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As it turns out, aquatic perfumes are highly divisive. I know! I was surprised to learn this too, especially since my fragrance obsession is Ellis Brooklyn’s Salt. I assumed that aquatic perfumes were just accepted as ethereal, enchanting quaffs that bring sun-dappled beach days and softly singing mermaids to mind. Turns out, I was wrong.
When I told a fragrance-industry friend I was researching aquatic perfumes, the first thing she did was rave (at length) over Jake’s House. Then, sent me a link to a beauty podcast we both love— and the hosts were ripping into aquatic scents. Actually, they had a point. It’s true that some aquatic fragrances smell a bit heavy and gimmicky—generic, even. However, for every stifling scent that’s meant to evoke azure waves (but smells like cheap suntan lotion instead), there’s an alternative with the allure of a siren song.
“There's an escapist quality to aquatics that is so appealing,” says Ellis Brooklyn founder Bee Shapiro. “The fragrances conjure images of beach, watery zen and just overall well-being. After our last several hard years as a collective society, there is something so right about aquatics. We're all trying to find our peace and personal healing.”
Amen to that. To find the best aquatic scents of all, I interviewed five perfumers and fragrance experts, and put my own pulse points to the test. Here are the 18 best aquatic perfumes to infuse the languid, dreamy feel of a beach escape into your everyday beauty routine.
Do Son Eau de Parfum
Inspired by coastal Vietnam, where Diptyque co-founder Yves Couesiant spent his summers, this addictive perfume has top notes of tuberose and orange blossom, a heart of jasmine, and a base note of amber—but there’s also a subtle hint of the sea.
“Though it has a floral composition, it includes a note known as the marine accord, which is an olfactory note that creates the sensation of being close to the ocean,” explains Jessie Dawes, chief marketing officer for Diptyque Americas. “It’s a story of the flowers cooled by the sea breeze, brought back from the local markets by Coueisant’s mother.”
Notes: Tuberose, orange blossom, jasmine
Size: 2.5 oz
Nordstrom rating: 4.8/5 stars
A Nordstrom reviewer says: “I’ve never had a fragrance like this. It’s floral and slightly musky and masculine without being too ‘nighttime.’”
Eau De Parfum
This is it, the star of my olfactory show. It’s the perfume that got me hooked on oceanic scents. While some aquatic perfumes capture the essence of a full beach day—tropical drinks, suntan lotion, the coconut-y works —this variation smells like the sea itself.
Describing her inspiration, Shapiro tells ELLE: “Salt Eau de Parfum is the first day of a beach vacation. You wake up early on your own, there's no one on the beach yet, and there's still that morning freshness in the air. It's such a unique fragrance because it's not playing on any oceanside perfume stereotypes. It's this gorgeous, sophisticated take on how the ocean makes us feel.”
Notes: Ylang ylang, violet leaves absolute, Tahitian tiare, magnolia dianica, musk, vegan ambergris, sandalwood
Size:.25-1.7 fl oz
Ellis Brooklyn rating: 4.4/ 5 stars
An Ellis Brooklyn reviewer says: “This fragrance is so unique and beautiful. It literally smells like a day on the water. Think sunscreen in the best possible way, think salty wet skin. It smells like summer.”
Light Blue Eau de Toilette Spray
This fresh scent hasn’t lost its appeal in the 20-plus years it’s been a perfume-aisle standby. “It's such a classic, but Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue is so well done,” Shapiro says. “ It's quite citrusy, but it's beautiful and watery.” Designed to channel summer in Capri, the sunny scent has citrus, apple, and bamboo notes.
Notes: Citrus, apple, bamboo
Size: 0.33-6.7 oz
Sephora rating: 4.5/5 stars
A Sephora reviewer says: “I’ve used this fragrance for years because it’s a beautiful, light scent that lasts all day.”
Aqua Celestia Cologne forte Eau de Parfum
Inspired by the sea and the sky, this ethereal scent is a go-to for Shapiro. “There's light and water here,” she says. “There is also some oomph.” Packaged in the daintest crystalline bottle, the fragrance has top notes of bergamot and blackcurrant; a heart of jasmine and mimosa is underneath. Its base is a fruity, musky accord that may account for that glamorous oomph.
Notes: Italian bergamot oil, blackcurrant bud absolue, Egyptian jasmine accord, French mimosa absolue, fruity musky accord
Size: 2.4-6.8 oz
Nordstrom rating: 3.9/5 stars
A Nordstrom reviewer says: “So beautiful. Juicy, heavenly, rich. Smells like vacation in the Bahamas.”
