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Looking for an affordable scent that smells great, too? From floral French spritzes to citrus-y Italian mists, our panel of beauty editors share their favorite fragrance that are also kind on the wallet.
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1. Flower Beauty by Drew Barrymore in Cherished, $20, Walmart
“Drew Barrymore's fragrance collection includes some really lovely scents, but 'Cherished' is the one that resonates with me the most. It instantly envelops you with bright notes of black currant and lemon, then dries down with Tahitian vanilla and sandalwood. It's a watery musk that feels like a great, big olfactory hug. And at $20 a bottle, it's truly an affordable luxury,” says Melissa Goldstein, beauty director of Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings.
2. Caudalie Thé des Vignes, $39, Nordstrom
“Perfumers will tell you this fragrance contains ginger, neroli, orange blossom and jasmine ... but you can’t pinpoint any of that. In fact, I’ve never smelled anything quite like it. It’s strong, but soft. Classic, yet trendy. Heavy on the musk, zero percent grandma. Plus, it’s off the radar in a good way: No one ever says, ‘Oh you’re wearing [insert popular fragrance here]!’ It’s a sexy little mystery,” says Leah Wyar, executive beauty director of Cosmopolitan and Seventeen.
3. Kai Perfume Oil, $48, Kaifragrance.com
“I stumbled upon this gem of a fragrance when I was 16 years old in a cute little boutique in Dewey Beach, Delaware while on vacation with my family. The store had a tester on the counter and I remember swiping it on, loving the exotic scent and buying a little vial. More than 15 years later, it’s still one of my go-tos and a cult favorite of many beauty editors and celebs (and my Gram Lois, who hoards it!). Some white florals can be overwhelming, but Kai (a mix of jasmine and frangipani) is beachy and clean, too. The oil is portable so I keep it in my bag to easily reapply. A tiny dab of the concentrated oil lasts hours longer than a few sprays,” says Heather Muir, beauty director of Real Simple and Health magazines.
4. Nirvana Black Rollerball, $25, Sephora
“Before I go on a trip, I raid the People magazine beauty closet for a few travel-sized products to add to my (already overstuffed) toiletry bag. On one of these occasions, I grabbed the rollerball version of Elizabeth and James' 'Nirvana Black.' I love the mix of sandalwood, vanilla and violet so much that I would've committed to a full-size bottle, but there's something nice about having a perfume that you only wear when you travel. It becomes the official aroma of ‘you on vacation.’ In fact, the first time I apply it at my destination, it's like my nose tells my brain to sit back and relax until further notice,” says Andrea Lavinthal, style and beauty director of People.
5. Bulgari’s Eau Parfumee au The Vert Travel Spray, $25, Sephora
“This fragrance has a citrus-y, crisp, fresh scent that improves my mood and makes me feel more polished the second I spritz it on — which is why 20 years after I discovered it, it is still one of my favorites. A discreet yet energetic scent, I have found it works beautifully for the office, for weekends and even for black-tie events. If modern elegance could be bottled, this is it,” notes Alexandra Parnass, beauty director of Harper’s Bazaar.
6. AERIN Mediterranean Honeysuckle Rollerball, $28, AERIN.com
“I discovered this scent while putting together a story on summer fragrances and it’s since become my favorite, year-round scent. It’s not too crisp but not too sweet or flowery, either — it’s the perfect balance. You can smell the fresh grapefruit and bergamot in it, but it’s mixed with lush white flowers like gardenia and jasmine so it’s a little sexier and sweeter than a straight up citrus cologne. And it really does smell just like summer in the Mediterranean. It comes in a rollerball, which great for travel and doesn’t spill or take up any space. You can just dab it on and go! I even keep one in my desk drawer and if I’m having an insane day, I’ll dab it on to instantly calm my mind,” says Victoria Kirby, beauty director of Redbook.
7. Fresh Sugar Lemon, $50, Sephora
“It’s basically bottled sunshine (aka, everything I need during these very gray, cold winter months). It's bright, sparkly, clean, a little sweet, a little tart and always puts me in a happy mood. It's one of the rare scents I use both as a perfume and a home fragrance, and I'm just as obsessed with the candle as I am with the body wash (which makes my bathroom smell like Limoncello every time I use it). I'll often do the body wash, lotion, then a few spritzes of the perfume on my wrists, behind my neck and chest — it's subtle so it's impossible to overdo it. So good!” says Kate Erickson, beauty writer at Glamour.
8. Clinique Happy, $41, Sephora
“Fun fact: I wore (this scent) to a competitor’s fancy-pants fragrance launch, and when their perfumer hugged me goodbye, he asked, ‘What are you wearing?’ I told him, warily. ‘You stick with that,’ he said, appreciatively,” spills Jessica Matlin, beauty director of Teen Vogue.
9. Kiehls Musk Essence Oil, $26, Kiehls.com
“I started using this fragrance right after I graduated college. Now they have this cool little rollerball that fits in even the slimmest clutch. I love to carry it with me and layer it over whatever scent I’m wearing to give it a masculine, sexy vibe. People always compliment the customized concoctions, I think because the combined notes create an aroma they’ve never smelled before!" says Gwen Flamberg, beauty director of US Magazine.
