Cologne vs Perfume: What’s the Difference?

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Do guys wear cologne or perfume?

In fact, they can wear both. While it’s common for people to think cologne is the masculine version of perfume, that’s not exactly true. Although this is often how they are referred to in daily language (and I’m guilty of it too), the difference in cologne vs perfume is based on the concentration of the essential oils in each rather than anything to do with masculine or feminine scents — so yes, guys can wear both cologne and perfume.

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There are quite a few names for fragrances for both men and women. In addition to Cologne and Perfume, we should consider Eau De Parfum, Eau De Toilette, and Eau Fraiche.

Men’s fragrances are generally labeled “for men” or the French “homme” — if you don’t see this, it’s a good chance the fragrance is for women as fragrance-makers often assume the women’s scent is the default version.

What is perfume essence?

Before discussing what makes each of these toiletries different, it must be pointed out that there is a fundamental similarity between all of them.

Each one of the five types of fragrances under discussion is, at the most basic level, made up of a specifically mixed perfume essence.

The perfume essence is made from a variety of ingredients: essential oils (such as cedarwood and sandalwood); absolutes (jasmine or rose are good examples); animal extracts (one of the most common being musk); and synthetic fragrances (man-made chemical creations).

Combinations of these ingredients give us the different notes of a fragrance.

Essential oils by notes infographic

The notes of a fragrance are divided into base notes, middle or heart notes, and top notes. Top notes are generally the most volatile and are therefore smelled first when the fragrance is applied.

After their scent dissipates, the middle or heart notes come through, and then the base notes are the final scent, the one that lingers the longest.

The science and art behind any fragrance is getting the mix of these notes blended correctly.

It is the total blend of the final product that gives a special and unique experience to the user.

How are essential oils used in each fragrance type? 

The essential oils, by themselves, are very concentrated, as are the other possible elements of a fragrance. The scent of an essential oil, or any other perfume ingredient, may actually be unpleasant until it is properly diluted and blended.

Water and alcohol are used to help dilute, mix and blend the essential oils and the other elements in a scent. The concentration level of perfume ingredients in the oil and water blend is the fundamental distinguishing characteristic that identifies the type of fragrance.

overview of fragrance longevity infographic

Fragrance Types

Perfume

Concentration: 20-30%
Longevity: 6 -8 hours

Known as extrait de parfum or pure perfume, this mixture has the highest concentration of perfume and will last up to 6-8 hours. Parfum will contain anywhere between 15-40% perfume essence but usually, contains between 15-30%.

It has the strongest scent in any given product line – and if you’re one of the many that want to know which lasts longer – cologne or perfume – here is your answer. Because perfume has a thicker and oilier inconsistency than other scent products, it does not come packaged as a spray. You will find it in stoppered bottles. Unfortunately, it’s quite rare so I was unable to find an example.

This is the most expensive type of perfume and is better for people with sensitive skin because it has the lowest amount of alcohol and it doesn’t dry it out. In attempting to understand which is better, where cologne vs perfume, this certainly one of the reasons many classify perfume as superior to cologne and the other fragrance types.

byredo velvet haze bottle

Eau de Parfum

Concentration: 15-20%
Longevity: 5-6 hours

Eau De Parfum (“Perfume Water” in French) has the second highest concentration and can contain about 15-20% perfume essence. This type of perfume generally lasts from 5 to 6 hours. This is a good type of fragrance for sensitive skin types, even though it has a higher concentration of alcohol. It is suitable for everyday use and is the most common type of fragrance.

Eau de Toilette

Concentration: 5-15%
Longevity: 4-5 hours

On a sliding scale, the next fragrance type in line or strength is Eau De Toilette (“Dressing Water” in French) at 5-15% of perfume essences. This is a very common concentration for men’s fragrances and probably what you actually mean when you say “cologne.” 

EDT is one of the most popular types of fragrances and is more widely available. It is cheaper than EDP and contains about 5-15% of perfume essence and can last about 2-3 hours. Eau de Toilette is widely accepted as daywear while Eau de Parfum is more formal and is most commonly used for nightwear.

The term eau de toilette was taken from the French term ‘faire sa toilette’ which means getting ready.

Jo Malone cologne bottle

Cologne

Concentration: 2-4%
Longevity: 2-3 hours

EDC has a low concentration of perfume essence, only about 2-4% of perfume essence and is generally cheaper than the above types of perfume. Eau de Colognes come in bigger bottles since more liquid is needed because the fragrance only lasts up to 2-3 hours. Perfume lasts about 3 times longer than cologne.

Originally eau de cologne referred to a customary recipe made from herbs and citrus notes with little base notes. Traditionally, colognes are a safe choice for fragrances at a lower cost.

Eau Fraiche

Concentration: 1-3%
Longevity: 1-2 hours

On the low end of the scale is Eau Fraiche (“Fresh Water” in French), with only 1-3% perfume essence in the bottle — the rest being made up of water and alcohol. It’s often used as a refreshing splash-on fragrance, with low expected longevity.

It lasts for only two hours at the most. Eau fraiche, however, contains the least amount of alcohol because it is diluted with water.

Aftershave

Concentration: 1-3%

Aftershaves contain low percentages of perfume, usually only about 1-3% because they contain more soothing elements such as aloe vera. The scent doesn’t last very long, but aftershaves are supposed to be used after shaving to soothe and moisturize the skin.

a variety of cologne bottles

How should I use each concentration?

Because of the concentration of the perfume essence, it costs more per ounce than all the other types of fragrance.

It also generally has greater longevity on the skin than more diluted products, and it is used more sparingly. So while the price of a true perfume might look shocking, you might find that it offers more value to you than would expect.

Any fragrance which is less concentrated than a true perfume can be sprayed. In fact, all of them except the Eau de Parfum (which is sometimes sold in stoppered bottles, like a true perfume) will generally come in a spray bottle. 

If you have sensitive skin and are looking to avoid alcohol, then buy a Parfum, eau de parfum or eau fraiche.

Aftershave is important to your shaving routine and can enhance a cologne but don’t expect the scent long into the day.

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