What Do Perfume Concentrations Mean?

Eau de cologne, eau de toilette, eau de parfum, extrait de parfum. What do these 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 2% oil and lasts for only 2 hours, while extrait de parfum is 25% oil and requires a skin graft for complete removal. It sounds convincing until one confronts the truth. Perfume concentrations are a marketing tool and they do not mean anything specific.  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.

Eau de cologne refers to a style of fragrance rich in citrus essences. It is the Cava of the olfactory world, bright and shimmering. Citrus oils are among the most volatile in the perfumer’s palette, and some colognes are indeed evanescent, meant more as an instant boost of freshness rather than a thick veil of aroma.

While convention would have it that eau de cologne is the most fleeting form of perfume, many modern interpretations rely on the interplay of ingredients that prolong effervescence. They pair citrus with musks, woods, and ambers, and you can easily build a wardrobe of both light and rich colognes. Eau de Cologne Impériale de Guerlain, once worn by Empress Eugénie, will linger long enough for you to sip a morning cup of coffee, while Cologne du Parfumeur, also from the same house, will dazzle you until cocktail hour.  Atelier Cologne’s Grand Néroli is a delicate creature, while Orange Sanguine has more heft. The old myth of low cologne concentration also doesn’t bear weight; Atelier Cologne, for instance, prides itself on compositions that use 25% oil.

If a line offers Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum in the same fragrance, chances are that the Eau de Toilette has brighter top notes—fruity, citrus, green nuances, while the Eau de Parfum places its accents on flowers and heavier base notes. You can safely disregard the breathless assurances that Eau de Parfum will last longer. This will depend on the formula, not the concentration, and the only way to find out how long a fragrance will last is to compare the two versions side by side.

Through such comparisons you will find that Chanel Allure Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum last for roughly the same amount of time—8 hours on my skin. The EDT has a coquettish twist of mandarin, while the EDP adds a ripe peach and a generous handful of cedarwood shavings. The two Allures are clearly related, but the differences are so pronounced that having both in my wardrobe doesn’t feel superfluous.

When Ernest Daltroff created Caron Nuit de Noël in 1922, he offered it in a form sold today as the extrait de parfum. Also referred to as the parfum, the extrait de parfum was the main way fragrance was enjoyed until Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum were popularized during the postwar consumer boom. The extrait de parfum has a high proportion of oils to alcohol, and it is usually applied in small doses. While it does linger well, it creates an intimate experience—for others to notice Jean Patou 1000 parfum on your neck, they would need to lean in for a kiss. It’s also the most expensive form of perfume, due as much to the proportion of fragrant oils as to the packaging—fine crystal, gold cords, and other accoutrements of luxury.

If concentrations are such vague concepts, how can they be made useful? Think of eau de cologne, eau de toilette, eau de parfum and extrait de parfum as separate fragrances. Compare different concentrations of the same perfume. Wear colognes in the evening and try an extrait de parfum as an opulent morning treat. The best part of fragrance is the freedom it gives to create your own rules. And to break them.

What is your favorite perfume concentration?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin



  • Rhinda: Thank you, Victoria, for a clear understanding of the differences in fragrance strength.
    I remember when a guy was REALLY in love if he gave a girl a bottle of eau de parfum! What a commitment! September 11, 2023 at 9:24am Reply

  • rickyrebarco: I enjoy both eau de cologne and eau de parfums. I love Patricia de Nicolai’s eau de colognes. They are so bright and fresh. I have all 4 concentrations in my perfume collection. September 11, 2023 at 10:48am Reply

  • Alityke: Chanel No5 is a classic case in point. The Parfum & EdT smell almost the same but the EdT has more of the bubbly aldehydes, the Parfum more of the florals. Both smell of No5.
    The EdP doesn’t smell of No5 to me, it smells some how flat, almost like it has been ironed. Maybe a better description is that the EdP is a single turn of a kalaidescope from the EdT & Parfum.
    My favourite way to wear No5 is a dab of Parfum left to dry, then overspray with the EdT. September 11, 2023 at 12:29pm Reply

  • carole: I used to think parfum is the most elegant thing. But now, for me, it depends on the fragrance. I love Cuir de Russie in parfum. Love Shalimar parfum, but I also have it in and EDC that has lashings of leather, and lasts forever. I have an EDP too, which is more lemon-y. Interesting to see all the beautiful variations on a theme.

    And Victoria-years ago, I bought Caron extract because I love how you wrote about them. So I have En Avion, and Poivre, and generous samples of almost all the others. I always loved your writing and thank you for introducing me to so many beautiful fragrances. Hope life is treating you gently. Thank you for maintaining Bois de Jasmin-I hit the archives, including the comments, when my spirits need a lift 🙂 September 11, 2023 at 1:29pm Reply

    • Notturno 7: Hello Carole, how lucky that you to have acquired vintage extrait Poivre before it was discontinued / changed. I discovered Victoria’s lovely blog late and missed on some amazing perfumes that are impossible to find today.
      Like you, I have Cuir de Russie and Shalimar and a few others in different concentrations, and I love to read old threads and comments. When life is too stressful I open the perfume reviews that are so beautifully written and sometimes paired with paintings or statues. Victoria writes so well.

