In our shop we’ve spoken with many visitors who are confused about fragrance types and frankly who can blame them? Fragrance types are a well-established but ultimately somewhat imprecise set of guidelines, and their use across the industry can be inconsistent.
A simple understanding of what constitutes contemporary fragrances is essential. While the word ‘perfume’ derives from the Latin per fumum, meaning ‘through smoke’, today’s perfumes are blends of natural and/or synthetic oils. To make these oil blends more wearable and less potent, alcohol or neutral smelling oils are commonly added as solvents. The ratio of oil (or other aromatic compound) to alcohol determines the concentration and therefore the type of each fragrance.
The four main types of fragrance you are likely to come across are:
Parfum (Extrait de Parfum): 15-40% concentration, 20% is typical
Known in English as pure perfume or simply as perfume, this is the purest and therefore the most expensive type of fragrance.
Eau de Parfum (EdP): 10-20% concentration, 15% is typical
Eau de Parfum is what most people today refer to as “perfume”. Eau de Parfum is less concentrated than Parfum, but the scent is typically quite noticeable and long lasting. You’ll sometimes hear Eau de Parfum fragrances referred to as “evening scents” as some may be too heavy for daytime wear or during the summer when warm temperatures amplify the qualities of fragrance.
Eau de Toilette (EdT): 5-15% concentration, 10% is typical
Eau de Toilette is slightly less concentrated than EdP, but may not necessarily have a weaker scent. Some wearers may in fact prefer EdT over the more expensive EdP, depending on the notes present in each fragrance. Even EdT and EdP versions of the same fragrance may not smell the same, so it’s worthwhile to experiment with each to determine your preference.
Eau de Cologne (EdC): 3-8% concentration, 5% is typical
Often simply called “cologne” these are lighter fragrances that are highly appropriate for daytime or summer wear. “Refreshing” is an adjective often used to describe EdC fragrances, due to their common use of citrus notes.
The use of the term “cologne” creates an additional layer of confusion because it has multiple meanings. The first and most classical definition refers to the fresh, citrus based fragrances that were first developed in the early 18th century in Cologne, Germany, hence the name. The most famous of these is Mäurer & Wirtz’s ‘4711’ which was created in 1799 and is still produced today. In the 20th century, fragrance companies began to use the term to describe lighter (and less expensive) versions of their existing fragrances. Cologne today typically remains the lightest version of a scent in any fragrance line. Finally, “cologne” has been established to mean any fragrance worn by a man, as opposed to “perfume” which is worn by a woman. Many modern fragrance houses use the term “fragrance” to avoid these gender specific terms and the current popularity of unisex fragrances is likely to further this usage.
As mentioned, fragrance types are an imprecise terminology, so perhaps the best course of action is to “follow your nose” when determining what you like. At Spruce Apothecary we have a tightly edited collection of niche brand fragrances for both men and women—we even have fragrances for people who “don’t like fragrance”! We invite you to stop in soon. Remember this holiday season that fragrance always makes for a thoughtful and personal gift.