rollerballs, I like them, too, although not as many scents come in them as you’d hope, but we can always make our own.
      I don’t know about the actual chemistry of dabbed vs. sprayed, but I’m guessing that the spray application somehow affects? rearranges? diffuses? the molecules differently than a dab. Where are our scent chemists to help us out? I knew I should have paid more attention in chemistry.

  • wefadetogray says:

    Two by Parfumerie Generale: I can spray neither Cadjemere nor Musc Maori. The former gets really cypress-y, greenish, sap-y on my and the second gets a bitterness menthol stridency I dont really like. So I dab these and they are adorable 🙂
    I like this post topic a lot. Thanks!

    • Ann says:

      Oh, that is interesting! I love Cadjmere, too, but only have dab samples of it, so have not sprayed it (and now after hearing your experience, maybe I’ll just keep dabbing it, too). And the MM I haven’t ever tried but have meant to.
      I usually sample something for the first few times out of a dab sample anyway so I can get a closer-to-the-skin impression of it, so some scents obviously never make it to the “spray-on” phase.