Perfumista tip: how to remove fragrance from skin

Liquid Tide

The Murphy's Law of fragrance sampling says quite simply that the more you like a scent, the quicker it will disappear. It follows, of course, that a fragrance that you detest beyond all understanding will cling to your skin like glue, and lingering traces will remain on your wool coat even after several dry-cleanings.

Over the years I have read about and tried any number of perfume-removal methods. Wiping with alcohol is frequently recommended, but rarely removes hardcore offenders, and scrubs, well, sometimes even removing the top layer of skin isn't enough. Here is my own personal routine:

1. Apply unscented deodorant.

2. After a few minutes, wash off with a heavy-duty laundry detergent. I like Liquid Tide, although I must note that some versions of Tide are so highly scented that you've simply replaced one problem with another. Tide Free, if you can find it, is the best.

If you're planning a heavy day of fragrance shopping, individually wrapped alcohol swabs (you can find them at most pharmacies) are better than nothing, and I also like Dickinson's Witch Hazel pads.

My favorite shower gel for removing fragrance: Santa Maria Novella Hamamelis (Witch Hazel), but it isn't cheap and I've been meaning to look for an alternative.

Have a better suggestion? Do comment!

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  1. Anonymous says:

    …and some scents just Wopuld Not Die, no matter what…Case in hand: Marina Vs Human Existence. Scrubbed it with everything I could think of, including whatever Tide I had than. R, it still stank from underneath all that. Aaargh!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Not to make light of your troubles, but somehow it is fitting that Human Existence cannot be removed, LOL!

    Some of the modern synthetic musks are quite literally impossible to remove, no matter what you do. I don't usually worry about the consequences of all these synthetics I'm putting on my skin, but a musk that lasts 3 days is worrisome.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I just tried to scrub off this thing called Aphrodisiac from Lumar…. Jeeze, this stuff could be used to scare cats off. I tried hot water, soap, spraying another fragrance on top and eight hours later: I can still smell it. Someone pass me a bottle of bleach please…

  4. Anonymous says:

    There are two lines which seem to have two-week half lives; Serge Lutens and Profumum. Which doesn't really matter except in the case of Arabie (I was briefly tempted to saw my arm off; no other perfume has made me actually retch…) But if you dab a tiny bit in the morning, in that sort of 'will I go with this today or not?' fashion, then you know for sure you will be going with that choice whether you like it or not. I have no idea what they put in these bottles. And I can never get those juices off.

  5. Anonymous says:

    You are so right about Profumum! Thought I was going to have to saw MY arm off to get rid of Soavissima. But finally a 45 minute shower in really hot water, scented shower gel, scented lotion and another perfume on top reduced it to a level that was at least bearable. I'm going to have to remember the liquid Tide, it's certainly worth trying!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for the sniffing expedition recommendations. As my trip to France nears I've been getting worried about how much skin I'm going to have to show in order to try 15 perfumes a day. I've been burned a few too many times by buying after only trying a smell strip to try that again.

  7. Anonymous says:

    When I go to NY, I sometimes take a travel sized unscented deodorant and the witch hazel wipes. People will look at you strangely in public rest rooms, but having skin left for sampling is more important than what strangers think!

    But be careful with the deodorant…it is only for emergencies, not really to create more real estate on your arm — it might eat whatever you apply next.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I haven't yet stooped to bleach, but I might some day…

  9. Anonymous says:

    Your suggestion could not have come at a better time, R.

    I just dabbed on a most disgusting fragrance from Etat Libre d'Orange. (I bet you can figure out which one it is, ha, ha!)

    Anyway, I can't get the little bugger off my left index finger to save my life, so thank you for the tips! :):)


  10. Anonymous says:

    LOL…now see, SL to me perfectly fits the Murphy's Law. The SLs I love don't tend to last, the ones I hate cannot be removed by any human means ;-)

  11. Anonymous says:

    That is fighting fire with fire, LOL…

  12. Anonymous says:

    LOL…I haven't tried it, but I know exactly what you mean. Well, at least you'll only have to amputate one finger ;-)

  13. Anonymous says:

    I've heard that you can get individually packaged towlettes of 4711 that work pretty well to remove and then cover up another scent. They would leave an odor, though, but hopefully an odor better than the one you want to remove.
    I've tried unscented baby wipes, and they're o.k. but not super at removing scent. Still, they might work for traveling.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I've long been a fan of liquid Tide for removing noxious samples, but I'd not thought of covering them w/ unscented deo before and then washing it off. Brilliant idea! Yesterday I was desperately scrubbing my skin off w/ Tide and a Mr. Clean sponge to remove all traces of ELdO's Divine'enfent and SM. Stomach turning scents. I love several from that line, but those two just about killed me. Wish I'd used the unscented deo as well. Alcohol, stainless steel, assorted wipes – none have really worked to completely eradicate all traces of evil scents for me.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Will have to look for those — I really like the Hermes Eau d'Orange Vert towelettes, but guessing that the 4711 will be much cheaper! Do try the Dickinsons, it is better than just soap and water if you get stuck in public with something really stinky.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Clean Sponge? Going to have to google that, don't even know what it is but it sounds like I need it!

