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How to Spot Fake Cologne: A Guide to Buying Online

One common concern when buying fragrance online is determining whether you're getting authentic product from the manufacturer or whether it's a counterfeit or fake. Unfortunately if the price is just too good to be true there's usually a reason why.

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That's why on Dapper Confidential we try to link only to products that are sold directly from to avoid sending you to possible counterfeiters. There's often cheaper deals on eBay or on Amazon marketplace but please be diligent and examine the products carefully.

There are some sources of discounted fragrances which are the true fragrance but are referred to as the gray market. These include:



Testers are created for in-store spritzing and are frequently sold off when a fragrance is not being actively promoted or is aging. These are usually labeled Tester and generally are unsealed, without box or packaging, sometimes without a lid. Due to use in store, they might appear scuffed and not a good fit if presentation is important to you. On the plus side, they often are made of slightly heavier glass than what's sold to consumers so if you're traveling or just want something sturdy, they can be useful.


Samples are frequently given out as promotions by the brands for new fragrance launches. However entrepreneurial customers soon realized there's a secondary market for them online. There's often cheap samples available for purchase throughout the web. This is good if you want to try a cologne without commitment but there's rarely more than 2-3 days per sample so the cost per wear can be quite high. If you know you like the fragrance, better spring for the bottle.


Special gift sets are created by the brands for Mother's Day, Father's Day, summer or the Christmas holiday season. Once the season is over, they are often sold off to make way for the new merchandise and can be significantly cheaper. Some online sellers also break up the sets and sell the individual products separately without a box.


Aging fragrances are sometimes sold off wholesale to discounters as even the best fragrances don't last forever. To keep the fragrance consistent, manufacturers abide by an expiry date.


Where is the cologne coming from? Many counterfeiters operate out of Asia, in particular, China so be diligent when ordering from there.

Do they provide their own product photos? While the beautiful brand photos look nice, it's preferable to see the seller's own, self-made photos to see if the packaging and colors looks right. Look at the crispness of the printing, details of the logo, cellophane, and color of the cologne can give you clues on its authenticity.

Can you pay with Paypal? PayPal makes disputing online payments relatively easy so if you have doubts about the product's authenticity later, or if it never arrives, you have recourse to get your money refunded.

Is it damaged/old? Fragrance requires special handling -- not too hot, not too cold, not too much sun...and even if all those conditions are met, it still doesn't last forever. Often perfumeries will offload aging or damaged inventory to discounters. So it might not be counterfeit but might also not be the proper scent anymore. This is hard to determine online so check reviews of the seller.

Are they making up for the price in shipping and handling fees? Ever wonder how all these stores are making a profit selling for one cent on eBay, then you try to make a purchase and realize shipping is $25? Make sure to include shipping costs in your price comparisons.

Once you receive your fragrance, look again at the packaging and bottle. Quality fragrance makers go to great lengths to make sure their products are perfect and consistent.

Notice also the fragrance itself -- does it smell strongly of alcohol, feel oily or wear off almost immediately? Knock-offs often are the real fragrance diluted with alcohol or oil. As for the scent, good counterfeiters can emulate the top notes but frequently fall down on the heart and basenotes.

Finally does it matter? This is subjective. Some online reviewers seem to think the risk is worth the money saved. I tend to prefer the safety of buying from known, safe sources. Not be paranoid, but obviously counterfeiters are not getting government approval or meeting any health codes with their products.

For something intended to be worn on the skin and inhaled, that's something worth paying full price to be safe on. I've never heard of negative effects beyond headaches but still would prefer to avoid possible health related issues. There are quality, authentic fragrances available at all price points so IMO there's no good reason to risk being ripped off by an unscrupulous seller.

How to Spot Fake Cologne

Evan Weiss Designer / Co-founder Dapper Confidential

Scent is such a primal, evocative sense but we've neglected it modern times. I've always been fascinated by the way it shapes memory, mood and connections between people. Dapper Confidential is our exploration into the world of men's colognes from best-of lists to the stories behind the fragrances. I hope you'll join us! 

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how to spot a fake cologne

Born and raised in Austin, David is a dedicated writer and avid fragrance lover. When he's not trying out perfumes, he enjoys traveling and exploring new restaurants.