How to Apply Cologne Like an Expert, in 7 Simple Steps

how to apply cologne

Let’s be blunt: smells matter.

When you walk into a room, when you meet a woman, when you go for a job interview – how you smell is going to define how you’re perceived.

We don’t say this to scare you, just to remind you of the obvious.

Cologne is a way to distinguish yourself, a way to stand out from the crowd. It’s a way to express who you are and leave a lasting impression on everyone you meet.

That’s why cologne is so popular, so pricey and so powerful. The only problem is, most men don’t know how to apply cologne properly. In fact, most men haven’t got a clue!

Worse still, only 36 percent of men even wear cologne on a regular basis – so that’s something that’s got to change!

In this article, we are going to give you everything you need to know about cologne to make sure you’re set for life.

We will teach you how to apply cologne so it lasts; how to tell the difference between different kinds of scent; how to refine your appreciation of cologne; and answer some of the most common questions we get about using cologne.

We are going to tell you exactly what you’re doing that you’ve got to stop doing with cologne, and exactly how you can use it to make a better, more refined impression.

But most importantly, we are going to teach you exactly how to apply cologne like an expert in just 7 steps, regardless of the bottle you’ve got or any prior knowledge.

So let’s do it!

7 steps to apply cologne like an expert

how apply cologne like an expert

1. Cleanse your skin and pores

You need to ensure your body is clean of other scents, and your pores are nice and open. A shower is the best way to do this.

In order to let the cologne’s scent stand out, your skin should be clean and free of any other fragrances that might compete with it. Use an unscented facial cleanser, then shower with unscented soap and shampoo.

When you towel off, you’ll have a fresh, clean surface for your cologne to stick to. But before you can apply it, there’s one more step: use a body scrub to open up your pores. You can get it at most drugstores or make your own by mixing equal parts sea salt and olive oil (the olive oil will keep the salt from drying out your skin).

Apply the scrub in circular motions all over your body, paying special attention to areas where hair grows (like your chest)—these are the areas that will retain the strongest scent. Rinse off thoroughly and pat dry with a towel (harsh rubbing will close up those freshly-opened pores).

2. Moisturize

Your skin will absorb the molecule of the cologne best if it is properly hydrated. Therefore applying a nice moisturizer and body lotion (ideally ones that are well-matched to the cologne) will help achieve this.

3. Hold the spray 3-6 inches away from your body

The correct distance is important – too close risks overapplication, too far, and you’ll barely hit your body.

4. Apply to your ‘pulse points’

These are your neck, wrists, and ears. They are the warmest areas of your body and will hold the scent most effectively. But choose just one of these to begin with, because you need to…

5. Start slow – don’t go hell for leather

Just one or two sprays will do to start.

6. Let it settle

The scent needs time to evaporate and make itself felt. So give it at least half an hour before assessing the situation. Then…

7. Reapply if needed

There’s a fine line between under and over-spraying. Now you’ve let your cologne settle; you can give yourself another couple of sprays if you feel the scent isn’t spreading or sticking how you like.

How to apply cologne without spray

how to apply cologne without spray

It’s easy to forget, but not all colognes come with vaporizing spray tops.

So what do you do if yours is one of them?

Well, firstly, it’s worth remembering that the basic ingredients and premise of cologne is the same regardless, so you need to follow many of the same procedures: wash your skin, moisturize, and apply it to your pulse points.

But you also need to know the best way to actually get the damn stuff out of your bottle.

The first step is to cover the spout of the cologne bottle with your wrist. Then you need to turn the spout twice, thus releasing a tiny amount of the liquid.

You use the wrist, as opposed to your fingers, because it is less like to have dirt or residue on it, reducing the chance of contamination and keeping the liquid pure.

Once the liquid is on your wrist, take your finger from the other hand, gently dab it and then apply it from your finger to whichever pulse points you’ve chosen.

We use the word dab here for a reason: it’s absolutely essential that you’re gentle with it because rubbing will break the molecular bonds in the fragrance and cause the scent to fade much faster.

If your bottle comes with a roller, this is even easier and should be intuitive by now:

Simply roll it gently, with a slight backward and forwards motion, on your pulse points of choice.

7 horrendous mistakes to avoid with cologne

over-spraying cologne mistake

Expertly using cologne isn’t just a matter of knowing what to do: it’s also a matter of knowing what not to do! Here are 5 common mistakes you need to avoid like the plague:

1. Over-spraying

The biggest sin of cologne application is over-spraying; most men don’t actually know how many sprays of cologne they need, and they think ‘better safe than sorry.’ The result is you a) waste your cologne, and b) make everyone around you wish away their sense of smell.

And don’t go thinking just because nobody visibly winced when you entered the room that you’re all good – people can be brutally polite.

