Men’s aftershave, or cologne, makes a great Christmas gift or stocking stuffer and there’s no better time to buy it then on Black Friday what with all the great deals and offers on men’s fragrances. Top brands include Hugo Boss, Dior Homme, Diesel, Jimmy Choo, Ralph Lauren, and Giorgio Armani – just to name some of them.
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Aftershave/Cologne Buying Guide
From a young Maculey Culkin splashing his face with his dad’s aftershave and then screaming the empty house down in Home Alone, through to Brian Fantana opening up his cupboard filled with aftershaves and picking out his bottle of Sex Panther, we all know about the importance of scent on a man’s neck. The question is, though, do we know what we should be keeping an eye out for when we hit the shops and look to pick up an aftershave for ourselves or a loved one?
If the answer to that is ‘not really, no’, then don’t worry! That’s what we’re here for. We’ll take you through the dos and don’ts of aftershave buying and help you decide upon the best route to go down for when you try to sniff out a bargain. Obviously there’s only so much we can tell you about on a website and, despite the incredible advancements in technology in recent years, they have yet to develop a scratch and sniff computer or tablet. With that in mind, it’s always worth popping to the shops to see if there’s a particular scent that takes your fancy before coming back here and finding the best deal for it online.
The first aftershaves as we understand them today were to be found in barbershops, as the patrons used the high alcohol levels of the liquid as a makeshift antiseptic. It helped to kill off any bacteria and minimised the transmission of disease between their clients through their shaving instruments. As a side benefit it also reduced any possibility of infection on their client’s faces and, even more excitingly, it smelled quite nice.
After time the use of aftershave grew from being a practical thing to a tradition that was passed down from father to son, rather than barber and client. The alcohol seemed to revitalise the user, waking them up and making them feel fresh thanks to the tingling sensation it created. Unfortunately there were downside, especially as the alcohol left the skin feeling dry and irritated. In some cases it caused the skin to become so dry and tight that it acted as a barrier against the successful growth of hairs, causing in-growing facial hairs.
It was only in the late 1980s that men started to realised how important good skin care was and how vital it was to ensure daily maintenance of the skin on your face. With this realisation came the development of new aftershave products; products that had more beneficial properties and allowed the user to simultaneously protect their skin but also smell delightful. Aftershave evolved from being a product with a high alcohol content, designed to stop infection, into something men wear even if they haven’t had a shave, simply because it smells nice and makes their face feel fresh.
The Different Types of Aftershave
Typically speaking, aftershaves come in three different varieties: balms (or creams), lotions or gels. They still have the same antiseptic properties as they’ve always had, but now they also soothe and moisturise your skin, allowing it to regenerate after you’ve finished shaving. They key word there is ‘after’; aftershaves prolonged usefulness comes about largely because they aren’t wiped or washed off like shaving cream is.
There’s no ‘standard’ ingredient in aftershave as they often contain lots of different things from each other. Herbal extracts, essential oils, alcohol, non-essential oils and scents can all be found in various types of aftershave. The balms are interesting ones. They might be called ‘aftershave balms’ but normally they contain virtually no alcohol, instead opting for an increase in the essential oils we’ve just mentioned. The lack of alcohol means that the balms are much better for people with sensitive skin or skin prone to dryness, as they will offer more moisturising properties.
Aftershave gels also have a low alcohol content, or no alcohol at all. Gels refresh and sooth your skin, so typically speaking they’re the better option for people that have already got healthy skin that are just hoping to maintain it, rather than improve it.
Lotions, sometimes called liquids, are the closest things to the old style aftershaves that barbers used to use way back when. They have the highest alcohol content of all of the options, normally something in the region of 60%, often up to as much as 75%. Just bear in mind that, even if it’s more like what you’re used to, aftershaves with a high alcohol will be more inclined to dry out your skin.
The final thing to mention is aftershave powder. It won’t shock you to learn that this is the dry version of aftershave and it is aimed at men that have quite oily skin. The nature of the powdered format means that the skin will be soothed as the powder absorbs any excess oil that your skin has produced.
That Makes Scents
What we’ve been talking about so far is perhaps not the sort of thing you’d consider to be important when it comes to thinking about aftershave. You don’t often see a list of creams or powdered aftershaves when you pop into Boots or have a look around a duty free shop, after all.
So what do you need to know about the sort of aftershave you’re more commonly going to come across when you pop into the shops? The key thing is: Strength. Aftershaves come in a range of strengths depending on how much ‘pure fragrance’ they contain. The rest of the bottle will be made up of water.
Fragrance-wise, the strongest you’ll find is Eau de Parfum. It typically contains about 9-15% of pure fragrance, meaning the scent will be nice and powerful when you put it on. Next on the list is Eau du Toilette. The pure fragrance here drops down to around 4-9%, so still strong enough to get people’s attention.
Drop down one more and you’ll find Eau du Cologne, the scent with around 3-5% pure fragrance. It’s a much lighter experience than the others, though it’s not quite as low as the 1-3% of pure fragrance that you’ll find in normal ‘aftershave’.
