The marketing directive for the fragrance of most men’s grooming products would seem to go like this:

“Team: The men in our target market have absolutely no discernment or taste, and we need to pander to that. When it comes to scenting our product line, we need something obnoxious, something that makes eyes water and nostrils burn – the perfect olfactive complement to a Jersey Shore or modern ‘bro’ look. If our customer tries to wear a more refined scent of his own, our products should totally overpower it and really dominate any room he enters. Anyone who shares an elevator ride with our customer should smell like us for the rest of the day. (A fun fact about the line: our deodorants and hair gels also work as insect repellent, but we can’t legally market them for that. That said, something that actually smells like Bug-Off or even a super sweetened sundae topping is not off the table.) Our sampling meeting is in four weeks. We’re looking for options that really melt our faces off. Dazzle us!”

If you’ve ever smelled any Axe product, you might conclude that the satirical memo above is not too far fetched. In terms of how they smell, most grooming products give men a raw deal. The scent is way too heavy and, to make it worse, simply horrible to begin with.

This is one of my cardinal rules with grooming products: Fragrance-free is better than fragrance-foul. If there is a fragrance, you want something with a clean, masculine but subtle scent that mostly dissipates 10 mintutes after it goes on. Otherwise, look for the words “fragrance-free” or “unscented” on the packaging. That way, your grooming products won’t interfere with whatever nice scent you really want people to smell when they get close to you.

Another guideline for me is about animal testing. I look for brands that do not test their products on animals. The grooming products I specify here are cruelty-free.

Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Pure Castile Soap.

Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap. Of all the products I use in my grooming regimen, this is my favorite. I love soaping up with this stuff. I prefer the peppermint scent, which dissipates within minutes after I get out of the shower. An unscented ‘baby’ version is also a totally fragrance-free option. Get some.

Cremo Astonishingly Superior Shave Cream.

Cremo Astonishingly Superior Shave Cream. Not only is this is one of the best shave creams I’ve ever used, it’s extremely affordable, with one concentrated 6 oz tube lasting 90 days. It’s gently fragranced and made in the U.S.A. Get some.

Layrite Daily Shampoo.

Layrite Daily Shampoo. When my hair is cut very short, I just use Dr. Bronner’s soap to clean my head. But as my hair grows longer, a real shampoo that cleanses buildup without drying the hair or the scalp is necessary. This stuff does the trick, with a gentle eucalyptus fragrance that disappears by the time I style my hair. Get some.

Tom’s of Maine Unscented Long Lasting Deodorant.

Tom’s of Maine Unscented Long Lasting Deodorant. I’ve been happily using this effective, fragrance-free deodorant for years. Get some.

Bulldog Skincare’s Age Defense Moisturizer.

Bulldog Skincare’s Age Defense Moisturizer. This is a great moisturizer from a company in the U.K., which I’ve written about before. The subtle scent goes away within minutes after the product is applied. Get some.

Layrite Original Pomade.

Hair Goo
Layrite Pomade. Layrite’s water-soluble hair finishing products do come with a very mild cream soda scent, but it is barely noticeable unless you literally sniff the product. The original pomade (my favorite) gives medium shine and medium hold. Get some.


  1. GH, I’ve been meaning to try Cremo, but have been working through – and been happy with – Van der Hagen Shave Butter. Also a good value, comparable. I still have a fair amount of ‘Sienna’ cologne (Caswell -Massey?) and even a few ancient small sample jars from Abercrombie & Fitch when they were still aiming at adult customers… three sample scents (and they have not- remarkable as it is – gone off – wife Donna has a super sensitive nose for this) Hedges, Woods and Spices. I avoid any of the new male scent efforts – WAY too strong and antiseptic. Rather carry a sprig of
    fennel in my coat.


    In my mind the problem started, or maybe accelerated, many years ago when Drakkar Noir was foisted on the public. Somehow the scent took off and it seemed like every brand that introduced a “new” men’s cologne had the exact same, horrible smell. I remember flipping through GQs at the barber’s and almost all of the scent strips had that identical, putrid odor.
    Personally, I’m not big on colognes for men but there are two scents I like. Hermes sells a laughably expensive stick deodorant, Eau D’Orange Verte that’s very nice. (They don’t seem to offer it as a cologne.) I also like the Orange Amber men’s soap by Claus Porto, also not cheap. It sold for around $8 a bar when I first came across it, but now – when you can find it – it’s more like triple the price. .

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