How to Shop for Solid Fragrances

Tips for getting a fragrance you’ll love, especially when you can’t test it in person

There are more solid fragrances available in 2020 than at any other time. In the past, solids were mainly designed for and marketed to women, but in the 21st century, we’re seeing more and more solid fragrances designed for the men’s market or presented as “unisex” fragrances. (Not to mention gender in fragrances is a somewhat dated concept nowadays. Fragrance lovers regularly cross gender boundaries in pursuit of good sniffs. There’s nothing inherently feminine about roses or masculine about leather scents, other than the way they’ve been marketed to us over the years. If you love a scent, disregard its marketing campaign and wear it with pride and confidence.)

a tin of Cremo Leather & Oud fragrance, resting against a leather jacket and a plaid scarf
Leather & Oud, not just for men. Photo by me.

Despite the greater availability of solids, they’re definitely not as plentiful as liquid perfumes and colognes. Many designer, department store and niche lines do not include any solid fragrances in their offering. Or perhaps they do, but only at holiday time and as part of a gift set with a giant bottle of the liquid stuff and a giant tube of bath gel or lotion. I’m generally blind-buy-averse, and the availability of solids for sampling at Ulta, Sephora, major department stores and specialty boutiques varies by region and by season. E-commerce sites like Ebay, Etsy, Amazon and others usually have a good selection of solid fragrances for sale, but opportunities for samples are limited.

This is unfortunate, as solids in particular are a medium I recommend sampling before making any big purchase. Fragrances in this medium are difficult to swap or sell if you get a scent you dislike. I might be okay sharing/swapping a solid with my mom, sister or niece, but I wouldn’t buy a stranger’s used solid fragrance on Ebay or accept a used solid in a swap on Fragrantica. A solid will have had direct contact with the skin of another person and I don’t want someone else’s germs (nor do they want mine).

the cosmetics and perfume counter for Lancome, at DFS Galleria Customhouse in Auckland, New Zealand
The Lancome counter at DFS Galleria Customhouse in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Fastily Clone.

All of that being said, I do have a few tips to share that will make shopping for solid fragrances easier and give you a better chance of purchasing a scent you will love:

  1. Research your fragrance in advance. Read reviews on sites like Fragrantica, Basenotes, Parfumo, etc. Browse blogs and look at Youtube vlogs. If a seller includes product reviews on their e-commerce site, check ’em out. Perhaps the solid format of the fragrance won’t be reviewed specifically, but even reading reviews of the liquid format can still give you some idea.
  2. See if you can track down a sample of the liquid fragrance. If it’s a big brand, seek out a tester at a department store or Sephora. Look for a sample you can purchase on Ebay or from one of the decant houses like Surrender to Chance. Many Etsy sellers offer both liquid and solid versions of their scents, and may offer a sample vial or small (5 ml or less) bottle of the liquid format. (More and more Etsy sellers and e-commerce sites are offering solid samples in tiny plastic pots or tins, too.)
A bright pink perfume in a clear glass spray bottle
Not a solid, but it might give you the gist…
  1. If an Etsy or e-commerce site doesn’t offer samples, you might try emailing them to see if they’d be willing to spray a business card or cotton ball, tuck it in a small plastic bag and mail it to you. I had several fragrance makers who did this when I was seeking samples for review on Fragrantica. You won’t be able to try it on your skin but you’ll still get an idea of how the fragrance smells. Be prepared to pay for shipping if they agree to do this.
  2. Check the seller’s return policy, if they have one. Many sellers won’t accept returned opened or used fragrances of any kind, due to their intimate nature, but many department stores, Sephora and Ulta will accept returns of opened, gently used items.
  3. See if the seller makes another product in the fragrance you’re interested in, such as a candle, bar of soap or bath bomb. I might decide I don’t like the scent enough to purchase a liquid or solid, but I generally won’t mind using up a candle or soap.
  4. Know your budget and set a threshold for blind buys, if you’re unable to source a sample or tester of any kind. (Mine is actually pretty small, like $20 or less. I’d rather spend $25 to get samples than spend $20 blind-buying a fragrance I end up not liking and can’t get rid of.)

Have any tips of your own? I’d love it if you shared them in the Comments. Thanks for reading!

By Jodi at Solidly Scented

A lover of all things fragrant