Most people spritz perfume on their wrist and neck, but I’d be lying if I said I’d never snuck a spray (or two) onto my hair, especially when I’m in between washes. But then I learned some not-so-great news: alcohol, the base of most fragrances, dries out your hair. “Spraying fragrance directly on the hair can potentially be damaging due to the alcohol content, chemical ingredients, and the risk of product build-up,” warns Abby Haliti, color correction expert and owner of Abby Haliti Color Studio.
Hair is super porous which is a double-edged sword—it means your strands are more prone to damage from harsh ingredients and styling practices, yet it’s the porousness that makes it retain scent too, explains Yvan Jacqueline, Parfums de Marly’s managing director of the Americas. Therein lies the dilemma. Thankfully, that’s where hair perfumes come in. No, they’re not a scam. In fact, not only are they less drying, they’re also often half the price of its luxury parent flacons.
What’s the difference between hair perfume and “regular” perfume?
Hair fragrance is formulated differently than a “regular” perfume. Some formulators opt to simply reduce the amount of alcohol in comparison to a typical fragrance, creating a lighter or somewhat less complex scent. For a lot of perfumers, a hair perfume is a way to create an extension of the ‘parent’ perfume that nevertheless retains the DNA of what made it smell unique in the first place. Others take the opportunity to also add caring ingredients, to make a more rounded formula that imparts scent and care to positively affect the hair.
That’s exactly what Aurélien Guichard, founder and perfumer, did when creating Matiere Premiere’s new range of hair fragrances. “For our hair perfume, I was guided by the idea that it didn’t necessarily need to last more than a day. Instead, it needs to offer sensuality, a scent trail, and this ‘flying effect’—not overwhelming or overbearing as if you were wearing a perfume helmet on your head! I consciously toned down the ingredients with a certain heaviness to ensure the more volatile ones would stand out,” he explains. “In our formulations there is less alcohol than in the eau de parfum and we added two nourishing active ingredients with natural origins. The first one protects the hair from external aggressors, such as sunlight and heat, to preserve the strength of the hair. The second helps with suppleness and shine, protecting the hair fibers.”
Is hair perfume good for your hair?
Whether a hair perfume is actually good for the hair will depend entirely on the formula. Haliti, who’s looking at hair fragrance from the hair’s perspective, is somewhat cautious. “When it comes to fragrances for hair, they can be a good option for adding a pleasant smell. However, it’s crucial to ensure that they are healthy for your hair and do not contain chemicals that can dry it out. Checking the ingredients and opting for hair-friendly fragrances is important for maintaining the health of your hair,” she says.
Haliti further highlights the perils of damaging formulas for colored and curly hair. Using a high-alcohol formula on colored hair “can potentially strip the color from dyed hair, leading to fading or premature color loss,” she explains. Curly hair tends to be dry (and this goes for bleached strands too) and using a product with alcohol can exacerbate this even more, leading to dullness and breakage. “Fragrances that contain drying ingredients or heavy oils can weigh down curly hair and disrupt its natural texture,” Haliti adds. “Curly hair tends to be more prone to dryness and frizz, so it’s important to choose hair fragrances that are lightweight and won’t cause excessive dryness or build-up.”
Jacqueline notes that there is “a significant difference between good for hair and bad for hair.” By its nature, hair perfumes are mindful of the medium on which the scent has to work (a.k.a. your hair) and the average hair perfume will then be neither bad nor good, but a third “neutral” option. “Fragrance for the skin is formulated with a high percentage of ethyl alcohol, which can be extremely drying to the hair and scalp. On the other hand, hair perfume contains a trace amount of alcohol, so it’s much safer for your hair. It’s generally water-based and will not weigh hair down or leave it feeling crunchy or sticky,” explains Jacqueline.
How to choose the best hair perfume
Choosing the best hair perfume depends on your wants and needs. If you’re looking to scent your hair or you want to enjoy a luxury fragrance for less, then the fragrance itself is the primary factor to consider. Hair perfume can also come with added benefits like hydrating and strengthening ingredients, which may be important to anyone with damaged, processed, or naturally dry hair.
“Pay attention to the ingredients in your hair care products, including fragrances. Avoid harsh chemicals, sulfates, and alcohol, as these can strip the hair of its natural oils and cause dryness,” advises Haliti. Opt for products that contain nourishing and hydrating ingredients, such as natural oils, vitamins, and plant extracts.”
Those looking for longevity from their hair fragrance, should consider the notes. Just like with regular perfumes, lighter notes—think citrus—tend to dissipate much faster than richer and heavier notes of vanilla and leather, explains Jacqueline.
Best Hair Perfumes
Key notes: musk, ambrette, cedar
Warm and clean, this an all-occasion fragrance that makes itself known by whispering seductively. The musk and ambrette deliver enticing softness reminiscent of fig leaves in the sun. The formula features reduced alcohol, natural ingredients, and added nourishing hair ingredients.
Key notes: lychee, Turkish rose, musk, cashmeran
A bouquet of flowers and fruit, this fragrance leads with femininity to start. It then reveals a grounding base of cashmeran, incense and cedar.
Parfums de Marly
Key notes: rose, blackcurrant, patchouli, sandalwood
Rose skeptics need to try this scent. It’s candidly mature and sophisticated, evoking rose petals’ velvety texture and reimagining what a rose can be through a lens of spice and intensity.
Editions De Parfums Frederic Malle
Key notes: saffron, raspberry, violet, leather
The sweetness of raspberry is made jammy and sexy with leather and saffron. It’s luxurious with a dark edge.
Key notes: jasmine, aldehydes, white musk, sweet pea
Bright and airy, this smells like a crisp warm morning somewhere not too far from the sea. The mist has added castor oil to nourish yet promises to not weigh down hair, leaving it feeling fresh instead.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian 724
Key notes: orange blossom, bitter orange, angelica
A slice of summer in a bottle that’s reminiscent of classic colognes, this mist features camellia seed and castor oil to add moisture to your hair.
Key notes: pear, freesia, rhubarb, amber
This is a classic and worn by many for its light and delicate scent. The mist is enriched with argan oil and provitamin B5 to add shine and soften hair.
Key notes: orange, orange blossom, jasmine, patchouli
Playful and deliberately girly, this was the Y2K scent that proved its longevity thanks to the marriage of amber and florals. The hair mist version is enriched with an emollient to smoothen hair.
Key notes: pear, magnolia, peach, freesia, jasmine
A lot of florals and juicy fruit come together in this fragrance yet the balance never tips in the wrong direction. The formula promises to give hair extra shine.