The Truth About Perfume Concentrations

What is the difference between the various perfume concentrations? In my new FT column Eau de cologne vs eau de toilette vs eau de parfum I explain that it’s mostly about marketing. Forget about the proportion of oils, the lasting power or the diffusion. Such categorization is of recent vintage, and its main objective is to sell more perfume from the same pillar brand. By way of example, today I’m wearing Chanel Cristalle EDT on one arm and its EDP version on another. They have fewer overlaps than Cristalle and Estée Lauder Jasmine White Moss. In other words, don’t rely on the concentrations to buy perfume. Use your nose.

concentrations

Eau de cologne, eau de toilette, eau de parfum, extrait de parfum. What do the terms mean? Open any perfume book and I guarantee that you will read an explanation that these French words denote different concentrations of fragrant oils in the finished product and a corresponding strength. Some authors might even give you a chart showing that cologne is two per cent oil and lasts for only two hours, while extrait de parfum is 25 per cent oil and requires a skin graft for complete removal. It sounds convincing until one confronts the truth. Perfume concentrations are a marketing tool and often do not mean anything exact. The proportion of oil doesn’t play as great a role as the ingredients in the composition. As such, different concentrations denote neither how long a perfume will last nor how many “rare and precious” materials it contains. To continue, please click here.

Image via FT

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76 Comments

  • Caroline: Aha, I’d suspected as much! And LOL at extraits practically requiring skin grafts for removal. After experimenting with partial bottle ebay purchases, I find Chanel’s No 5 EDC to have the best tenacity of all the formulations. July 1, 2016 at 8:18am Reply

    • Victoria: Chanel No 5 EDC indeed lasted really well, and I could smell it after a shower. My favorite is still extrait de parfum, though, because it’s softer and more floral. July 1, 2016 at 12:02pm Reply

      • Anna: Does it last well? I tried No 19 extrait and it didn’t last on me. July 1, 2016 at 4:05pm Reply

        • Notturno7: How interesting! It’s different for everybody
          I just wore no 19 extrait yesterday and was surprised how long it stayed on, all day, and at the end of the day it made my shower smell great.
          But I think the scent stays closer to the skin in the perfume concentration. July 1, 2016 at 6:34pm Reply

          • Victoria: I agree, the parfum definitely stays closer to the skin and doesn’t have the same diffusion. July 4, 2016 at 3:47pm Reply

        • kpaint: I have all of the (vintage) concentrations of Chanel No 5, and like you, I find the cologne to be the most long-lasting. I love the extrait but it lasts all of about 30 minutes on my skin, when applied from a splash bottle. I have the extrait in spray form as well, and it lasts much longer – obviously because the spray disperses the scent onto my clothes and not just my skin.

          My skin doesn’t tend to hold fragrance well, and generally speaking, I find extraits to be the most fleeting on me. July 1, 2016 at 6:39pm Reply

          • Victoria: In the most recent version, I find the EDP to be the most lasting version, but the EDT has a more nuanced drydown. July 4, 2016 at 3:48pm Reply

            • Michael: If I apply the EDP generously (ie, 6-8 sprays) I find that it lasts 6-8 hours on my skin. I just love how the flowers and creamy vanilla coalesce to form a slightly sweet, almost buttery dry down.

              The extrait de parfum, in its current formulation, however, was a disappointment as it only lasted 1-2 hours on my skin. July 13, 2016 at 3:55am Reply

        • annemarie: No 19 extrait lasts very poorly on me. Years ago, in my early 20s, I saved up for a tiny bottle and I was so disappointed. I generally find that extraits don’t last, Shalimar being a big exception. That sings for many hours. July 1, 2016 at 6:43pm Reply

        • Victoria: On me it lasts really well. The parfum stays closer to the skin, though. July 4, 2016 at 3:45pm Reply

  • JoDee: Having spent the past two years learning how to distinguish notes, I now finally am moving on to study concentrations (this is all just for fun, my hobby!). This past month Tam Dao has been my subject of testing. I had a decant of the edt that I loved for the sandalwood note so I thought I would try the edp version. I’m so glad I did! I find the sandalwood to be richer in the edp version and can now distinguish the dryness in the edt. It is fun to compare them side by side and you are right, sometimes having two by the same name, but different concentrations, can be so distinct that having both in the perfume wardrobe does not feel superfluous at all! July 1, 2016 at 10:00am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s the best way of doing it. By comparing various concentrations side by side, you can decide which works best for you. In most cases, they’re different enough, because even diluting the fragrance down changes its scent.