H2Eau Golden Citrus Eau de Parfum
One spritz of this, and I get the impression that I’m in a citrus grove somewhere, hanging dresses out to dry in the sun. (Very Tomato Girl.) The perfume is part of Clean Reserve’s new H2EAU collection, which came with a watery directive.
“When we briefed the perfumers, we asked them to capture the moment of being in certain areas of the world that were inspired by water,” says Tara Kearns, Clean’s director of fragrance and product development. “For Golden Citrus, Steven Claisse’s inspiration was drawn from the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea and the delicate aroma of neroli blossoms.” Not only is it delightful for the nose, but the water-based formulation is hydrating and gentle on sensitive skin.
Notes: Mandarin, orange blossom, musk
Size: 0.34-3.4 oz
Sephora rating: 4.7/5 stars
A Sephora reviewer says: “Lovely warm citrus that dries down to a crisp, clean laundry scent.”
Lost in Paradise Eau de Parfum
The fresh solar fragrance melds notes of coconut water with peach skin and salty musk. It’s sweet, but not overly so, and it’s the kind of scent that inspires happy daydreams so vivid you can practically hear the crashing waves. As Kearns describes it, “Chris Collins Lost in Paradise has dreamy, creamy, marine notes that are so delicious.”
Notes: Coconut water, peach skin, salted musk
Size: 0.3-1.7 oz
Sephora rating: 4.1/5 stars
A Sephora reviewer says: “I love coconut in perfume, but I’m not a fan of sunscreen-y scents. This is not that at all. It’s an effortless, creamy coconut musk— definitely a ‘your skin but better’ scent!”
Jake's House Eau de Parfum
Henry Rose founder Michelle Pfeiffer wanted a scent that channeled her grandfather Jake’s house in North Dakota. As a kid, she always thought it smelled wonderfully fresh and clean. Developed by perfumer Pascal Gaurin, the resulting perfume blends watery, fresh marine top notes with honeyed neroli and peony. A musky base layer makes for a clean, second-skin finish.
When I have this on, it’s impossible for me to stop sniffing my wrist— and I’m not alone. “It’s become a fan favorite due to its bright, solar signature juxtaposed with sensual musk,” Gaurin says. He adds that its “light freshness” is genderless and seasonless.
Notes: Fresh marine, neroli, peony, jasmine, ambroxan, musk
Size: 0.7-1.7 oz
Credo rating: 4.4/5 stars
A Henry Rose reviewer says: “Jake’s House is perfect. It smells fresh, not fake, and it lasts for hours—but not too long. If I ever find out where Jake’s House is, I’m moving in.”
Perfect Eau de Toilette
According to Gaurin, “Marc Jacobs Perfect Eau de Toilette is another aquatic favorite.” He notes that its “luminous florals and crisp fruitiness,” mixed with minerality, make for “joyful, watery freshness.” Plus, there’s the ultra-cute packaging: decked with charms, the bottle is eye candy for your vanity.
Notes: Pink peppercorn, polygonum, cedarwood
Size: 0.33-3.4 oz
Ulta rating: 4.3/5 stars
A Sephora reviewer says: This is an uplifting, beautiful, floral scent. I can’t help but feel joyful when I wear it.”
Steamed Rainbow Eau de Parfum
This modern, wildly imaginative scent takes its cues from up above. “Our Steamed Rainbow is my attempt to make the smell of a rainbow in humid air,” D.S. & Durga co-founder David Moltz tells ELLE.com. He designed the fragrance to mimic what might happen “if you could get up close to a rainbow and sniff all its colors bending in the wet sky.” Plus, the dewy scent doubles as color therapy. “If you spray it on your wrist and think of a color, you will smell that color,” Moltz promises. “ It’s very layered.”
Notes: Red mandarin, orange, yellow elemi resin, green cedar, blue almond flower, indigo grass, violet, vetyver, vapors
Size: 1.7-3.4 oz
Cult Beauty rating: 4.7/5 stars
A Cult Beauty reviewer says: “It’s so different. It smells like air after rain in warm weather on my skin.”
'REPLICA' Bubble Bath
With a fresh, soapy smell that evokes clean sheets, flowers on the windowsill, and, of course, long soaks in the tub, this smells like a relaxing, lazy weekend. The unisex perfume has rose and lavender to promote that feeling of post-bubble-bath bliss; it also has a little creaminess from its coconut milk accord.