10. Maison Margiela Replica Beach Walk Rollerball, $28, Sephora
“I’m always a sucker for a beachy scent — this one reminds me of the years I lived on the West Coast in Santa Barbara while I was in college. It isn’t super flowery or tropical (although there is a hint of Ylang Ylang and coconut milk) and it captures the scent of ocean water and driftwood. Plus, you can’t beat a rollerball: it’s portable and spillproof and so easy to apply in the exact right place. A swipe on each wrist and a dab under each ear is just enough,” said Kate Sandoval Box, beauty director of Shape.
11. Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker, $17, Kohls.com
“This is my favorite inexpensive fragrance. It’s a pretty, soft scent that has hints of orchid, white amber and cedar. And I love the simplicity of the bottle,” says Kahlana Barfield Brown, fashion and beauty editor at large for InStyle.
12. Comptoir Sud Pacifique Vanille Coco, $36, Sephora
“I'm a sucker for vanilla and coconut scents — especially come summertime — so finding one with notes of both feels like hitting the jackpot. This blend instantly transports me to a tropical vacation ... without the hefty price tag. Think the beach, bottled. The only thing missing is a pina colada!” says Dori Katz Price, beauty and fashion director of Family Circle.
13. Forêt, $45, olofragrance.com
“A few years ago I traveled to Seattle and Portland and kept seeing the same little vials of fragrance everywhere I went. I would unscrew the caps, smell them all and move on, thinking I had enough fragrances back at my desk in New York and surely did not need to buy another perfume. But I kept coming back to Forêt, which smelled like a lush forest, a mix of earthy green notes and raw wood.
"It felt so focused, with an absence of floral notes and a staying power that surprised me hours after I rolled it on. I finally bought it right before I got on the plane, and every time I roll on the fragrance, which has notes of cedar, pine, juniper and vetiver, I’m reminded of the trip and how much I adore the scent,” says Jamie Rosen, beauty director of Town & Country.
14. A City on Fire, $38, imaginaryauthors.com
“Some women want their fragrance to smell like the freshest bunch of rain-soaked gardenias. Others gravitate toward patchouli or sandalwood scents. Those are actually some of my favorite notes that, thanks to my job, engulf several of the bottles that presently sit on my dressing table. But for the past few months, all I want to engulf myself in is flames, literally. I already have a small stash of woodsy, incense-y scents, but this confluence of cade, cardamom and a note that the creator, Josh Meyers, calls ‘Burnt Match’ has melted me (pardon the pun). And while a full bottle isn't exactly cheap, this purse spray meets the under $50 criteria, which makes me — and my carry-on luggage — quite comforted,” says Jane Larkworthy, contributing beauty editor at The Wall Street Journal.
15. Palo Santo, $45, olofragrance.com
“I first smelled this fragrance oil on my friend Fiorella — I recognized it instantly as the scent of Palo Santo, a wood that’s purported to have bad-vibes-killing powers like sage when burned. She quite generously divulged where to get it, and I went home that evening and had it shipped overnight. Its scent makes me feel calmer and more centered, and that’s something I need a lot of these days!” says Maura Lynch, beauty and lifestyle director of Women’s Health.
16. Curve for Men, $22.67, Walmart
“I’m not a believer in signature scents; I have more than 40 that I cycle through on the regular. Some are favorites from pricey brands like Tiziana Terenzi and Bond No. 9, but a good number are budget scents. One of my go-tos from my high school days: Curve for Men. There’s definitely a connection between scent and memory because this one transports me back to my bedroom circa 1996, The Cranberries and Alanis Morissette blasting from my CD player. All that aside, it’s actually a pretty nice scent: fruity notes of lemon, pineapple, bergamot are balanced by earthy sage, cedar and juniper berries,” says Brian Underwood, beauty director of Dr. Oz, The Good Life.
17. Philosophy Pure Grace, $42, philosophy.com
“You know that moment when you first get out of the shower and you smell perfectly soapy and clean? That's exactly what this scent captures. It blends bergamot, musk, water lily and lavender, but it doesn't smell flowery or perfume-y at all. It’s just fresh and crisp. Best part: It comes in a bunch of different forms, so you can smell like it from head to toe. They even just came out with a dry shampoo version, so I’m excited to add that to the regimen now, too.” says Alyssa Hertzig, contributing beauty editor of Rachael Ray Every Day.
18. White Musk Perfume Oil, $20, thebodyshop-usa.com
“My earliest fragrance memories involve strong, heady scents from the ‘80s — think Giorgio Beverly Hills and YSL Opium. It was the new ‘power woman’ aimed at making a statement from her shoulder pads to her perfume. So when I was old enough to go the mall by myself (the '90s) and came across 'White Musk,' a comparatively unassuming scent, it was a revelation.
"The Body Shop was simply the coolest beauty store around, and finding my first signature scent among the treasure trove of grooming goodies felt like a true discovery. Like all great classics, the blend endures. It smells clean and fresh and just a little bit bohemian; there's a subtle exoticism that's neither here nor there. I think it's still incredibly modern,” says Erin Flaherty, beauty director of Marie Claire
19. Fresh Sugar Lychee, $50, Sephora
“I first started using Fresh's Lychee scent my senior year of college. I was living in New York City and splurged on a bottle of the light, sweet scent to cheer up the dresser in my dorm-style apartment and escape (in my mind, at least) from the city heat. Sixteen years later, I am still obsessed with the fragrance. It takes me back to my early city days every time I put it on, and I think about how far I've come,” says Jacqueline Gifford, special projects editor at Travel + Leisure.