      Diptyque EDT vs EDP have many differences. July 1, 2016 at 12:32pm Reply

  • Cynthia Poole: Cristal EDT and EDP – two separate species. However, I can remember thirty years ago when Chanel N°.5 Cologne was quite concentrated.: not so today. July 1, 2016 at 10:08am Reply

    • Nora Szekely: I love both versions of Cristalle but they are indeed different. July 1, 2016 at 10:18am Reply

      • Victoria: Cristalle EDT is one of the best dry orange blossom chypres, and the EDP is a dewy, crunchy hyacinth. July 1, 2016 at 12:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t tried the cologne version recently, but my bottle from the 80s is super tenacious. As for Cristalle, they could be different perfumes. July 1, 2016 at 12:33pm Reply

  • Nora Szekely: Dear Victoria and perfume lovers,

    It’s an interesting and informative article once again. People who are not into the fragrances, can be confused by these different versions.
    I find it annoying when even SAs in large beauty stores are not knowledgeable enough and they offer me the EDP when I ask for the parfum concentration.
    When I started my perfume journey, I realized that there are differences between the notes of the EDT and EDP, extrait etc. while trying Chanel scents.
    For a long time, I preferred Coco EDT over the EDP for its brighter facets but last week I bought the EDP ( older version) and wear it with pleasure.
    Allure EDP turned sticky sweet on me but it’s lovely on my mother, Allure extrait however, is one of my favourites even in hot weather.
    Nowadays, many scents are on the market that call themselves EDP but don’t last more than 2 hours on the skin. Unfortunately 2014 Chanel reformulations are some of them.
    While my Coco EDT from 2008 lasted on me all day, the most recent EDP and EDT versions evaporate more quickly than you can look up how to pronounce the name of Mr. Jacques Polge correctly.
    On the other hand, I think I read in Jean-Claude Ellena’s diary that we shouldn’t not judge a perfume by its longevity only. His creations can be fleeting (though one of my friends says that Jour d’Hermes EDP lasts all day on her skin) but so memorable nevertheless. He sometimes composes his scents from notes that are less tenacious, but I’m pretty sure he does not have the financial gain on his mind when doing so. July 1, 2016 at 10:16am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s down to the experience. I think of Ellena’s creations as etudes, but sometimes it’s frustrating that they vanish so quickly. On the other hand, the first few minutes of Osmanthe Yunnan are pure perfection.

      Did you tried Coco Noir extrait de parfum? I wasn’t crazy about the EDP, but the extrait is stunning. July 1, 2016 at 12:36pm Reply

      • Notturno7: What are the top notes?
        I wasn’t crazy about EDP either but have been lusting over Coco Noir perfume. I noticed it on the shelf in the Nordstrom was trying to imagine the scent and how rich it could be.
        Please tell us how different is it from EdP and what notes stand out. July 2, 2016 at 4:59pm Reply

        • Victoria: I don’t remember it that precisely, and I don’t have a sample on hand. When I’m at home, I will compare and post a review. July 4, 2016 at 3:56pm Reply

  • Neva: Thank you for bringig up this topic Victoria. The other day I was complaining to my girlfriends that today’s fragrances have different formulations for Edt and EdP (as if all the flankers are not enough!). I’m a hardcore vintage fan and I started exploring and enjoying perfumes when the distinction between EdT, EdP and pure perfume was very clear – in the concentration. I still cannot get used to the new descriptions. I think they only lead to more confusion and I’m not alone. All of my girlfriends thought that the concentration is still the only difference. July 1, 2016 at 10:29am Reply

    • Victoria: Honestly, I think that all of these concentrations are very confusing. If it weren’t difficult enough with just the EDP and the EDT, there are now all sorts of new made up “concentrations” that don’t even make sense.

      The best example of different perfumes hiding under varying concentrations is Baiser Volé by Cartier. They could be under different names in the same line and nobody would raise an eyebrow. July 1, 2016 at 1:01pm Reply

      • Neva: Exactly! With Baiser Vole it was the first time I noticed that that the difference was so obvious. Later I compared the notes and thought how strange it is.
        I’ve also noticed people talking about the 2 concentrations of Vero Kern’s perfumes as different. I’ve only tried them in the EdP versions and normally I’d expect the extraits to be stronger and last longer. It seems that they are very different so I’ll have to order more samples… July 2, 2016 at 4:33am Reply

        • Victoria: From what I hear Mathilde Laurent created two mods that she liked so much that she wanted to use them both. And they do complement each other well. July 4, 2016 at 3:54pm Reply

  • Crazycrooner: I love neela vermeire’s mohur. However I wish it had more sillage and longevity. Hence I have been contemplating the Extrait version which has a gargantuan price tag. Should I make such an investment? Is the Extrait of Mohur any more enduring than the Edp? July 1, 2016 at 11:42am Reply

