The perfume world is sometimes pretty difficult to navigate. With new perfumes coming out seemingly every week, it can be hard to keep track of what’s what.
And the names! In French! A foreign language? Mama mia, all I know how to say is omelette du fromage!
What in tarnation is a pour homme?
Something that can be especially confusing for the uninitiated might be the terms eau de toilette, eau de parfum, and parfum.
Almost every major designer brand on the market is pumping out fragrances with those designations.
Take, for instance, Bleu de Chanel, Chanel’s flagship masculine, available as Bleu de Chanel Eau de Toilette, Bleu de Chanel Eau de Parfum, and Bleu de Chanel Parfum.
It’s the same story with Dior and their massively popular Sauvage, available in Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum, Parfum, and now Elixir.
Female perfumes have been released like this for decades, but it’s a fairly recent arrival to the male targeted market, since we can’t very well have a macho man wearing a gol’ darn parfum now can we?
But just what do these terms mean? What’s the difference between “eau de toilette”, “eau de parfum”, and “parfum”?
It’s actually fairly simple.
The difference between eau de toilette, eau de parfum, and parfum lies in the concentration of fragrance oil. Eaux de toilette have a lower concentration, at ~5-15% oil to alcohol. Eaux de parfum and parfums have a higher concentration, between 15-40%.
The higher the concentration, the stronger the fragrance. However, things are a little bit more complicated than that.
Let’s take a closer look.
What is the “concentration” of a fragrance?
The “concentration” of a fragrance refers to the amount of perfume oil in the blend.
Any modern day fragrance is a mix of alcohol or carrier oil, essential oils, and fragrance molecules (called aroma chemicals). The “perfume oil” in the blend is the combination of essential oils and aroma chemicals, which are then diluted in alcohol or carrier oil.
The concentration, then, is the percentage of perfume oil to alcohol in a given fragrance.
In the perfume industry, there are a few standard concentrations: eau fraîche, eau de cologne, eau de toilette, eau de parfum, and extrait de parfum or parfum. There are a few others, but they are not as commonly used.
The higher percentage of perfume oil in a fragrance, the higher the “concentration” and strength (that is, lasting power) of that perfume.
Eau fraîche is the weakest concentration (other than maybe scented water), and extrait de parfum is the strongest.
What is an eau de toilette (EdT)?
Eau de toilette (meaning “toilet water” in French, but not like, that toilet) is one of the most common fragrance concentrations, maybe even the most common.
The percentage varies from brand-to-brand, but for the most part, eaux de toilette weigh in at about 5-10% perfume oil-to-alcohol.
This will give you a pretty standard amount of lasting power, at around 4-6 hours. But more than that, an eau de toilette will project well, meaning that its scent will diffuse in the air so that other people will readily pick up your scent. Eaux de toilette also tend to have more sillage, meaning that they will leave a nice scented trail behind you.
In the modern day, most designer men’s fragrances launch as an eau de toilette and release higher concentrations later. For example: Dior’s Sauvage, Chanel’s Bleu de Chanel, Hermès’ Terre d’Hermès, Yves Saint Laurent’s Y, and many more.
What is an eau de parfum (EdP)?
One step above eau de toilette on the concentration scale is the eau de parfum, meaning “water of perfume” in French.
Again, the percentage varies from brand-to-brand, but most eaux de parfum will contain about 15-20% perfume oil-to-alcohol.
That will last on your skin for around 6-10 hours or longer, depending on the fragrance. However, projection and sillage are usually a little bit more limited (again, depending on the fragrance) compared to an EdT.
In the modern day, many women’s fragrances, unlike men’s fragrances, have launched as an eau de parfum, opting to release an eau de toilette concentration further down the line.
For example: Thierry Mugler’s Alien and Angel Muse, Yves Saint Laurent’s Black Opium, Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle, and Dior’s Miss Dior all began as eaux de parfum, releasing lighter concentrations later on.
What is a parfum/extrait de parfum?
The most intense commonly commercially available perfume concentration, parfum or extrait de parfum (“extract of perfume” in French) is dosed at between 20-40% perfume oil-to-alcohol, sometimes more.
A parfum will last the longest on skin of all perfume concentrations, lingering for 8 hours at the least and potentially upwards of 24 hours. However, this comes at a cost – projection and sillage of extraits de parfum are lower than eaux de toilette and eaux de parfum, so a parfum will stick closer to the skin and be less detectable by others.