You need to ask your friends’ honest opinion if you think there’s even a chance you’re over-spraying – you’ll know just from their reaction.

Once you learn how and where to spray, one or two pumps of a good quality cologne are enough to leave a lasting impression. Much beyond that, and you’re getting diminishing returns, and frankly, you’re likely just undoing the positive effect of the few sprays.

2. Spraying the wrong areas

While not as offensive the olfactory nerve, spraying the wrong areas is offensive to your sense of masculine competency. Yet knowing where to spray cologne and why is sadly something of a rarity these days.

Men are spraying their heads; their chests; their knee caps. And while they’re perfectly entitled to do so, you should know that they’re essentially wasting their nice expensive cologne.

Making full use of your cologne means spraying it on your ‘pulse points’ – your neck, your wrists, and behind your ears. These are the areas which are warmest on your body, which makes the scent last longer and spread more effectively.

3. Spraying at the wrong time

It’s easy to do – you’re late for work or dinner, and you only remember your body carries a scent as you’re exiting the house. Or maybe you think it makes sense to spray as close to leaving as possible: surely, that means it will last longer.

The truth is, though, spraying at these times is highly ineffective. To make scent last and have the desired effect, your skin needs to absorb it properly.

And that means the best time to apply it is when your pores are open, and your skin is maximally moisturized – i.e., when you’ve just showered!

4. Rubbing it in

People do this in movies, and it never ceases to infuriate. However cool it makes you feel, you need to avoid rubbing cologne in as much as you can.


Rubbing cologne into your skin makes the scent fade faster because it breaks the molecular bonds in the fragrance. That means you don’t get the full range of notes in the scent, and by the time the main course arrives, you’re back to smelling of nothing.

Even if you’re not using spray, you shouldn’t be rubbing – you need to be dabbing gently, like a gentleman, not a beast!

5. Walking through it

This is another great way to waste half your bottle. Some men seem to think the best way to get cologne onto their body is to puff it into the air and then throw themselves at it.

Guys, you don’t need to catch the stuff out – just spray it directly onto your body!

They probably saw someone does this in a movie one time, and assumed it somehow affects how the scent clings: and it does, by making sure as little of the stuff as possible stays on you.

6. Spraying it on your clothes

There are two basic reasons not to do this:

First, clothes really don’t hold cologne well. It’s just a massive waste.

But secondly, it can actually damage your clothes! Several common materials react adversely to the chemicals in colognes, and you won’t even realize at the time: they’ll just fade and go bad quicker!

Feel free to give a strategic spray to the inside of your jacket – that’s totally cool. But don’t go throwing it all over your shirt as some animals do. That’s really no good at all.

7. Not looking after the bottle

It’s easy to assume where you store your cologne bottle doesn’t matter – most men do, and that’s totally fair enough.

But it’s not actually true, and being careless about where you put your bottle can shave significant time off its shelf life.

Visible light, for example, carries enough energy to bust the bonds in your fragrance’s molecules – a particularly bright sun can actually scorch through your cologne within a week.

Equally, air can corrode your fragrance’s oxidation – this fundamentally alters the cologne’s composition.

To make it last longer and work better, you need to store your cologne in a dark area at room temperature, with the cap on and the bottle safe!

5 ways to stand out with cologne

spray the inside of your jacket

Applying cologne well is one thing; applying it strategically and intelligently is another. Here are 5 tips to help you stand out using cologne:

1. Spray the inside of your jacket

You’ve probably noticed, but women often spray perfume into their hair.


Well, the idea is that as the woman enters a room, her scent will spread through and make her presence ‘felt’ more.

And you know what?

It works.

As a man, you can have a similar trick: try gently squirting a puff or two of your cologne into your jacket before an evening out. When you take the jacket off, it will waft your scent about, subtly asserting your presence and distinguishing you from the crowd.

2. Wear it wherever you expect to be kissed

If you’re the type to greet people with a kiss, a great way to make a striking impression is to give a tiny spray of cologne behind each of your ears.

This will mean that, when they greet you, people will get a lovely nose full of your scent and subconsciously associate you with that great smell.

Plus, your ears are, of course, one of the all-important ‘pulse points,’ so the scent will carry and stay there nicely throughout the day.

3. Layer up with matching products

One reason some men feel their cologne isn’t ‘active’ enough is that they’re actually pitting it against competing scents.

Because they’re different products, it’s easy to think of deodorant, body wash, aftershave, and the rest as totally separate.

But of course, they’re not:

They all have smells, and they all get absorbed by your skin.

The simple act of matching up the various scents you use, particularly when you’re using them in close succession, will help make your primary scent as striking, clear, and distinctive as possible.

4. Match it to your personality

Scent says so much about us: even if people aren’t aware of it, part of their appraisal of you always rests on how you smell.