    • Victoria: Both of them last equally well on me, but the extrait is heavier on sandalwood and the rose seems more intense. I recommend sampling, though, because richness doesn’t always equal tenacity, and as you say, it’s very expensive. July 1, 2016 at 1:03pm Reply

    • Petunia: Not sure if you’ll read my comment but I am curious if you’ve sampled Rose de Petra by SHL 777? My nose is a blunt instrument but I do find this scent similar to Mohur.
      I’ve sampled Mohur EDP from a dabber sample and I have a decant of the Extrait. Possibly because the parfum is in a spray bottle, I find that it lasts much longer than the EDP. I am sure there is a big difference from a dabber sample to a spray decant. It’s a lovely scent. July 6, 2016 at 9:40pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: I couldn’t agree more on the analysis! As an ardent admirer of Caron’s Nuit de Noël I admit to the luxury of having all three versions: Eau de Cologne, Eau de Toilette and the Extrait. And guess what? The vintage Cologne is the most potent, at least on my skin; as a matter of fact with the exception of Guerlain’s Chamade it is one of the most long lasting perfumes I have. (Perhaps it is due to the fact that I splash a lot of of it on me?) The EdC posses that much sung caramel Caronade in reckless abundance, the EdT is—as everyone who is familiar with this perfume knows—the marrons glacés of the lot and the extrait is by far the most floral. Wonderful stuff, indeed! July 1, 2016 at 1:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: Carons have some of the most interesting differences among various concentrations, and I loved the vintage EDCs. Definitely not the light and fleeting stuff! Lucky you to have all three at your disposal. July 1, 2016 at 4:00pm Reply

  • Tati: I work in the perfume business and I can tell you, it is not just marketing. There are rules wether you are allowed to call a perfume EdP or EdT. When the same scent smells differently as EdP and EdT, it is because you cannot simply intensify the concentration of any oil. Sometimes you go above a toxicologic line and therefore need to re-invent the same scent for a higher concentration with OTHER ingredients. So no, you cannot just put the name you want on a perfume.
    Greetings July 1, 2016 at 3:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, I have direct experience with perfume formulation at quite a large company. The thing is that the concentration by itself is not a good rule of thumb when shopping for perfume, because everything depends on ingredients. Some materials are classified as perfume oils, while they function more as solvents. Which means that when you have formula with a large portion of such a material, it won’t smell particularly strong, but it can still be classified as the EDP, etc. July 1, 2016 at 3:59pm Reply

      • Tati: Hi Victoria,

        aah, now I get your point. And I agree, that is true. Best example may be Molecule, with actually NO perfume oil at all…still is a EdT. July 2, 2016 at 2:34am Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, exactly! I don’t remember how much of one ingredient that perfume contains, apart from the solvents. July 4, 2016 at 3:53pm Reply

  • Anna: What do you think about Shalimar EDP and Shalimar extrait de parfum? Which version has more vanilla? July 1, 2016 at 4:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: The parfum is richer on vanilla in a sense that it’s more prominent, especially in the later stages. The EDP is brighter on top. July 4, 2016 at 3:45pm Reply

  • Lindaloo: Thanks for this article. I have always been of the opinion that EDC, EDT, EDP and Extrait were not simply variations on strength, but variations on the focus of the scents and their structure.

    And, I have noticed that the structure of the EDC or EDT version has always worked well for me.
    (I would love to get my hands on the old Chanel No 5 EDC)

    I also have your experience regarding alleged differences in longevity, but then that may be that because my skin holds onto base notes forever.

    Thanks for your continued myth-busting. July 1, 2016 at 5:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s mostly because it’s impossible simply to add more perfume oil to up the concentration and achieve the same result. One exercise I used to do at school was to smell the same material in different dilutions. It’s amazing how different jasmine smells at 1% dilution vs 0.1%, almost like a different material. July 4, 2016 at 3:47pm Reply

  • annemarie: That’s a lovely piece and I was so glad you mentioned Allure (really enjoy the EDP – haven’t tried the EDT – but Allure doesn’t get much love on the blogs).

