Estee Lauder Youth Dew ~ perfume review

Estee Lauder Youth Dew Sumptuous Favorites gift set

From reading reviews of Estée Lauder Youth Dew on MakeupAlley, it seems that everyone’s grandmother wore Youth Dew. If you don’t know Youth Dew, you might find this strange. After all, the name “Youth Dew” sounds like it’s best suited for adolescents. If you do know Youth Dew, you know that it smells viciously balsamic, almost like sweet motor oil — not a scent you might associate with cookies, knitting, and other traditionally grandmotherly pursuits.

My mother’s mother wore Youth Dew, too. Grandma Jean kept a small bottle of the bath oil on a shelf in the bathroom of her mobile home in an adults-only trailer park outside of Anaheim, California. When we visited her each summer, we could stand on her porch and see the fireworks at Disneyland. My grandfather, cigarette and can of beer in hand, tended his orchids in the tiny greenhouse in the driveway while my grandmother played on the organ the only songs she knew: “Spanish Eyes” and “Please Release Me”. Her bottle of Youth Dew bath oil had a gold foil label that was worn where it wrapped around the edges of the ridged front, and to me it was an emblem of adulthood, along with lipstick and the click of high heels.

Lauder cannily introduced Youth Dew in 1953 as a bath oil, knowing that women who expected men to buy perfume for them would feel more comfortable buying bath oil for themselves. Once the bath oil was selling well, Lauder introduced an Eau de Parfum. Basenotes lists Youth Dew’s top notes as “spicy notes”, orange, bergamot, peach, and aldehydes; its heart as clove, rose, ylang-ylang, cinnamon, and orchid; and its base as amber, tolu, patchouli, benzoin, and vanilla.

Reading these notes gives the impression of a spicy, fruity floral with a sweet dry down, but Youth Dew comes on with an aggressive resinous punch and little obvious fruit. As the scent calms, clove and cinnamon appear. Eventually amber and vanilla emerge, and the scent becomes less chewy, but still as warm and enveloping as a down comforter. Youth Dew reminds me of Estée Lauder Cinnabar, but it’s tougher and — even though it’s at least 25 years older — edgier. Youth Dew is immediately identifiable, like Guerlain Shalimar or Thierry Mugler Angel, and has equally devastating sillage. Spritz with caution.

If you think about it, it makes sense that our grandmothers were fans of Youth Dew. When Youth Dew came out, my grandmother was 32 years old, just the age when her daughter was in school and she had time to think about herself. She worked during the war and saw herself as more than a dependent, White Shoulders-wearing wife and mother. Glamorous women of her generation, including Wallis Simpson, Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford, and Dolores Del Rio, wore Youth Dew. (Madonna supposedly wears it today.) The real surprise is that my grandmother and so many others remained faithful to Youth Dew over the years.

Estée Lauder Youth Dew is available in department stores that carry Estée Lauder cosmetics and at esteelauder. A 45-ml bottle of Eau de Parfum is $22.50. A 30-ml bottle of bath oil is also $22.50. The Youth Dew Sumptuous Favorites gift set shown above includes Eau de Parfum Spray, Body Satinée, Perfumed Dusting Powder and Bath Oil for $45.

See also: Jessica's review of Youth Dew Body Creme.

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60 Comments

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Been busy and so has the blog – lots to catch up and read! :)

    Loved this write up Angela! Youth Dew (like most perfumes by Estee Lauder) made me think for many years that maybe I just wasn't a “true” perfume lover. I just couldn't (and still don't) see the appeal of some of these classic/best selling frags. My grandma wears Cinnibar, so it will always be sentimental in that way for me. But I can't imagine a time when it was ever a fresh or (heaven help us) sexy scent!