Many designer brands release parfum concentrations of their perfumes nowadays. Women’s fragrances have been doing this for a loooongg time, but the men’s section has hopped on the bandwagon of late, with almost every major designer house churning one out.
Dior’s Homme Parfum, Yves Saint Laurent’s Y Le Parfum, Chanel’s Bleu de Chanel Parfum, Hermès’ Terre d’Hermès Parfum, Giorgio Armani’s Acqua di Gio Profumo…the list goes on and on.
So, what’s the difference?
So what, functionally, is the difference between the three? Sure, one has more perfume oil than the other, but what does that really mean?
Let’s break it down.
“Performance” in the context of fragrance refers to the overall “strength” of a perfume. That strength is measured according to three different criteria: longevity, which is the overall lasting power of a fragrance; projection, which is how diffusive a fragrance is, i.e. how well other people can smell you and from how far away; and sillage, which is the trail that your fragrance leaves behind you.
Eaux de toilette, eaux de parfum, and parfum/extrait de parfum all differ in terms of performance.
Eaux de toilette
Eaux de toilette have the lowest longevity of all the concentrations (~4-6 hours), but the highest projection and sillage. This is because alcohol acts as the “breath” of a fragrance, the medium by which the fragrance will move through the air and scent up your surroundings. More alcohol in a formulation means more “throw”, but it will linger on skin less.
Eaux de parfum
Eaux de parfum have more longevity than eaux de toilette (~6-10 hours), but have less projection and sillage. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re weak though; some EdPs are absolute powerhouses. They might just be detectable a little closer to your body compared to an EdT.
Extraits de parfum
Finally, extraits de parfum have the highest longevity (8-24+ hours) of the concentrations, but stick the closest to the skin, with the least amount of projection and sillage. This is because the oil concentration in a parfum is the highest of the three. Again this doesn’t necessarily mean that an extrait de parfum is weak; far from it. Usually they are just comparatively less “loud” than other concentrations.
So, to recap:
|Eau de toilette||Lowest longevity (4-6 hrs), highest projection and sillage|
|Eau de parfum||Moderate-high longevity (6-10 hrs), moderate projection and sillage|
|Parfum/Extrait de parfum||High longevity (8-24+ hrs), lowest longevity and sillage|
One other difference between different concentrations is that an eau de toilette and an eau de parfum of the same fragrance might smell completely different.
You might think that the eau de parfum version of an eau de toilette might just be the same composition intensified, but you’d be wrong. Often companies will dramatically change the formula between different concentrations.
To be sure, the same theme might be adhered to, but a perfumer might choose to highlight different elements of the original fragrance and add new dimensions and ingredients.
Take Dior’s Fahrenheit, a classic men’s fragrance from the 1980s with an infamous gasoline accord. The original is a leathery, macho powerhouse with nary a hint of sweetness. Fahrenheit Le Parfum, released in 2014, however, softens the leather to suede, adds some spice, and amps up the sweetness with rich Bourbon vanilla, licorice and a dash of rum. Shades of the original Fahrenheit are there, but for the most part it’s its own unique creation.
Thierry Mugler’s Angel Muse Eau de Toilette adds passionfruit, cassis, and caramel to the original’s warm chocolatey goodness. Yves Saint Laurent’s Black Opium Extreme amps up the coffee from the original EdP and swaps out fruity pear and bitter almond for rich cacao.
Sometimes you might think you’re just buying an intensified or lighter version of a scent you like, but are actually winding up with something totally different.
Remember folks, try before you buy.
The Final Word
Hopefully you’re a little less confused now than you were before.
Yes, the world of perfume is bewildering at times, with fancy French words flying around and new perfumes churned out seemingly in the blink of an eye.
But, when it comes down to it, the difference between eau de toilette, eau de parfum, and parfum is quite simple.
There is a differing percentage of perfume oil in each. Eau de toilette has the lowest percentage at 5-15%, while eau de parfum and parfum range from 15 to 40% concentration of perfume oil and beyond. The higher the percentage, the longer-lasting the perfume.
There you have it in a nutshell, folks. Just remember that longer-lasting power doesn’t always equate to strength, and an eau de toilette that everyone can smell on you might be more worthwhile to you than an extrait de parfum that only you can smell and enjoy.
It all comes down to what you prioritize more in a perfume.
Personally, I value lasting power over projection and sillage, as I tend to enjoy just appreciating a scent for myself throughout the day. But you might want something totally different.
So test, test, test. Now that you know the difference between eaux de toilette, eaux de parfum, and parfums, you’re as good as gold.