      I have Allure extrait, it has a peach / sandalwood combination and I love it but use it rarely because it bothers my husband, unlike other Chanel perfumes I wear regularly.
      Carons and Chanels are some of my favorites. September 11, 2023 at 11:15pm Reply

      • carole: Hello, Notturno 7! Your Allure sounds divine-peach and sandalwood? I don’t know of another perfume with that combination. Persolaise, another blogger, wrote a fantastic article about wearing parfum for special occasions-I think it was a Christmas reference. And he’s right: something about a drop of something special for a special occasion-I love that concept. I also think any occasion can be made a bit special by adding parfum 🙂

        The Carons I have are pretty special to me, because Caron didn’t ship to Canada, so it was a kind American who arranged all these bottle splits. And it was Victoria’s evocative writing that even made me try! My mom used the En Avion during the last year of her life-she loved it, and Poivre.

        I hope you have a really good day and enjoy your beautiful Allure in the best of health:) September 12, 2023 at 9:17am Reply

  • Bregje: Thank you for this explanation and for reminding me of Allure. I haven’t worn it in a long time but i’m going to search for it tonight! I prefer allure edt with its fresh citrus notes. Like you wrote, edp is clearly related but quite different and both last forever( on skin and in clothes) September 11, 2023 at 3:57pm Reply

  • OperaFan: Thank you for this explanation that is a better interpretation for the difference concentration labels. Indeed, where the classic Guerlain fragrances are concerned, many EDTs will last all day – case in point is Chamade, where I have all 3 (sans edc), each having different characteristics. I actually like the edt more than pdt, perhaps because that’s the one I bought first.
    I have wanted to try Allure and now am intrigued by your description of the two types. September 11, 2023 at 6:29pm Reply

  • Collar Wilson: My favorite Chanel Allure is Allure Senseulle. The vanilla notes are so creamy and smooth. It’s very different from Allure Eau de Parfum or Eau de Toilette. Whenever I wear it, I get compliments. September 12, 2023 at 12:44am Reply

  • Sofia: Thank you for such an excellent article. Your explanation made so much sense to me regarding my personal experience with perfumes. It also made sense as to why sometimes I may enjoy an edt version more, as I may find it more effervescent and uplifting. For example I am a big fan of Diptyque and I tend to enjoy their edt versions over the edp of the same range. Your words also explain why the duration and intensities don’t always make sense to me in accordance to the marketing “rules” of edt vs edp. September 12, 2023 at 2:10am Reply

  • paul: Sometimes “cologne” refers to the style of the fragrance rather than its concentration: probably it´is the case of Acqua di Parma Colonia, which seem to have more of an eau de toilette concentration and staying power and yet it is called “cologne”. As you say, eau de parfum have often a slightly different composition: Habit Rouge EDP has a diffenret character than the EDT, and while they are clearly related, the EDP not only has a higher concentration and staying power, but perhaps a different identity. Some perfume houses perhaps put more emphasis on the EDT vs EDP versions: one might argue that Guerlain´s EDPs are always somehow different from the EDTs, while the same does not seem to apply to Armani, or D&G or others – you can hardly tell an EDT from an EDP, if not for their intensity. September 14, 2023 at 4:00am Reply

  • Notturno7: Hello Carole, 😍lovely reading your reply. Yes, a drop of a treasured perfume for a special occasion is great. It makes us feel great. I also try to wear most of them without trying to save for special days and even treat every day as a special thing, because it is special, right? One of my precious and inspiring friends who is also a cancer survivor, he told me how at the end of each day he things of all the things he’s grateful for and inspired me to do the same thing. It almost added another dimension for me. It made me happier. I love how wearing our beloved perfumes in any concentration is making us feel.
    Sometimes when I have a difficult work day ahead of me and need that extra strength, I reach for my ‘tough cookie’ 😉or a ‘tough girl – you can do it’ perfumes like Diva or Coco or Dior Dioressence….. actually many will do the ‘trick’….Elixir, Tuberose Criminelle, Malle -Carnal Flower, Vol de Nuit or Mitsouko are just few that come to mind right away. Do you have a similar thing going? September 14, 2023 at 10:43pm Reply

  • Notturno 7: I always learn something from you, Victoria. Thank you! I always thought cologne didn’t last as long as other formulations, actually ever since in my childhood an older lady gifted me a Diorissimo cologne. I loved the scent but it was gone so quickly and it felt really frustrating. Within an hour I could barely smell it on my wrists. 😆I kept wishing she got me EDT or EDP. Your article above is an eye opener. I’ll try applying different concentrations of perfumes I love and have in different forms to see what I notice. Thank you🌹 September 14, 2023 at 11:07pm Reply

  • Vincent: Hi Victoria and all,
    Thanks for this quite refreshing blog post! I also believe that expectations between these categories have changed over time. For instance I realized recently that not so long ago (in the 90s) many Chanel EdTs (No5, Egoiste…) had 80% alcohol, which means 20% oil if I’m not mistaken…
    Many houses nowadays sell “extrait de parfum” with concentration just slightly above 20%! And many of these do not last as much as vintage Chanel do 😉 September 15, 2023 at 11:34am Reply

  • Valentyna: Is that Niral on your photo? I’m on the fence whether to buy a bottle now. It’s beautiful, but fades away within an hour from my skin and I am not sure if I would prefer Mohur extrait. I have tried Mohur edp, and found similarities with Niral.
    I bet they all were reformulated now since you tried them a good while ago. September 28, 2023 at 5:19pm Reply

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