Therefore, when deciding on a scent, you can make your mark not just by choosing a good one but by choosing one that matches and complements who you are.

If you’re on the shy side, go for something mysterious and edgy; if you’re talkative and commanding, go for a spicy, masculine scent.

You wouldn’t just choose a shirt because you liked it, would you? It has to fit, match your complexion, and suit your build.

Cologne is no different, so don’t you forget it!

5. Know your stuff

Knowledge is always alluring: it’s good to know stuff, particularly when you can just randomly pull it out in conversation.

Lots of men smell great, but don’t actually know how to talk about cologne or scent in general.

Particularly if you’re looking to impress a woman, you could do far worse than getting well acquainted with the ins and outs of how cologne actually works.

It will show how refined and sophisticated you are, not to mention, allow you to demonstrate a well developed aesthetic sensibility.

Knowing the difference between Cologne, Perfume and the rest

knowing the difference between cologne, perfume and the rest

You’ve probably seen a bunch of different terms for scent during your time. They all have fancy, French-sounding names, and everybody nods knowingly when one of them is mentioned.

But, what actually are they, and how do they differ from one another?

Well, the first thing to know is that all of these different French terms refer to products with very similar chemical makeup.

The key ingredients are various ‘raw materials’ – basically either natural or synthetic oils that blend together and provide different ‘notes’ (i.e., smells).

These are intended to evaporate at room temperature, which is when the molecules enter the air and become discernible ‘notes.’

They are blended together with a ‘base,’ generally composed of water and alcohol, which help preserve and dilute the liquid.

The alcohol also helps to spread out the different ‘notes’ and make them individually distinguishable to the nose.

The differences between the products come down to the concentration of essential oils in the formula:

At the high end, what’s known as ‘Perfume’ tends to contain a concentration of around 20 to 30%; at the lowest end, Eau Fraiche generally clocks in at between 1 to 3% concentration (this is also the concentration of many aftershaves.)

Cologne normally contains an oil concentration of around 2 to 4%, though scents are often marketed as ‘cologne’ with much higher concentrations than this.

So what does this actually mean?

Well, the higher the concentration, the heavier the price you’re gonna pay for it!

But on a more chemical level, the concentration of oils dictates how long the scent lasts for, how intense the smell is, and how the various ‘notes’ spread out.

For example, Eau Fraiche has such a low concentration that it often wears off within an hour. The net effect of this is that your body doesn’t have time to properly interact with and absorb the scent, meaning it has little lasting effect.

Cologne, fortunately, lasts longer than this, which is why your body is able to absorb it better. It’s also why you’re able – with some training – detect the subtle changes in scent as the different ‘levels’ of the scent through time…

How to properly appreciate the scent of your cologne

how to properly appreciate the scent of your cologne

Understanding the subtleties of your scent isn’t just impressive – it also deepens the pleasure you get out of the stuff!

So, it’s worth spending some time getting to grips with the fundamentals and then using that knowledge to become more astute, more refined, and more nuanced in your cologne appreciation.

Cologne has three basic phases of notes: top notes, middle notes, and base notes.

They evaporate at different speeds, meaning you smell them in almost linear precession, with the top notes coming first, followed by the middle and base notes.

Top notes make themselves known within 15 minutes, and they tend to be the more striking, unusual notes. Scent designers do this to grab your attention, and so that these potentially more offensive smells dissipate quickest.

Middle notes are often spicy or floral in men’s scents. They are often what you’d think of as the ‘main’ smell, and they last generally appear between 2 and 5 hours through the cycle.

Base notes are the longest lasting notes. In good quality scents, they will last all day – between 5 and 10 hours – and are often woody smells in cologne.

The way these three phases interact and evolve is the beauty of cologne: it creates a kind of unfolding, intriguing effect, and it’s a large part of what makes different scents unique.

As your nose becomes more adept at noticing the nuance, the better you will become at choosing scents and cultivating a personal scent stamp.

How to choose a cologne

how to choose a cologne

First, you need to do your research: there are so many colognes available in many forms, that if you simply wander into a store and start spraying, chances are you’ll end up missing all sorts of gems.

You can only realistically test a handful of scents at any given time without starting to lose any real sense of discernment.

Looking around on websites, looking through good quality reviews, and learning as much as you can about how colognes work and exactly which kinds of cologne will suit you is an important first step in making the right choice.

Next, you’ll want to actually go to a store and smell the stuff for real.

If you’ve narrowed down to a smaller list, this will be easier.

You can simply go in and give the tester bottles a spray onto a blotter (the little bits of white paper they have).

When you do, though, be careful that the scent only goes onto the blotter and not your skin – otherwise, you’ll get very confused very quickly.

When you’ve narrowed it down to a few final scents, you need to test them on your skin.