Notes: Soap bubble accord, rose superessence, white musk, coconut milk accord
Size: 0.3-3.4 oz
Sephora rating: 3.9/5 stars
A Sephora reviewer says: “Fresh and clean without being too soapy or floral, this is such a unique fragrance.”
A scent called Shower better refresh all your senses, and this one does the trick. The peppy perfume has a squeaky-clean feel, offering a crisp blend of sea spray, neroli, orange blossom, and white patchouli. Plus, it’s affordable, which should perk you right up, too.
Notes: Sea spray, neroli, orange blossom, white patchouli
Size: 1 oz
Jones Road rating: 4.5/5 stars
A Jones Road reviewer says: “This has really captured the fragrance of coming out of the shower. It wakes me up in the morning. Love that kind of scent!”
Portofino '97 Eau de Parfum
Evoking mussed sheets, the Italian coast, and the heady feelings of falling in love, this was inspired by David and Victoria Beckham’s early trips to Portofino. The scent has a hint of seaspray clouded with musky notes of incense, amber, and patchouli. Plus, its enamel-blue bottle looks like it was casually picked up at the Riviera market.
Notes: Bergamot, black pepper, incense, amber, patchouli, sea breeze
Size: 3.38 oz
Neiman Marcus rating: 4.8/5 stars
A Neiman Marcus reviewer says: “I love this perfume so much because it smells so alluring and doesn’t smell like anything else out there. It’s fresh and elegant with a bit of je ne sais quoi.”
Private Blend Soleil Neige Eau de Parfum
Tom Ford wanted this to smell like sun spilling down on freshly fallen snow. Melding bergamot with citrus and jasmine flowers, the scent has a second-skin musk at its base and a creamy-vanilla finish. The bottle—sleek, silver, and white—plays up the après-ski chicness of it all.
Notes: Bergamot, jasmine flower, citrus
Size: 1-3.4 oz.
Nordstrom rating: 4.7/5 stars
A Nordstrom reviewer says: “It is very fresh but enchanting and reminds you of a beautiful winter day with the sun shining on fresh fallen snow and brisk fresh air.”
Boardwalk Delight Eau de Parfum
Every time I smell this, I want to wish on falling stars and skip around a little. It’s the sweetest, most whimsical perfume, whipped up with notes of cotton candy and raspberry sorbet. I know what you’re thinking—no, it’s not overly sweet. You get a hint of brine with its top note of aquatic accord. Even better, it’s also hypoallergenic and safe for sensitive skin.
Notes: Aquatic accord, watery apple, water lily, coconut milk, cotton candy, vanilla, solar amber, musk
Size: 0.33-1.7 oz
Amazon rating: 4.3/5 stars
An Amazon reviewer says: “It’s sweet and fluffy without the overly perfumed smell. Hard to explain, but when I’m wearing it I just feel happy.”
Leila Lou Eau de Parfum
A total compliment magnet, strangers will stop you to ask what you’re wearing, and to that, you'll say this perfect springtime scent. ELLE.com’s Best Clean Fragrance of 2023 melds notes of pear and jasmine with fresh-cut grass. It’s casual and blissful, and it smells like the best spring day ever on your wrist.
Notes: Coconut, Tuscan fig, amber
Size: 1.7 oz
Sephora rating: 4.4/5 stars
A Sephora reviewer says: "It has some fruity and green notes that I don’t typically go for but it’s so well done in this fragrance it’s made me branch out from my comfort zone. Easy to wear everyday."
Juliette Has a Gun Vanilla Vibes
When he designed this scent, perfumer Romano Ricci had a desert scene in mind. He pictured a free-spirited dancer at Burning Man, twirling around in a vanilla-scented haze. Like any vanilla scent, this one has a hint of cozy sweetness. But it has an earthy, untamed edge brought forth by sandalwood and sea salt.
Notes: Sea salt, natural vanilla, sandalwood
Size: 0.25-1.7 oz
Sephora rating: 4.1/5 stars
A Sephora reviewer says: “Dark, musky, vanilla, it’s perfect for a seductive scent. I absolutely love it!”
Loubimar Eau de Parfum Légère
With packaging akin to a Vegas hotel’s golden vibrancy, this is another ELLE.com Noteworthies winner. Inspired by Christian Louboutin’s love of Portugal, it opens with bright citrus and blossoms notes before unleashing its marine accord. Loubimar feels decadent, sea-soaked, and sundazed, like a getaway at a heartbreakingly lavish resort.