    The killer in all this, of course, is the price difference between the concentrations. It sounds as if an EDP may possibly be cheaper to produce than an EDT but invariably the price for the EDP will be higher. That is how much the market has been persuaded of the ‘higher concentration of oils’ idea. July 1, 2016 at 6:54pm Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t really know why Allure gets so much criticism. I think that it’s an excellent perfume, different in all three concentrations. It’s a relative of Dior’s Dune, another favorite. July 4, 2016 at 3:51pm Reply

  • Debby: Interesting analysis. From my own experience of owning Narcisse Noir extrait and the EDT I can say that they have similar longevity, but the extrait sits much closer which is not always what I want from it. The EDT seems more about the brighter floral aspect to me, and is more summery, whereas the extrait is only for winter. July 1, 2016 at 8:27pm Reply

    • Victoria: For this reason, I find the perfume to be a good morning choice when you want an intimate aura. At any rate, it seems silly to follow the common rule and save the parfum for the evening. July 4, 2016 at 3:52pm Reply

  • Nick: I think one of those perfumers with a big difference amongst concentrations is N°5. Smelling the extrait, and one would see why it is an expensive formula to maintain! July 2, 2016 at 9:12am Reply

    • Victoria: No 19 is also a super expensive formula. I take my hat off to Chanel for keeping that perfume in their portfolio. July 4, 2016 at 3:54pm Reply

      • Nick: Oh, yes, definitely with orris and galbanum already going over the top. July 5, 2016 at 9:46am Reply

        • Victoria: More expensive than No 5, I think. July 11, 2016 at 9:44am Reply

  • spe: Brava! Yes to sampling all “concentrations”. As others and you have stated, Chanel is one of the biggest perpetrators. Cristalle is a striking example along with 19. By the way, I also struggle with the 19 extrait and am planning a purchase of the edp soon to experiment. As to the dissing of Allure: it’s the one fragrance I heard a young, good – looking man request by name in a department store (the SA ignored him and showed him the newest offering miles away from Chanel) and it’s the scent I was wearing in an elevator one morning that a neighbor decided to copycat. Never mind the resentful perfume critic (most of you know who I’m referring to) – Allure is a fabulous perfume. I enjoy all forms and as someone mentioned the extrait is accessible (Macy’s) and exquisite. July 2, 2016 at 9:55am Reply

    • spe: Oops “whom”! July 2, 2016 at 9:58am Reply

    • spe: This morning I’m testing Guerlain Champs-Elysees edp and parfum! July 2, 2016 at 10:18am Reply

      • Victoria: What do you think of the two? July 4, 2016 at 3:56pm Reply

        • spe: Both ended up being too sweet. The edp had more diffusion and was brighter, the parfum was more muted. They had the same longevity. July 10, 2016 at 9:18am Reply

          • Victoria: Thank you for your comparisons. Yes, I also find the longevity to be identical. July 10, 2016 at 1:17pm Reply

    • Notturno7: I agree with you about Allure extrait.
      I’m not an Allure fan, it doesn’t smell good on me, but few years ago at Heathrow airport, I found a tester of the extrait and it was absolutely amazing😍. It took all my will power not to hand over my wallet as I already own most of Chanel and in various concentrations.
      But- I’m still thinking about it. Maybe I’ll get it after all, or maybe I get Coco Noir extrait. I just purchased No 19 extrait as mine was stolen from the luggage on last year summer vacation. I managed to get a refund from the airlines which was great. I was lucky I had a receipt and just bought it before that trip. Chanel pure perfumes are really amazing. I never regretted buying these extraits💜,they’re real treasures. July 2, 2016 at 5:24pm Reply

      • Nick: I totally concur: Chanel extraits bring a whole different world to their perfumes. July 3, 2016 at 12:09am Reply

      • Karen A: I was “reading” Coco Noir as Coco, and going to chime in on how much I love the extrait. It’s forever associated with a wonderful birthday dinner party – the kind where everything is just perfect. Elegant, bubbly, warm and festive. July 3, 2016 at 9:12am Reply

        • Victoria: Coco parfum is another beauty and also very different from the EDP. July 4, 2016 at 3:58pm Reply

    • Victoria: The extrait of Allure is very different from the EDP/EDT–golden peaches and an armful of jasmine. July 4, 2016 at 3:55pm Reply

      • Notturno7: Golden peaches and jasmine!!! No wonder I thought Allure extrait smelled like heaven.😋 July 18, 2016 at 4:22am Reply

  • Notturno7: Thanks Victoria,
    This was really interesting. I was gifted Diorissimo cologne as a kid and although I just loved the scent so much, I couldn’t smell it an hour later and was so disappointed. I thought – what’s the point??? And it was too expensive for me to buy another bottle in stronger concentration. Actually, I still have that bottle and I’m still sorry I never got a stronger concentration before they reformulated Diorissimo.
    Ever since I stayed away from cologne concentration whenever I would buy a fragrance. I really learned from this article. Thank you July 2, 2016 at 5:33pm Reply

