The world of perfumery is chock full with unfamiliar terminology and concepts, so much so that it might be impenetrable for the average person.
You might have heard of or seen perfume oils before, either in your local shop or even in supermarkets. But when you go to the perfume counter at a department store, you’re not likely to see a perfume oil of any kind, but rather words like eau de parfum or eau de toilette.
What exactly is the difference between a perfume oil and something like an eau de parfum?
The difference between a perfume oil and a conventional perfume all comes down to the materials. A perfume oil is an oil-based fragrance, while an eau de parfum is based on alcohol. A perfume oil lasts longer on skin, while an eau de parfum is usually more diffusive.
Let’s take a closer look at the differences between perfume oils and conventional perfumes.
What Is a Perfume Oil?
Perfume oils are exactly what the name suggests: perfumed oils.
Namely, they are a blend of perfume oil (meaning a distillate of various natural extracts and aroma chemicals) and a “carrier oil”, which might be something like jojoba oil, avocado oil, almond oil, or apricot kernel oil, though there are dozens of different carrier oils to choose from.
A carrier oil must be used because many essential oils and aroma chemicals cannot be applied directly to the skin without irritation or damage. Therefore, carrier oils dilute the impact of the essential oils and make them usable for fragrance.
Perfume oils are the oldest form of fragrance, having been used since at least the age of ancient Sumer, Babylon, and Egypt, before the distillation of pure alcohol in the medieval period. Attars, which I wrote about here, are a form of perfume oil widely used in the Middle East, which is a modern manifestation of the ancient art of perfume oil making.
Perfume oils tend to be what are called solinote or soliflore fragrances, meaning that they feature a single note only, such as lavender, rose, vanilla, or amber. There are more complex perfume oils out there, though, such as those made by brands like Alkemia or Hexennacht, and of course attars.
Usually, a perfume oil is applied directly to the skin with a rollerball, or by using a dropper or dipstick. Because they contain no alcohol, they usually do not have much projection or sillage to speak of, meaning that they are more of a personal fragrance experience. However, the saving grace of perfume oils is that they are very long-lasting, and tend to linger on skin all day long.
What Is an Eau de Parfum?
An eau de parfum is simply one concentration of conventional perfume.
I’ve written more about “concentration” here, so if you’d like a full breakdown, feel free to check out that guide. However, I’ll give a brief rundown here.
Essentially, a conventional perfume is comprised of perfume oil (again, the blend of various essential oils and aroma chemicals that make up a fragrance, not the final perfume oil product itself) and alcohol. Alcohol, in the case of a conventional perfume, is the “carrier” medium instead of oil; it dilutes, and makes usable, the perfume oil distillate.
Concentration refers to the percentage of perfume oil being diluted in alcohol in a given perfume. A low concentration, such as eau de Cologne, is around 2-4% perfume oil to alcohol. The highest concentration, extrait de parfum/parfum, ranges from 20 to 40% perfume oil to alcohol.
So what “concentration” is eau de parfum? It’s the second strongest concentration, ranging from between 10 and 20% perfume oil to alcohol.
Because an eau de parfum is a conventional perfume, it has much greater projection and sillage when compared to a perfume oil, and lesser longevity. However, due to its higher oil content, it is a bit closer to the skin than concentrations such as eau de toilette and eau de Cologne, and indeed it behaves more similarly to an actual perfume oil than it does to an eau de Cologne.
However, eaux de parfum are still often quite strong and diffusive, able to announce their presence to people around you much more readily when compared to a perfume oil.
So, let’s break down the critical differences between perfume oils and eaux de parfum.
- Oil-based, rather than alcohol-based.
- Often solinote/soliflore compositions focused on a single note, though there are more complex perfume oils out there.
- Applied using a rollerball, dipstick, or dropper instead of a sprayer.
- Has greater longevity than eaux de parfum.
- Has weaker projection and sillage than eaux de parfum.
Eaux de Parfum
- Alcohol-based, rather than oil-based.
- Very rarely solinote/soliflore compositions; usually more complex than some perfume oils.
- Applied using a sprayer.
- Has lesser longevity than perfume oils.
- Has greater projection and sillage than perfume oils.
The Final Word
In the strange and confusing world of perfumery, it can often be difficult to get your bearings. But never fear – that’s why I’m here, to be your guide, and to leave you more knowledgeable (and more fragrant) than you were before.
So, what’s the difference between perfume oils and conventional perfumes?
Perfume oils are oil-based perfumes, while conventional perfumes like eaux de parfum are alcohol-based. Perfume oils last longer on skin, but are less diffusive, while eaux de parfum have greater projection and sillage. Finally, perfume oils are often solinotes, while eaux de parfum are usually more complex.