If you’re reading this article, we are going to assume that you aren’t sitting in your lavish Milan penthouse with a bathroom specifically for your perfumes and a walk-in closet for your cat. We’re going to go ahead and guess that you clicked on a link to bring you to this page because you like things that smell good, but don’t quite know how to go about understanding the terminology. What is eau de parfum? What are base notes? Why are some perfumes way more expensive than others? It can definitely be overwhelming and that’s okay! That’s why we’re here. Perfume, like any good niche, can get caught up in their own world and develop terminology that doesn’t exactly lend itself to be understood by the layperson. In an attempt to make our industry seem a little less snooty and a little more understandable, we’ve whipped up this basic guide to tell you about perfume types. While there is certainly a lot more to understand about perfumes and scent-creation, this handy-little guide should at least give you a nice base-level understanding about what exactly you’re spraying on your neck and wrists.
What you first need to understand is that perfume definitions are very fluid (if you pardon the pun). While the definition of a given scent is often given based on the ratio of water to fragrance concentration (usually an oil/alcohol compound that is the part of the perfume that actually contains the nice-smelling stuff), there is no strict rule about what concentrations get what name and we can only give a rough estimate. Perfume companies generally create their own parameters for each class of perfume.
Think of Parfum like a Lamborghini – it’s the most expensive but it’s also the sleekest, the most powerful, the best built and the sexiest in the market. This is generally the most expensive type of perfume as it has the highest fragrance concentration which usually hovers around the 20% region although some parfums can be as low as 15% and others as high as 40%. With the higher concentration of fragrance, you will usually have a longer effect with the scents lasting up to eight hours. These are good if you know you’ve got to impress someone with how good you smell at 9 AM and then again at 5 PM but aren’t exactly running around to re-apply something. Parfums usually have a lower alcohol concentration and aren’t as likely to dry out your skin as say an eau de parfum would. In stores you’ll see this as ‘parfum’, ‘extrait’, ‘extrait de parfum’, ‘pure perfume’ or ‘perfume extract’.
Esprit de Parfum
As a spirit hovers between the realms of the living and the dead, so too does the Esprit hover between the realms of parfum and eau de parfum. Rare and seldom used, this term is simply used to describe anything that people consider too strong to be an ‘eau de parfum’ but too weak to be considered a pure perfume. The International Fragrance Association defines Esprit as being anywhere between 15% and 30% of fragrance concentration, but in all seriousness – you just don’t see it too often.
Eau de Parfum
Eau de parfum (EDP) is much more common than Esprit and is usually classified as having 10% to 20% fragrance concentration (usually evening out to 15%). This usually results in EDP being cheaper and more widely available than pure perfume but comes at the expense of longevity – only lasting about 5 hours after use. EDP has the image of being a ‘nightwear’ perfume – the ladies of 19th century Europe would adorn themselves with EDP before going out to the theatre or absinthe parlours or make their plans for World War 1… or whatever fancy ladies of the late 1800s did. We’re not history nerds here. We could go in to a discussion about top notes and heart notes and base notes here, but that’s a different article. When you know about such things, EDP has strong middle notes and as a result makes it good to spray not just on skin but also in hair or on clothing. Sometimes this fragrance type is known as ‘eau de perfume’, ‘millesime’ or ‘parfum de toilette’.
Eau de Toilette
We feel the need to defend ‘eau de toilette’ (EDT) since anyone who knows a lick of French will be able to translate this directly to the decidedly unpalatable ‘toilet water’. While we agree that putting actual toilet water on your body is all kinds of nasty, eau de toilette was named back when ‘toilet’ still meant something along the lines of ‘to toil’ or ‘to get ready’. In essence, when the French named it ‘eau de toilette’ it sort of indirectly translated to ‘getting ready to go out and have a good day water’ which is a mouthful, but much closer to the truth. EDT is generally thought of as an ‘every day’ scent rather than a scent for going out (as EDP is considered) or a scent for big, ostentatious occasions (like parfum is considered). The fragrance concentration is around 5% to 15%, usually hovering at around 10%. As a result, this scent type is cheaper and potentially the most common type of perfume on the market. If you’re not playing high octane adventure sports or dealing with huge amounts of filth and garbage on a regular basis, this scent will last you a good three hours.
Eau de Cologne
While often thought of in gendered terms now to be an all-encompassing name for male-marketed fragrances, eau de Cologne’s (EDC) origins are much less gendered than pop culture would have us believe. EDC often has quite a low percentage of fragrance concentration (usually somewhere between 4% and 8%) and is defined through a high concentration of alcohol and a citrus smell. Originally created in Cologne, Germany in 1709, the fragrance caught on as a subtler scent that appealed to courtly men, though it was originally marketed to both men and women. EDC will usually only last up to two hours and because of its high alcohol concentration it may not be great to those of you with sensitive skin. However, as it is lower on the fragrance concentration scale you will usually find it cheaper and in bigger bottles than the previously-mentioned perfume types.
If parfum is the king or queen, think of Eau Fraiche as the third-born child to the king’s youngest cousin. While it’s technically in the family tree, it’s basically a commoner. Not that we are criticising eau fraiche, but it has less than 3% fragrance concentration and are basically known as ‘mists’ or ‘splashes’ of scent. They may last up to two hours and give you a very subtle scent in wearing it. Because eau fraiche is mostly water, it is better for people with sensitive skin who want a subtle smell than EDC would be and is easily substituted as a quick spray for a room or upholstery if someone impressive is coming over and you don’t have three hours to light a Yankee candle or something.