Fragrance Concentrations Explained: Cologne v.s Perfume v.s. Eau de Toilette
February 07, 20235 min read
For the unfamiliar, the world of fragrance can seem pretty confusing. It’s full of jargon: top notes, ambergris, chypre… all words that don’t mean much to the average person and are often a different language entirely! At first glance, one of the most confusing terms are titles like ‘cologne’, ‘parfum’, ‘eau de toilette’, which seem all too arbitrary. Today, I’ll explain these terms in plain English, so you can find your dream scent without having to learn french!
First, let's get the big misconception out of the way: gender has nothing to do with it. A lot of modern marketing has confused the issue for us English-speakers, implying that cologne is for men and perfume is for women. Not so. Terms like Eau do Toilette, Cologne, and Parfum indicate the concentration of the perfume. At its most basic, perfume is made from scent (synthetic, natural, or both) dissolved in an alcohol solvent. The alcohol stabilizes the volatile oils and diffuses them, allowing them to disperse evenly across your body while the fragrance performs its magic. The titles given to different products indicate the concentration level of the scent and, therefore, its intensity, staying power, and price.
Aftershave & Water 1-3%
These are the most basic, and the most familiar to many guys. While some synthetic aftershaves of the 70s and 80s are notoriously pungent, most are quite restrained and gentle. Aftershave is designed primarily to cleanse the skin following a shave, so unlike perfumes, they contain other active ingredients such as denatured alcohol, witch hazel, aloe, and more. The fragrance is more or less the icing on the cake, meant to give you a moment of enjoyment before dissipating into the aroma of your other shave products.
Waters are a product of similar concentration, used as a very light fragrance, such as Lavender Water from D.R. Harris. They also make some truly outstanding aftershaves, my favourites being Arlington and Windsor, but they’re all top-notch. Crown Shaving Co. produces an excellent anise-forward bay rum if you want your washroom to smell like a traditional barbershop.
Cologne has become a blanket shorthand for “man scent,” much the way aftershave has, but its origins may surprise you. Cologne is derived from Eau de Cologne, a recipe first crafted in Köln, Germany, its namesake. Eau de Cologne is still produced in different formulations by different makers, but some of our brands produce scents simply designated as ‘Cologne’. Typically colognes will last a couple of hours after being sprayed.
Much like their delightful aftershaves, D.R. Harris Colognes are excellent quality for their price. Their rich history as an English apothecary shines through, their centuries of experience with traditional herbal medicines giving them an expert mastery over natural essential oils. In true British barbershop fashion, Truefitt & Hill also has some top-notch colognes for those who want a daily wear scent that will delight their coworkers or loved ones.
Eau de Toilette 5-15%
Eau de Toilette is an even older category of fragrance, tracing back to some of the oldest modern perfumes ever made. While its exact history is debated, its importance to the world of perfume is not. Pretty much everyone knows the term Eau de Toilette, even if they don’t know what it means. These days, it’s a medium concentration of perfume that will last an average of 3-4 hours on the wearer.
One cannot discuss Eau de Toilette, or perfume in general, without paying tribute to Floris of London. Founded in 1730, they are England’s oldest perfume house, and it’s easy to see why. They produce a huge number of outstanding fragrances, each completely unique and carefully crafted by their master perfumers. The Eau de Toilette range from Floris primarily composes of their more traditional, historic fragrances and modern scents inspired by classics. No. 89, Elite, and Santal all remind one of distinctive men like 007, while their more floral ‘feminine’ range harkens back to the Victorian and Edwardian era when flowery perfumes were worn by all.
Eau de Parum 15-20%
In modern perfume, Eau de Parfum is almost always the strongest available product. While stronger options, such as Parfum, were made traditionally, they’re typically too intense for most palates. One of the primary reasons for perfume historically was to mask the awful smells of cities like Paris and London that lacked modern plumbing and separate the aristocrats from the common folks. Fortunately, we’ve moved past the need for such strong concoctions. Perfume is also a blanket term used to describe any fragrance.
Many of the best perfumers make Eau de Parfums as their top-of-the-line product, and their love of the category shows in the final product, which can last anywhere from four to six hours to over twenty-four, depending on the scent. On our shelves, Floris is the undisputed champion of this category with intoxicating blends like Honey Oud and Leather Oud, to the impressively complex Vert Fougere and 1988.
Castle Forbes is another top-notch maker of Eau de Parfum. Their Vetiver and Neroli are love letters to their namesake essential oils, while 1445 and Forbes of Forbes are dedicated to key moments in Scottish history. Czech and Speake produce luxurious, modern remixes of classic fragrance categories, while Persons of Interest crafts truly unique and delightful Eau de Parfums in Toronto, Canada.
While each designation lasts for an approximate amount of time after application, this can vary wildly. Synthetic fragrances are much heartier than natural ones, so Truefitt & Hill Cologne can last all day, while D.R. Harris dies off much faster. Honey Oud from Floris can last twenty-four hours or more, as can many of their others, while I find Captain Fawcett lasts for around six hours. In addition to ingredients and maker, where you apply a scent will also dictate how it wears. Applied to clothing or body hair, fragrance will last far longer and change far less, but I would caution against perfuming a jacket, scarf, or other items that aren’t washed regularly (unless you REALLY love that scent). Applied to the skin, fragrance will deteriorate much faster, but natural perfumes will experience a complete transformation into something brand new, depending on the chemistry of your skin, perspiration, and many other factors.
One of the many reasons I love perfume is just how personal it can be. The intensity and wear time are just as crucial when I pick a scent as the ingredients in the bottle and often dictates which one I wear. I hope with this information in hand, you’re better equipped to find your next scent!