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No need to break the bank. lotion pump bottle
To say I love fragrances would be an understatement—I adore them. I could wax poetic about a scent's intoxicating sillage; I spoke in great detail about the absolute best vanilla fragrances on the market and explained which winter scents make you feel like the star in your own rom-com. Collecting perfume and scented oils is my favorite pastime, and I take great pride in being the one my loved ones call upon when looking to expand their fragrance palette. Of all the fragrance questions I'm asked, the number one is, What is a great inexpensive perfume to buy? Building a collection takes a lot of time, effort, and money, especially if you're focused on quality over quantity. Affordable perfumes get a bad rep because they're typically not as strong or long-lasting as those on the higher end. Don't be mistaken: There are still a ton of affordable perfumes that are great conversation starters—and enders (wink).
Allow me to show you. Ahead, I polled Maiya Nicole, founder of Black Girls Smell Good, on the best affordable perfumes every collection needs. Here are the 16 best ones.
Key notes: pink pepper, iris, ambrette seeds
Don’t let the soft pink packaging of Glossier’s You fool you—first, it’s spicy; then, it’s sweet. Your nose tingles thanks to a flurry of pink pepper and then settles down once the powdery iris unfurls. The woodsy hook from the ambrette seeds rounds out this sweet and woodsy fragrance that’s as perfect for daytime wear as it is for nighttime excursions.
A Glossier reviewer said: “Literally smells sooooo good and lasts all day. I will get compliments on it hours after applying. Smells just overall “clean” and not too strong. My new signature scent, I love it so much!! Will be purchasing the solid for on-the-go.”
Key notes: grapefruit, white jasmine, peach nectar, patchouli, golden amber, vanilla musk
While we’re not sure what Cleopatra smelled like, we know she captivated the hearts of her men with her charisma and beauty, so Tocca did its best to capture her essence in a bottle. According to the fragrance house, a goddess smells intoxicatingly delightful, feminine, and luxurious. The notes that best describe her are sparkling grapefruit, patchouli, and a tinge of vanilla musk.
A Nordstrom reviewer said: “Thank goodness that the fragrance lives up to such a name. This Tocca fragrance is in my arsenal of perfumes and has been for the past 15 years. A confidence booster, I love how walking near my closet and my collection of scarfs, Cleopatra is all I smell! Highly recommend!”
Key notes: bergamot, jasmine, apple blossom, Madagascar vanilla bean, sandalwood
Our expert says: “Mix:Bar is a tried and true staple for any perfumista on a budget. They offer quality fragrances at an affordable price point. My favorite by far is Vanilla Bourbon. The first time I smelled this scent, I was taken aback that it was only $20. I love gourmands and consider myself to be a vanilla snob, and Vanilla Bourbon did not disappoint. It smells like sipping a decadent vanilla latte next to a cozy bonfire. It has a lingering spice and warmth from black pepper and amber, while Madagascar vanilla and orchid smooth out its edges.” — Maiya Nicole, founder of Black Girls Smell Good
Key notes: peach nectar, water lotus, jasmine petals, vanilla bean, cedarwood
If you want a fragrance to lift your mood, Bahia feels as airy and calming as sitting in a garden of flowers. Water lotus, tuberose, and jasmine petals are the backbone of this floral medley.
A Nordstrom reviewer said: “This is the first fragrance I’ve purchased that I can smell on myself. I love the scent. It smells like a tropical island. Yummy scent. I’m excited to try the other scents. I was a little surprised by the size of the bottle, but I’m excited to have this in my collection.”
Key notes: bergamot, espresso, cedarwood
Our expert says: “Coffee Cloud is ultra cozy and decadent, and I’d even say unisex. It’s a timeless blend of bergamot, espresso beans, and aged cedarwood. Coffee Cloud is the perfect scent for those who love to spend time in their neighborhood cafe. For such an affordable fragrance, it certainly does not lack in quality. I love that the formulation is completely vegan and free of synthetics for sensitive skin.” — MN
Key notes: grapefruit, cotton candy
Our expert says: “Fine’ry is a new brand at Target that makes dupes to high-end fragrances. Bright and mouthwatering, Magnetic Candy is my favorite scent from this line. It’s a thoughtful impression of Byredo’s Sundazed and Kilian’s Love, Don’t Be Shy. This is a great scent to transition into the spring and summer seasons. On my skin, it smells like a tart sweet candy, over a background of lush florals. This composition of pomelo citrus, cotton candy, and violet is seemingly simplistic but has great presence.”
Key notes: ambrette, pear, Turkish rose petals, cedarwood
Those who love linen or nautical-leaning fresh scent will fall in love with God Is A Woman. It’s a refreshing burst of florals and musk that gallop around the star player, juicy pear.
An Ulta reviewer said: “I love love love this perfume. It is my go to! It smells so fresh and has a woody/floral scent. It’s not too strong, but it’s just enough to smell all day long! Amazing! The price is great!”
Key notes: creamy vanilla, cocoa, tonka beans
You love Billie Eilish, but you'll love her eau de parfum even more. A delectable vanilla scent, Ellish has a spicy side and works as a great base to build up the warmth to your desired intensity.
An Ulta reviewer said: “Best fragrance and quickest purchase ever! I received the sample in the mail and once I smelled it, I knew I had to get it! Highly recommend it.”