Spray one on each pulse point (assuming you’re down to at most three) and let them settle for at least half an hour.

If you’re out and about, just go for a walk, and let the scents sit with you while you do.

Then finally, you can make the decision, buy a bottle and you’re done!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does cologne last?

It varies from cologne to cologne. The average is between 3 and 5 hours, but some last less and some last up to 8 hours or more. It also depends on how you apply it and how the scent reacts to your body.

How can I make cologne last longer?

Firstly, apply it after you shower, having used a well-matched body wash: this is when your pores are most, and therefore best able to absorb the scent.

You should make sure to moisturize, too, as that will also help your skin absorb the scent.

Be sure to spray some on your wrist, too, where there is more warmth than the rest of your body, making for a longer, drawn-out release.

There are also things you should avoid: namely spraying it on your clothes, rubbing your wrists together, or over spraying.

Does cologne expire?

Simply put, yes. But not in the same sense as food ‘expires,’ and not for really quite a while.

After a certain period of time, cologne simply stops being effective – it smells weird and can cause some pretty gnarly skin irritation.

Most colognes will be good for at least a year, and some will last upwards of a decade!

Three to five years is the average shelf life for a scent, and colognes with heavier ‘base notes’ are most likely to have a long shelf life.

Where should I spray cologne?

The best areas to apply cologne are known as your ‘pulse points’: your wrists, neck, and behind your ears. These are the areas where your body produces the most heat because they have the most blood vessels close to the skin.

Some men like to apply cologne behind their ears, as when they hug or kiss people as a greeting, this amplifies their scent.

How many sprays of cologne do I need?

It really depends on how present you want the scent to be. For most men, one or two sprays is enough – anymore, and you over spraying.

You don’t want to be smelled from down the hall, so our advice is definitely to be conservative; ask a friend for honest feedback, and you’ll quickly figure out what the best amount of spray is for your specific cologne.

How do I use solid cologne?

Solid cologne is essentially like a balm: you dip your fingers into it to soak it up; warm it up by rubbing it with another finger; then apply it to your pulse points as much as you like.

What is the best men’s cologne?

This is hugely subjective: it really just depends on your taste. We’ve got a list of nine superb scents we love, but the ’best’ is always gonna be down to you—some men like a rich, masculine stench; others like something subtle and refined.

What is the difference between perfume and cologne?

The key difference, chemically, is the concentration of essential oils in the fragrance’s water and alcohol base.

Perfume contains a much higher concentration of oils (roughly 20-30%), while cologne has just 2 to 4% concentration.

This affects the intensity of the scent and how long the scent lasts. The higher the concentration of oils, the longer-lasting and stronger smelling the scent.

Why is cologne so expensive?

The traditional answer would be: the ingredients are extremely rare and, therefore, expensive.

Today, the huge price tags on scent are more a product of the extremely expensive marketing and advertising needed to compete in a saturated market, including celebrity ‘licensing’ (endorsement).

The price takes into account everything from creating the luxury bottles cologne comes in, to the sales commission necessary to incentivize salespeople to push it.

How is cologne made?

First, oil is extracted from ingredients – often many different ingredients.

The oils are then blended together, based on a formula developed by the fragrance company.

Alcohol and water added to dilute the formula – in cologne, the concentration of oils is particularly low. Once blended, the cologne is left to age, which helps it blend further and develop a richer scent.

Finally, the batch of cologne is quality tested to ensure it smells right and hasn’t developed any potentially dangerous (and illegal!) properties.

How should I pick a cologne?

Choosing a cologne is a personal process: you need to find the scent which you feel best matches who you are.

You should learn as much as you can about cologne and research brands online. Then go to a store where you can actually sample ones that appeal.


So there you have it: everything you need to become a cologne aficionado.

We’d love to know if you’ve found the article useful, what you found most interesting and whether there’s anything we’ve left out that you still need to know!

Do you have your own cologne application routine? How does it differ from ours?

Let us know in the comments below.


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About The Author

Domen Hrovatin
Domen Hrovatin

Domen—a self-confessed facial hair addict—is a grooming professional, style enthusiast, and someone with deep personal experience and knowledge about male pattern baldness. His work was mentioned in countless notable men's grooming and style publications, including Beardbrand and AskMen.

  • Excellent and thorough review.
    My latest spray routine is one spray under each ear and one on each forearm.

  • I got a lot of good information from this article. many things I didn’t know and will now carry into practice. What is your thoughts on pheromones? And can you wear cologne at the same time? I appreciate your thoughts on this.

  • Thank you for the advise.I’ve always been into fragrance. It’s the first thing that I apply after I shower. Since I’ve always been drawn to lighter fragrances ( mostly citrus ) it’s an annoyance when fragrance is all but gone after an hour. Now i will follow your tips for more long lasting affects

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