    What's funny is: if I had just read the notes for Youth Dew I would be dying to sniff it! LOL!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Nice review, Angela.
    I just bought a bottle of this last month, and I'm finding I really like it. It sounds like you're a little ambivalent about it, and I can appreciate why many people would be, but to me it's a nice combination of old fashioned and provocative. My SO said (and this struck me as funny) that it smelled “powdery” at first, and then a few minutes later he said it was a “happy scent”. One thing I get from from it that I don't see mentioned is civet, which I normally dislike, but in ELYD I find I don't mind, since it's very mild. ELYD is also rather tenacious – I sprayed some in my hair and kept getting whiffs of it after repeated shampoos.
    Also good to know that the lotion is true to the scent – I'll have to pick some up.
    And yes, the name makes no sense whatsoever – this is what should have been called “Provocative Woman” or some such thing.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I find Youth Dew a bit too much, but I'm really enjoying Tom Ford's reformulation. Amber Nude is Youth-Dewy in character, I find, but a lot less treacley and retro. It's still probably the *heaviest* scent I own. I don't wear it as a daytime scent, but it's pretty effective at night ;-) . . .Just in case anyone's intrigued by Angela's lovely description but can't get past that Grandma association in “real life!!”

  4. Anonymous says:

    Cinnabar reminds me a lot of Youth Dew, actually, except that Cinnabar is so much more rounded, almost to the point of not being as interesting to me. But I know what you mean about Youth Dew–it reminds me so much of my grandmother that I can't wear it all that often.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think I'm mostly ambivalent because it reminds me so much of one person that I can't see it as one of “my” scents. I do love, though, how the drydown sticks to my coat and sweaters.

  6. Anonymous says:

    R, the Amber Nude is such a different scent to me–not retro at all. It's a regular amber blanket, a good one for a cold day.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I love Youth Dew. LOVE it.

    Here's a funny story: Several years ago I tried it on in a Douglas (a Sephora-type store but with a more grown-up perfume selection) in Berlin, and I liked it very much, but the young SA all but shooed me away from it, saying “Das ist ein Duft fuer Muttis!” (A fragrance for mothers). I ended up telling her that I was buying it as a gift for my mother, just so that she would let me have it in peace!

    I now wear the bath oil, which can be dabbed in small amounts and isn't quite the sillage monster that the EdP is. It's spicy warmth is addictive.

    My grandmother wore Opium, another spicy scent but not one with such an “old lady” reputation.

  8. Anonymous says:

    It's so strange how so many people associate Youth Dew with mothers (I associate it with my grandmother, for instance) when it's so not a motherly scent! I guess it's an international trend, too.

    I'm longing to try the bath oil now.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Ahhh, yes, Angela! Amber blanket: such a perfect description. It's nicely modern and edgy, but still warm and cozy. It's also very nearly as tenacious as the original. Bring on the snow! Thanks for a lovely review.

  10. Anonymous says:

    For years my parents held a holiday open house and my duty as junior hostess was to take the ladies' wraps and put them on my parents' bed, then retrieve them as the owners left the party.

    I am old enough to remember when the fur stoles made of the entire mink pelt, head and paws included, were the dernier cri. Among ladies of the stole-wearing set in my community Youth Dew was also de riguer. For years, growing up, I was convinced that a living mink animal would smell like Youth Dew.

    So for me, while there are definitely associations with women a generation or two ahead of me, my most lingering association is with mink pelts. lol Perhaps if the day ever comes when those come back into fashion, I'll begin wearing it. But for the most part, it's just too aggressive to suit me.

    I do, however, have to admire it for the monumental success it was and still is.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Ten years ago when I was working in cosmetics and fragrances, Germaine Monteil's Royal Secret was being sold by the gallons, especially to Americans. (I live in Canada.) I always thought of it being in the same vein as Youth Dew which I wore in my 20's. Back then there weren't a million launches a year. While I wouldn't wear it now, I truly respect YD's groundbreaking creation. It IS a classic! Too bad that we have to associate classics that came before us with grandmothers, and smelling like them as being undesireable. I think the old perfumes have greater body and I'd be thrilled to discover an old bottle in an antique shop and wear it knowing that I didn't smell fruity floral like everybody else. To my mind, the name means that putting it on will recapture one's youth!

  12. Anonymous says:

    You're welcome!

  13. Anonymous says:

    I love your story! How well a mink pelt and Youth Dew would go together, too.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I adore vintage perfume, but most of it doesn't remind me of anyone I know. You make such a good point about having a relatively small number of releases in those days, making whatever was released more likely to be worn, I guess. I wonder how many new perfumes came out in 1953?

  15. Anonymous says:

    Germaine Monteil!! Oh, memories!! I wonder if anyone remembers Bakir. That was a fragrance that was DECADES ahead of its time. It was the most smoky, incensey, resinous thing in the world to my young nostrils, back in the seventies. I bought a big bottle when I found out it was being discontinued, but it turned on me quickly (strange, in retrospect, for a fragrance with those kind of basenotes).