Notes: Lemon, tuberose, salty accord
Size: 3 oz
Nordstrom rating: 5/5 stars
A Nordstrom reviewer says: “An indulgence. A bit expensive but the perfume smells lovely and the bottle is beautiful.”
Wood Sage & Sea Salt Cologne
This is an aquatic perfume with a rustic twist. Inspired by crashing waves on a windswept shore, it has an invigorating and fresh sea-salt heart. The oceanic notes are cushioned with musky ambrette seeds and earthy sage.
Notes: Ambrette seeds, sea salt, sage
Size: 1-3.4 oz
Jo Malone rating: 4.5/5 stars
A Jo Malone reviewer says: “This is a stunning scent that flows beautifully through the bottom, middle and top notes as the day progresses. Every time I wear this perfume somebody tells me how amazing I smell.”
What is an aquatic perfume?
“There are these aquatic molecules that were created in perfumery. They are synthetic, like the ingredient Calone, and there's an aspect to them that feels and smells like the sea,” Shapiro explains. “Aquatic perfumes range from fresh and watery to very marine (think salty and literal ocean here) and ozonic. The ozonic fragrances are fascinating because they feel like air but also the sea. You can add warmth and depth to any of the categories as well, and can get a solar feel.”
What’s the best way to test out aquatic perfumes?
“Shopping for fragrance is incredibly personal, and finding your scent may require a bit of time, so enjoy the journey,” Dawes encourages. “When trying different fragrances, take your time to see what that fragrance evokes for you. If a fragrance taps into something a little deeper than just a beautiful scent, you’re on the right path to finding a great match.” She adds: “Also consider how you’re going to wear the fragrance, whether that be for work, a special occasion, or an evening out. All of these factors will impact your decision.”
Also, don’t pay too much attention to the notes. “Fragrances are so blended that exact notes for the usual shopper may be tough to distinguish,” Shapiro says. “Instead, read the description for the vibes and see if they match your own. I also recommend sampling somehow first, and if that isn't possible, buy a sampler pack or travel spray.”
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by scent when sniffing sample after sample in-store. “Sniff your shoulder between each scent,” suggests Moltz. “Spray your two faves on your left and right wrist, respectively. See what you like most.” He adds: “Sample sets are good, but you should put on more sprays because those tiny atomizers don’t put out too much. Nothing beats a spray from a full bottle.”
How should I layer aquatic perfumes?
“When thinking about aquatic fragrances, water comes to mind first, and because water is essential to all plants and flowers, aquatic perfumes pair really well with fragrances that are either green or floral,” saws Dawes. This pairing creates the sensation of fresh, early morning dew. Personally, she layers Diptyque’s green-aquatic Eau de Lierre with the brand’s Eau Rose. “It brings to life the scent of a rose garden at dawn right on the skin.”
Shapiro adds: “Aquatics, especially the watery kinds, can blend well with citruses. There's that same airy spirit there. But richer and deeper aquatics can actually do well with gourmands. Like our SALT eau de parfum wears so well with our SWEET eau de parfum. Together the perfumes have a salty and sweet quality that's as addictive as salted chocolate chip cookies.”
Can I wear aquatic perfumes all year?
“Usually aquatic fragrances are associated with the spring and summer. But it truly depends on how the fragrances are constituted,” Shapiro says. “For example with our SALT eau de parfum, we use vegan ambergris as our aquatic note and then we have a solar, warm aspect to it with the surrounding notes. The effect is less seasonal—not your typical sunscreen fragrance or watery aquatic—and it has enough of a base that it can wear even in the winter.”
Meet the Experts
Jessie Dawes is the chief marketing officer for Diptyque Americas.
Bee Shapiro is the founder of Ellis Brooklyn.
Tara Kearns is the director of fragrance and product development at Clean Beauty Collective.
Pascal Gaurin is the vice president and senior perfumer at IFF.
David Seth Moltz is the co-founder of D.S. & Durga.
Why Trust ELLE Beauty
As a leading publisher of fashion, lifestyle, and beauty content, ELLE.com is committed to highlighting the best products in various categories by personally testing the latest and most innovative products, interviewing countless experts, and vetting customer-loved items. For this piece, ELLE.com contributor Jenny Berg interviewed five perfumers and industry experts about the best aquatic perfumes. She also personally tested several of the perfumes, and pored over reviews to find the aquatic scents that make a delightful addition to any scent collection.
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