    And thanks for the warning on the Divine'Enfant, have been reading about SM but didn't know that one was dangerous also ;-)

  17. Anonymous says:

    OMG – I can no longer imagine life w/out Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. Heaven for cleaning anything and everything. I should say, however, that they are just a bit rugged on the skin and should only be used for removing the most nightmarish scents.

    I'm sure not everyone will react to Divine'enfent the way I did, but on my skin it was an unfinished mess – an excessively sweet, heavy, almost sticky scent. It's as if their goal was to combine the scent inside a hot taxi cab w/ one of those nauseatingly strong air fresheners and the smell of a head shop. Shudder.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I'm laughing my ass off because I own a full bottle of SL's Arabie and love it, though so many hate it. It just smells like an Indian market to me, my bf loves it. Thanks Robin, for the hints on how to remove the dreaded perfumes from hell. I've just had to suffer through some, sorely tempted to get the acetone out…not a good idea. Tide and unscented deordorant seem like a much healthier option.

  19. Anonymous says:

    For a moment there I thought P&G came out with a Tide perfume. And I was like “damn, look at that big ass bottle!”.

    Come to think of it, will women buy an “Eau De Tide” ? “Tide – for the hardworking woman who knows how to take care of all the dirty business!” :D

  20. Anonymous says:

    This may not work while fragrance shopping, but acid is known to neutralize smells. As in bathing the dog in tomato juice after his run in with a skunk. Other options are lemon juice and white vinegar. Both of which can be added to the wash.
    On the opposite end of the ph. spectrum, a baking soda in water solution will also work.
    Best, Z…..

  21. Anonymous says:

    Ah, Mr Clean Magic Erasers — those are the things that caused some trouble when Mrs. Badger of Lipstick Is My Crack was misquoted in Allure about their use:

    Will have to get one now, warnings or no ;-)

  22. Anonymous says:

    LOL — I don't know what women will buy…Tide now comes in an astounding number of scents (Water Lily & Jasmine, Rose & Violet, among others) so an Eau de Tide is not out of the question!

  23. Anonymous says:

    Great suggestions! Haven't had any luck with lemon myself, but white vinegar is worth a try and will give it a shot next time.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Believe it or not, I've tried acetone (can't remember where I got that idea) and it didn't accomplish much :-)

  25. Anonymous says:

    Yikes! That's some serious perfume.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Oops!! Ummm….I don't read Allure, but, clearly, the MC people haven't smelled SM or Divine'enfent. Yes, there's pain and a bit of a rug burn, but that's just one of those things I, personally, was willing to endure in that 911 level scent situation. But I'm going to have to agree w/ the MC people that people really shouldn't use Magic Erasers. Oh, and Poppy's comment to that post cracked me up. :-)

  27. Anonymous says:

    Just went back to read the comments, LOL…

  28. Anonymous says:

    You know what really helps? Spraying the fragrance on a paper strip… I can usually tell by that if the fragrance is going to be one of these “want to cut my hand off” scents. I could kick myself when I sprayed on this Aphrodisiac stuff because I did not have a paper strip near me… punishment: It lasted nearly 24 hours on my wrist.

  29. Anonymous says:

    So much fun to read!!! R, how do you have a child and not a lifetime supply of those Magic Erasers?!? We use them all the time :-( maybe my kids are just unusually badly behaved.
    I have been staring at my tiny Vile of Secretions for several hours, trying to work up my nerve. BTW Incense et Bubblegum is disgusting (just like it sounds, what was I expecting?) In fact, that sounds so wrong I am wondering whether Patty's playing a joke on me…

  30. Anonymous says:

    I know that is true, but I don't feel like I've tried something if I don't put it on skin — I am a complete amateur in every way :-)

  31. Anonymous says:

    LOL — between the iPOD and the Clorox Bleach Pen, I thought I basically had the best of what Modern Life had to offer, but now I see that I was quite mistaken ;-)

    Um, enjoy the Vile of Secretions, and let me know if it requires the Magic Eraser?

  32. Anonymous says:

    I've made some dreadful mistakes in perfume, and it is absolutely true: removability is inversely proportional to how much you like it.

    This method removes the armpit-musk of costes, which clings to me like varnish, except varnish smells better.


    Rub area with Chapstick–for some reason, this brand works best on me.

    Let it sit for at least 3 minutes.

    Take off with makeup remover or eyemakeup remover.

    Wash with good shower gel.

    Pat down with hand lotion.

    Voila! Ready to go.