  16. Anonymous says:

    I haven't smelled that one! I'll have to keep my eyes out for it.

  17. Anonymous says:

    You know, I have never smelled this. Or at least I don't remember smelling it. But it reads like I'd love it.
    I LOVE somuchwomans story- I remember when those furs were just the living end! My mom had one that had three minks each holding onto the other mouth-to-tail. You fastened it by a clasp in the first minks mouth, making it “bite” the last one. At the time I was fascinated by it, in retrospect it's pretty gross….

  18. Anonymous says:

    My mom has always worn youth dew. I'm 25 and she's 60. Thankfully I have convinced her to only wear it in the fall and winter! It's always instantly smelled like “mom” to me.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Tom, you've got to give it a try, if for no other reason than that Youth Dew is an icon.

    I wonder what my dog would make of minks with heads and tails?

  20. Anonymous says:

    I think that's the thing with Youth Dew–so many women wore it at one time that it's hard to think of it independently.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I don't think I've ever smelled this, either. Must go and have a sniff at the first opportunity – the notes do sound lovely. I'm guessing I'll have the same “oh, so THIS is YD” reaction to YD that I had the first time I sampled Chanel No. 5 – they're the kind of fragrance you've smelled on people a thousand times. I just never connected the dots.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I wouldn't be surprised at all if you recognized it immediately. But do go smell it!

  23. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for a lovely review, Angela! Oddly enough, I was researching EL frags last week bcs. I was going to visit friends in a city that has a Nordstrom (EL had a GWP). I gave YD some serious consideration as I loved the smell, but passed it up in the end. I love gutsy older scents like this and I feel as if I have the territory covered already. The bath oil would be nice to have, though.

  24. Anonymous says:

    You're welcome! I really want to try the bath oil, too. I bought the EdP because it brought back so many good memories, but I didn't even think of the bath oil at the time or I probably would have bought that, instead.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful review! I've always liked Youth Dew, but like so many of the classics, find it so difficult to wear. Bath oil is the perfect way to enjoy these scents.

  26. Anonymous says:

    A man could most definitely wear Youth Dew–just not this man. I love intense, spicy orientals like Opium, but Youth Dew has a certain (forgive me, fans) horribleness about it, mostly in the aldehydic, citrus-heavy top note. I don't know why, but it's wretched on me. The middle section is an improvement and the drydown is everything an oriental should be, but that top! I just can't make my way through it to the good stuff.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Well, you're not alone. Youth Dew seems to be love it or hate it!

  28. Anonymous says:

    I've got to try the bath oil, that's for sure.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I use the bath oil and I love it. My mother never used Youth dew (she was an Avon user!!! Her favorite was Here's my Heart!) I think I became a fan of Youth dew when someone gave my mother a small bottle of the perfume and I remember liking it for myself (Mind you, I was only 8 years old!) Its just reminds me of a classy woman walking down the street in NYC, in the 1960's…

  30. Anonymous says:

    According to Basenotes there were 19 launches in 1953, 6 from Prince Matchabelli, 5 from Bourjois. One noteable launch was Cuir de Russie by Creed, another was Jolie Madame by Balmain.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Because my beloved Steel Magnolia grandmother wore it, it is a comfort scent for me. I spray it on a cotton square and dab it on before bedtime. Occasionally have worn TINY dabs to work if it will be a stressful day. Would love to find the bath oil but no luck so far.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Prince Matchabelli and Bourjois were sure busy that year. Still, 19 launches is manageable to test. I might have opted for the Jolie Madame, but I can see a lot of women going for Youth Dew, which was probably easier to get and came in bath oil.

  33. Anonymous says:

    An 8-year old Youth Dew fan! You must have been quite a kid.

  34. Anonymous says:

    My local Macy's carries the bath oil, although it's not out on display. You might be able to get it by asking for it an the Estee Lauder counter.

    It's so nice to smell something that reminds you of someone you love.

  35. Anonymous says:

    perfumebay.com carries the bath oil in 2 sizes (not affiliated, etc.)

  36. Anonymous says:

    I'm surprised to read that so many people have such a strong motherly association with YD….of course my mom wore mostly Avon Skin-So-Soft.