Which one is right for you will, of course, come down to several factors, including budget, skin type and your lifestyle. If you have oily skin, for example, then you’ll provably find that a lighter scent will last just as long as a heavy one as the fragrance seeps into your skin oils and is released slowly as your body heat burns it off. As always, personal preference is a huge part of which amount of pure fragrance you think is the correct one for you.
Now that you know the different types of aftershave you can buy and the different pure fragrance amounts you’ll find in the various varieties available, it’s important to have a look at the type of fragrance that you can normally find. Yes there are unscented aftershaves that are aimed at people with sensitive skin, and it goes without saying that the amount of varieties are almost too numerous to mention.
Typically speaking, however, you can break down the basic scents into a few different categories that can be mixed and matched accordingly:
- Floral – Unsurprisingly this scent is made up of fragrances from various flowers
- Citrus – Citrus smells come from oils derived from different citrus fruits
- Oriental – Oriental fragrances tend to combine numerous aromas into one scent. Often it is things like woods, spices and different natural scents
- Woody – Whilst Oriental fragrances can contain wood smell, woody fragrances are more specifically earthy, using things like Sandalwood and patchouli to make up their scent
There’s also something else to bear in mind when it comes to the fragrances you’ll find in aftershave: The notes. Notes are the ingredients that come together to form the over-riding smell that will enter your nostrils when you smell an aftershave. Top notes are the most immediate ones you’ll notice as they are often the fresher, zingy citrus smells. Next will come the middle, or heart, notes and those are the ones that you’ll smell most often and grow most accustomed to. After that you’ll take in the base notes that don’t come on for an hour or so after applying your scent. There are richer, heavier and have better staying power than the top and heart notes, so these are the ones you’ll be most interested in.
Given that the different notes come through after different lengths of time, and seeing as though fragrances interact with your skin in a myriad of ways, there is no real substitute for trying a scent on and seeing what it does for you. Your skin’s unique chemistry and skin type will both change what an aftershave smells like.
If you’ve made a decision to pop to the shops and see what you can try on before you take the plunge and buy an aftershave in the sales then there are certain things you can do to aid your search. Shopping in the morning, for example, will allow you get a clearer sense of what exactly it is that you’re sniffing. Your sense of smell is sharper earlier in the day, plus the shop won’t be as full of lots of different smells as it might be in the afternoon or evening.
We’ve all seen those strips of card that shops have lying around on the shelves by the smellies, but how many times have you sprayed numerous different scents onto the cards, only to later forget which one was which? A good thing to do is to take a pen with you and write the name of the aftershave of the card; that way you’ll always know what it is that you’re smelling and which one you like. Once you’ve narrowed your selection down through the cards, make sure to spray it onto your skin and leave it to settle for a while.
A good thing to do, if you’re really serious about your aftershave buying, is to take a small amount of coffee with you in a plastic bag. Sniffing the coffee in between each aftershave will clear your nasal passage of the last smell, much like having a sorbet in between courses clears your palate. Don’t forget that spraying it on to your skin alone, once you’ve narrowed down your options, won’t give you a clear indication of what the fragrance will smell like long term. You’ll be best to leave it for about an hour or so in order to let the smells settle down and mature on your skin.
It’s easy to get swayed by the price of aftershave, keeping an eye out for a bargain and forgetting that just because it’s a bit cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean it’s value for money. Aftershaves are normally measured in fluid ounces, so a key thing to bear in mind when you look at the different offers is to see how much you’re getting volume-wise. Dividing the cost of the product by the amount of fluid ounces will allow you to compare different deals more accurately.
For example, one shop might be offering 15 fluid ounces of a fragrance for £40, whilst another could offer the same thing at £25 for 8 fluid ounces. 40 divided by 15 is about 2.6, meaning it’s roughly £2.6 pound per fluid ounce for the first offer, whilst 25 divided by 8 is 3.125, so that’s about £3.13 per fluid ounce. It might have seemed like the cheaper deal was a better offer when in actual fact you’re paying more for the amount of liquid you get.
Something else to keep an eye out for is testers. These are the bottles you’ll use when you try the aftershave on in the shop, but often the producers of the aftershave produce a huge amount of testers for their promotional campaigns. When the campaign is over, however, they need to get rid of the excess stock and so they tend to sell it off for a cheap price. Normally the testers don’t come with any packaging or frills, so it might not be ideal for a present, but it’ll be more than good enough for your own private use.
The final thing to think about when it comes to buying aftershave is whether or not you’d like any extras with it. You’ll always be able to get an aftershave on its own, but wouldn’t also be nice if you could get a few additions with it?
Plenty of manufacturers will sell aftershaves alongside other scented toiletries from the same brand. This means that you’ll be able to pick up some of Le Male by Jean Paul Gaultier in an Eau de Colognes, for example, but you’ll also get some Le Male scented shower gel or body wash too. Things like deodorant can also be found in gift sets, and it’s not been unknown for companies to produce branded travel bags for all of your toiletries to go into. Something to bear in mind when you’ve narrowed down what you want.