Key notes: lemon blossom, lotus flower, freesia, dew drop accord, precious woods
Nest’s Citrine is a striking citrus blend chock full of bright elements that feel like a crisp spring morning in April. The botanical notes overpower the citrusy lemon, courtesy of the lotus flower and freesia.
A Nordstrom reviewer said: “Fresh and bright, I love this fragrance. Smelling it makes me feel cheerful!”
Our expert says: “Rose Gourmand by Zara is my go-to base scent regardless of what I layer on top of it. It smells way more expensive than it actually is and makes me feel sexy and seductive even if I’m heading to the grocery store. The gourmand notes are superior in this composition but you can smell a hint of the rose as the scent settles.” — Nerisha Penrose, ELLE.com beauty commerce editor
Key notes: ylang-ylang, rose, black currant
A perfume oil is a surefire way to extend the life of your perfume. Luckily, Swiss Arabian fragrances don’t need much help in that department. Layali is the perfect balance of amber and oud, comprised of sweet ylang-ylang and rose. As it dries down, Layali becomes juicier with the help of black currant and orange blossom.
An Amazon reviewer said: “I really like this. It’s an immediately sweet scent that fades down to a comfortable, subtle floral scent. I definitely recommend it if you like sweet perfumes.”
Key notes: bergamot, musk, muguet blossom
Our expert says: “If you miss the soft, comforting feeling of baby powder, Philosophy’s Amazing Grace is the mature alternative. In this creamy build, the softness comes from the bergamot and muguet blossom without being too overpowering.” — NP
Key notes: golden rum, vanilla surabsolute, and sugared patchouli
Our expert says: “Vanilla Royale is intoxicating, spicy, and seductive. I have just about every scent in the Kayali collection—Vanilla 28 and Utopia Vanilla Coco 21 being my top favorites—but unlike Kayali’s other gourmand fragrances, this one steers clear of typical sweet, honeyed vanilla to present the dark, sultry side of vanilla.” — NP
Key notes: juniper, bergamot, fir balsam, tonka
Sweet Ash is the perfect descriptor for this Snif fragrance, which fuses sugary florals with earthy musks that feel like the warmest hug from your favorite person.
A Snif reviewer says: “This scent is intoxicating and it stays! It’s such a unique smell that is perfect for a casual day or a date night. It’s easily become my go-to fragrance.”
Key notes: caramelized vanilla, toasted macadamia nut, tonka bean
Our expert says: “Sol de Janeiro mists can be used as a hair perfume and body mist. I’ve found that they actually last longer than the EDP versions. SDJ 71 is an ooey-gooey warm gourmand fragrance. It has sweet notes of caramel, macadamia, white chocolate, and vanilla. I love to wear this during cooler days when its warmth and decadence can really take center stage. It wears like a dessert and is a definite compliment-getter.” — MN
Key notes: vanilla, hinoki wood, nude musk
My favorite thing about the Dulce perfume from By Rosie Jane is that the scent expands beyond the eau de parfum to an oil, body wash, and candle so your entire body can smell delicious. Dulce is a candied vanilla scent with a touch of chocolate and warm woods.
A Sephora reviewer said: “This is soft and sophisticated vanilla. It is not loud but perfect for every day or an occasion when you are close to people. I love it, and I randomly spray it on me even when I work from home, and nobody is around. It’s that good.”
Key notes: lavender, elemi, olibanum cedarwood
Our expert says: “Nothing soothes the soul quite like lavender. What I love most about Aroma is that lavender isn’t overpowering here and takes a backseat to a seemingly citrusy blend that smells a lot like lemon or orange. The citrus scent gradually settles to give the woods a moment to shine.” — NP
When it comes to the affordable versus high-end debate, Maiya Nicole, founder of Black Girls Smell Good, says it all comes down to its scent composition. “Affordable scents may have a lower oil concentration. Body sprays and eau de toilettes are typically made up of one to 15 percent oil. You can expect to lose a bit of longevity when purchasing in this category,” she explains. On the other hand, higher-end perfumes—like eau de parfums and extraits de parfums—have a higher percentage of oil.
“Perfumes perform best on clean, well-moisturized skin,” Nicole says. The perfume expert’s favorite hack is a drugstore staple: vaseline. “Vaseline and Aquaphor-like textures help the skin to retain fragrance better than if you’d sprayed them on bare skin. They create a barrier between your skin and the fragrance that stops it from dissolving as quickly,” she explains. To help your scent last longer, Nicole suggests layering similar scents from your in-shower routine. “Be mindful of the concentration you have purchased, and be prepared to take a travel spray with you to re-apply throughout the day,” she adds.
“Sillage, projection, and longevity are of great importance to me but aren’t the end-all-be-all. When fragrance shopping, I let my nose lead with curiosity and follow up with a series of questions to vet my potential buy: How does this scent make me feel? What does it say about me? Do I already own something similar? Am I excited to wear this scent? Are the ingredients ethically sourced? Will I leave a scent trail behind? How close will someone have to be to smell this scent? How long does it last on my skin? If it checks those boxes, I feel confident adding to the cart,“ Nicole explains.
Nerisha is the beauty commerce editor at ELLE.com, covering all things beauty (and fashion and music). She has a penchant for sneakers and nude lip glosses, and spends way too much time re-watching 90s sitcoms.
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