    All I can tell you is that a women wearing Youth Dew can get anything she wants out of me. The deeds to my house, my car, my cottage… anything.

    The only other perfumes that have this effect on me are Fendi (the first one), Ivoire de Balmain, and Diva de Ungaro.

  37. Anonymous says:

    I had never smelled Youth Dew before, so today in the store i sprayed a tester on a card. Comically, the sweet motor oil idea was dead on. Later, as it began to dry down, I kinda of thought it was okay. Surprisingly, I didn't hate it. But it's not something I'd enjoy smelling on people all the time.

  38. Anonymous says:

    I bet you never forget that smell. There's something about Youth Dew that goes on and on…

  39. Anonymous says:

    I'm new to this blog, and it seems you have a wonderful thing going on here. Reading the reviews of Youth Dew and Grandmothers I had to comment. My Grandmother wore Youth Dew, and the scent is very strongly associated with her to me. She wore it every day for so many years that after she died her house smelled of her for a couple of years at least. It made her presence in the house very tangible, I always expected her to be around the corner. But then my parents rented the house out to students, well as you can imagine the scents were a little different afterwards.

  40. Anonymous says:

    It's just about time to start a club for People Whose Grandmothers Wore Youth Dew. I think we'd have a robust membership!

  41. Anonymous says:

    I fervently hope animal skins DO NOT come back in fashion. Faux fur is so well done, nowadays..so are fake heads although macabre. Hopefully YD smells the same on it. But it is a lovely written story-so vivid. I have similar nostalgia for my mother's Avon Charisma bath oil.

    I snuck some and filled the bottle back up with water–bubbles formed and my backside got warmed.

    joy :o

  42. Anonymous says:

    I don't think I've ever smelled Avon Charisma. I love the name, though. My other grandmother wore Revlon Moondrops, and I'd love to smell that again.

  43. Anonymous says:

    I bought a gift set for my mother every year at Christmas, from the time I could remember.

    As I got older, I introduced her to other scents . . . to get her away from Youth Dew.

    She loved Lou Lou, Obsession, and Poeme.

    I bought her Youth Dew last holiday for memories sake, and she was thrilled.

    You can take Youth Dew away from the woman, but I have a feeling that for an entire generation, you'll never take the woman away from Youth Dew.

    And rightfully so. A landmark fragrance which deserves our respect for its (not so) sheer influence.

  44. Anonymous says:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. I can't imagine my grandmother without a drop of Youth Dew bath oil behind each ear.

  45. Anonymous says:

    I come from a country where Youth Dew is rather obscure to the general public, so there aren't any grandmotherly connotations to it.

    I personally haven't sniffed it yet (but I'm going to) and those who have, most of them hard-boiled perfume fans, see it as very desirable, very sexy and dark.

  46. Anonymous says:

    It's interesting how much our associations with a particular perfume (or lack of them) influence how we see the perfume. Youth Dew is pretty mysterious and dark smelling–I'd love to know what you think of it when you smell it.

  47. Anonymous says:

    I'll sure let you know!

  48. Anonymous says:

    I recently got both a vintage and a newly formulated decant of this in a swap. The vintage has a strong tarry, Jergen's lotion-y note that I dont' care for. The reformulation seems clearer, brighter, and the nice orange peel and leather notes shine brighter. This is an extremely elegant perfume, suitable today for formal events such as a museum opening or whatnot. I can't really see it as an every day scent. To me, this is the Joan Crawford of perfumes (she wore it, too!). Undeniably beautiful, complicated, elegant — and yet somehow unlovable. Whereas Habanita is Marilyn Monroe — lucious, voluptuous, eager to please, very lovable.

  49. Anonymous says:

    I also love Youth Dew. As you said the EdP is a sillage monster, I don't mind it but I think of the people around me so I'm curious is the bath oil as long lasting as the EdP? I know this fragrance is meant for women but it has all the notes I love, and I'm the type to wear what I like and ignore lables.

  50. Anonymous says:

    The bath oil does last a fairly long time, and on me it has less sillage, too.

    I'm glad you're ignoring whether a scent is marketed toward a man or a woman–I think this one would be great on a man.

  51. Dizzy Dazzy says:

    You either love this or hate it. I really like Youth Dew. There’s nothing subtle about it, it is distinctive rather than many perfumes which can all be lumped together in the “samey” category. I wore it in the early 80′s and one whiff now transports me back in time. Very, very fond of Youth Dew, for sentimental reasons.

