How to pick the perfect perfume for Valentine's Day

After flowers and chocolates, perfume is the number-one choice for a romantic gift.

So, just in time for Valentine's Day, here's a guide to picking the perfect scent for you – and the love in your life...

Don't go spritzing yourself with testers. You'll end up with a confusing mish-mash of scent that's impossible for your nose to separate. Use blotters instead which will allow you to discard anything you find immediately unsuitable without turning your body into a perfume playground.

Don't sniff immediately. Allow the alcohol to evaporate for a minute so you get a true first hit.

 Make a shortlist of four, dabbing one on each wrist and far away on the forearm. Leave to develop – after the initial burst, an underlying layer comes through, which is the 'heart' of the fragrance and before it wears off you'll get the 'dry-down' or base of the scent.

 You need to know you like all three stages before parting with your money and also how long the fragrance lasts. Parfum is the most concentrated and therefore longest lasting (and most expensive), then there's eau de parfum and finally eau de toilette, which is the lightest and flightiest.

• When you've picked the perfect perfume, wear it where it's warm – just behind the ears, backs of knees, inner elbows, wrists. Avoid clothes, though: sunlight can cause the fragrance to stain, especially on silk.

If you're picking for someone else, find out what they're already wearing and then ask for help at the beauty counters, explaining also what you notice about how they smell so the experts can pick out similar characteristics in other scents.

Do their usual fragrances smell light and fresh, deep and spicy or warm and sweet? Can you pick out any ingredients – vanilla, musk, fruits or flowers?

People do tend to have a type – if they're into light, refreshing scents, the sweetness of a vanilla-based fragrance can be too much to bear, so try to stick within the same arena of depth and noticeable ingredients.

Finally, ask if you can get a tester with your purchase so the recipient can smell it first to make sure it's the right choice without disturbing the packaging. At least they may be able to swap it for something they will remember you by, for all the right reasons.

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