  33. Anonymous says:

    Costes, really? I love Costes! It is very funny to see what other people consider a scrubber :-)

    But have never tried chapstick, and will have to!

  34. Anonymous says:

    Trying to get away from Luctor et Emergo right now, but it's pursuing me. Luckily, I'm going to bed in a few minutes; with a bit of luck it will have gone by tomorrow morning.

  35. Anonymous says:

    LOL…my beloved POTL, reduced to a scrubber ;-)

  36. Anonymous says:

    I'm afraid so. Sorry. :-(

    It's still floating around. I used to quite like it, but now it bothers me a lot: that sweetish-ness. Still, that was the last of my sample so I can forget about it.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Apologies not necessary — you know I won't wear Fleurs d'Oranger, and by any standard that is the better perfume :-)

  38. Anonymous says:

    Eh, skin chemistry and all that… :-)

  39. Anonymous says:

    Ditto for the Serge Lutens. I had read this post before, but it takes on a whole new meaning after Miel de Bois. I'm actually frightened of that perfume. I want to try it again, but the skin on the top of my foot (default testing place for all things that might be disgusting) is begging me not to. I didn't try the tide though….maybe that'd help me save some skin.

    • promiseevans says:

      I think we are are impressed you can get your foot to your nose. :-)

  40. Anonymous says:

    Do try the unscented deodorant as well — it works way better than you'd imagine!

  41. Anonymous says:

    Acetone is used in chemistry labs to wash glassware because it will dissolve almost anything (certainly anything organic, which is what perfumes are). It's safe enough, though I wouldn't drink it. You do have to use lotion afterwards, because it's drying.

    Also: 100% acetone nail polish remover works way better than that weird mixed stuff that's in most nail polish removers.

  42. Anonymous says:


  43. promiseevans says:

    This is my particular fragrance testing spree routine, perhaps a little over the top, but it works well, and I don’t end up having to smell like 14 things I hate for 2 days. I usually only resort to this when I know I will be fragrance shopping and will want to try several “in store” spritz’s or if I have accumulated quite the sampling of decants/sample vials and want to get the testing over all at once.
    Supplies: Fountain pen, unscented chapstick or tube or neosporin, first aid gauze, 100% acetone nail polish remover, (uncolored/unscented), 5 or 8 ml decant spray vial filled with water, paper dixie cup cut in half.
    I will put all this in a zip lock bag and toss it in my purse if I am going out shopping.
    I use the pen to mark off sections of my arm usually 2-3 inches apart (usually I will number them 1, 2, 3 so I can keep track of what’s where, and usually will match smelling strip #1, to arm section #1, etc.), then I apply chapstick or neosporin to the marked off sections. I will then use the dixie cup cut in half to cover the section of my arm I want to spray the perfume on (so it’s like spraying it in a little tunnel)….so that the fragrance doesn’t get sprayed on any of the other marked off sections and mix with what was sprayed before or after it.
    Once I am ready to remove the perfume, I spray a gauze with the water and wipe it off, then will wet a second gauze with the acetone and wipe again, then use the other side of the water soaked gauze to wipe off once again. I have found that having the chapstick or neosporin as a base, keeps the scent from clinging to my skin and making it impossible to remove.
    And yes…I get a lot of strange looks when I whip out my supplies while standing at the perfume counter in Harrods, or Macys, Nordstrom, etc. But it works for me.

    • Robin says:

      Gracious — that is elaborate! Glad the system works for you :-)

  44. Owen says:

    prevention is better than cure; try it on paper first ;)
    I know it will smell differant to on skin but it’s as close as you can get.

    or do what I do, when going shopping with friends, use their arms to spray new perfume on that you’d like to try, that way they’ll have the problem of removing it :) aha
    but then again, it will smell differant on them that it does on you :/ oh well

    • Robin says:

      Ha…I don’t think many perfumistas will take your advice :-)

  45. elusivek says:

    I’m going to try the tide & the witch hazel to see if one (or both) work. The last one that made me scrub off at least 4 layers of skin was Estee Lauder’s Sensuous. People rave about it, but with my chemistry it was terrible. Had to ride in the car with the windows down.

  46. boojum says:

    I think I finally found something that works for me! B&BW has a line of hand sanitizers and lotions for the kitchen that are “odor eliminating with Fresh Source”… works on onion, garlic, and scrubbers! Of course, you ARE left with the smell of the sanitizer, but a few washings w/regular hand soap eventually gets rid of that. I have the ginger pear scent.

  47. madge says:

    thank. you. so. much!!!! I tried M/Mink by Byredo on my skin today. BAD idea. I’ve been going nuts all day long because it just wouldn’t disappear!! I would seriously prefer being punched than having that perfume on my skin for 3 days. My routine: Secret invisible solid unscented + wizz oxi ultra plus stain remover + nail polish remover + hand sanitiser. I’m having pudding right now to celebrate :) !!

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