    • Angela says:

      It definitely has a sentimental pull for me, too.

  52. Anna T says:

    Wow–I had NO idea just how many mothers and grandmothers wore YD until seeing your wonderful review! My mother, too, wore it exclusively and always asked for replacements of it at gift-time. While I loved the fragrance on her, it’s true that the motor oil reference came up in our family, so I was happily stunned to read that part of the review. I have memories of piling into the family car to go to church early Sunday mornings, and my dad would invariably say, “What’s that smell? What smells like oil/gas,” knowing full well that it was her perfume. I guess he did not like it. He would change the wording, but the scenario would repeat, even though I think my mom also used it very sparingly, albeit year-round, in a hot southern climate. I remember seeing a bottle of it this summer when visiting, but I did not stop to spray it like I usually do. For now, I think she has moved on to other perfumes, but there has always been a bottle in her drawer. It is probably old by now, but I am definitely going to try on it the next time I am back there! Thanks, Angela, for a wonderful review!

    • Angela says:

      I’m glad the review brought back happy memories! If the Youth Dew has been kept out of the light, you might be surprised at how true it still smells.

  53. CAREN says:

    I’m wondering would anyone out there agree with me on my opinion of the all-time-favorite, Youth Dew, and my opinion has nothing to do with grandma. My kindergarten teacher wore this fragrance religiously. As she sat at the piano, her body swayed and I couldn’t help smelling this beautiful fragrance in the room. As I was going through my mommy-withdrawals, for some reason, the smell of this perfume made me feel like everything was going to be alright. This fragrance lingers as the woman wearing it walks by. It makes you say, “What is that lovely smell?” This fragrance demands attention. When ever I’ve smelled it down a hallway, in a bathroom, or at an office, an elegant, well-dressed woman always follows. This fragrance represents to me: wealth, elegance, class, femininity, attractiveness, womaness, confidence,and independence. I will always love this perfume even if the only time I can wear it is during the fall or the winter months. To wear it during the spring or the summer, you must exercise caution as it is a demanding fragrance that crawls into your nose. To wear it during those hot months, I spray my blouse or my bra the night before right at the arm-pit area of the blouse or the bra. The body-heat from this area warms the fragrance and allows it to emit from your body in a more sublte way as apposed to it overwhelming someone you approach. If I don’t want to smell it on myself at all, I spray it on my panties, on the hip area keeping the bottle close to my body so as not to “spray” too much of it. I never spray it on my neck or my arms. If I did, the base-notes would make me light-headed all day long. Weeks later, I’ll be fumbling in my closet and I’ll say, What is that lovely smell? Then it hits me. Smiling, I”ll say, That’s that blouse I sprayed with Youth Dew weeks ago.

    • Angela says:

      It sounds like Youth Dew is a really meaningful fragrance for you! That’s wonderful. Not many people have a fragrance that symbolizes both the best of being a grown up and the comforts of being a child. I hope you wear it with joy for years to come.

  54. sweetgrass says:

    I came upon a tiny, aged bottle of Youth Dew in an antique shop today. I had never heard of Youth Dew, and the name is kind of awful. But I tried a little of it. I don’t know what the original (or a new bottle) is like (I also don’t know how old the bottle that I tried was), but I got mostly patchouli and ylang ylang and maybe a bit of benzoin. Some other somewhat herbaceous notes emerged that I couldn’t quite identify, but I didn’t get much spice or fruit in it. It was nice enough, and not particularly long-lived, but I didn’t feel compelled to spend $9 for the 2ml or so bottle.

    • Angela says:

      Youth Dew is a cinch to find in antiques malls, I find, and I wouldn’t pay more than $4 or $5 for a bottle of it. Often you can find the bath oil, too, which is terrific (some say even better) worn as perfume.

  55. Phoebe84 says:

    Hi Angela!
    Youth Dew has been a favorite in our house since the 80′s.
    My husband and I both Love this scent. I have always been a bath oil girl. I actually introduced my now husband to the pleasures of bathing with Youth dew bath oil, and we have been sharing a tub ever since! :)

    • Angela says:

      That’s fantastic! He’s a man (a nicely scented man, that is) in a million.

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