    • Karen A: Notturno7, in a different conversation we wrote about Rose Nacree du Dessert. Email Victoria for my contact info and I will happily send you a sample/decant. If I recall correctly, you are on the west coast of the US, right? July 3, 2016 at 9:15am Reply

      • Notturno7: You’re so kind, Karen A. Thank you. I’d love that.😍
        I just got a ton of Serge Lutens samples with the purchase I made so maybe I can reciprocate with something you might like. Looking forward to getting in touch.😊 July 3, 2016 at 4:48pm Reply

        • Karen A: Happy to share Rose Nacree, and am curious to hear what you think. Funny, I just bought a new bottle of La Fille de Berlin. My original bottle just got emptied, I’ve made a new policy of no new full bottle purchases until I finish something. Not sure how long that will last, but will see…. Did you get the 8 samples? I’m on the fence about a couple, but like La Religiouse – there’s not much in the solids samples, but enough to give you an idea. July 3, 2016 at 4:57pm Reply

          • Notturno7: When I ordered the fragrance the SA said I was lucky and they just got in a ton of samples. So, I got so many samples, maybe 30 or few more, plus skincare and I’ve invited two girlfriends to go through the box with me. The SA gave me also skin care samples. The box was huge and it felt like Christmas time, haha.
            I bought the bell jar Sarrasins which is amazing.
            I’ll email you what I have left but I gave one girlfriend two samples of La Religiouse so I don’t have any of those.
            I’ll email you names of other samples to see what you’d like. July 3, 2016 at 5:34pm Reply

            • Karen A: Wow! What a wonderful treat! It’s great that the SA was so generous, and what a fun way to explore Lutens’ line. There was a small solid sample of Sarrasins and I can see why you treated yourself to the bell jar, it’s stunning.

              You will have to share your impressions on any of the fragrances you weren’t familiar with. One of the solids, Chypre Rouge has piqued my curiosity, quite lovely. July 4, 2016 at 4:22am Reply

    • Victoria: Some colognes last well, but most aren’t meant to. It’s more of a boost, a mood setter. July 4, 2016 at 3:57pm Reply

  • She-ra: This was a great read.

    There has been much speculation about the Chanel Exclusifs going to EDPs in September and what that will may mean in terms of strength and/or formula.

    i wonder even more after reading this article. July 3, 2016 at 9:45am Reply

    • Claudia: Yes, I’ve read that too. And I’m so disappointed that I can’t get Chanel samples anymore! July 3, 2016 at 4:34pm Reply

      • Victoria: They’ve banned the sale of samples online, which I can understand on the level of quality control but regret as a consumer. Brands should offer their own sampling services, even if it’s done for a fee. July 4, 2016 at 3:59pm Reply

    • spe: My SA said the same thing – August or September. July 4, 2016 at 12:51am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m not sure in terms of smell, but one thing we can be certain is that they will be more expensive. July 4, 2016 at 3:58pm Reply

      • Sofie: Just when I saved up enough for a bottle… 😪. I couldn’t agree more with the own sampling services!! July 8, 2016 at 8:40am Reply

        • Victoria: Agree! Not like even the boutiques make it easy to sample, but what about people who don’t live near a store? July 11, 2016 at 9:49am Reply

    • Michael: Chanel Boy has been issued in EDP and it is supposed to last longer. The other Exclusifs will be relaunched in EDP soon, so if you prefer a specific fragrance in EDT, stock up! July 13, 2016 at 4:00am Reply

  • Aurora: This is so interesting, Victoria, sorry to be commenting rather late. In the comments, you speak about Baiser Vole, which I adore (and recommend all the time) and that the concentrations make it a quite different perfume. The eau de toilette is so sparkling and the essence de parfum so plush, and could be called an extrait. I don’t own the EDP and extrait… maybe some day. I also have the eg of a vintage cologne The Cotswold Perfumery Cybelline which turned out to be one of the most potent sandalwood I have, so from this experience your conclusions are spot on. You’re building a wonderful body of work with these FT articles, thank you so much for sharing with us. July 6, 2016 at 9:55am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much. I’m happy you’re enjoying them. Yes, the variation is large among concentrations, mostly because even a tiny change will have a huge effect. When Annick Goutal reformulated Eau d’Hadrien to add more bergamot, people immediately noticed the difference (and many didn’t like the new version). July 11, 2016 at 9:48am Reply

  • Petunia: An informative and interesting article Victoria. Now I want to seek out the different variations of Allure. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. July 6, 2016 at 9:44pm Reply

    • Victoria: You’re welcome. I didn’t realize myself until I started comparing how different they were. July 11, 2016 at 9:46am Reply

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