Confused about what cologne or perfume is? If you picked up a new bottle, would you really understand what the label says? Are they the same with just two different names?
If these questions don’t jump around your head while you’re looking for a new fragrance, you’re one of the lucky ones. It’s easy to get lost in the sheer volume of products available, but if you’re going to invest in your fragrance, make sure you choose the right one for you. From top notes to base notes, colognes and perfumes each have qualities that make them unique.
Let’s explore the world of cologne and perfume, their differences and uses, plus the biggest misconception of them all – cologne and perfume are not gender exclusive.
1. Cologne vs Perfume: Who is it for?
If you’ve done your basic internet research (or just happen to be a man who existed in the 21st century), chances are you’ve noticed the gendered marketing tactics of fragrance companies. Colognes are most likely to be marketed towards men and perfumes are more likely to be marketed towards women.
While gendered language can be useful in some situations, it is definitely not the case for scents. Regardless of their marketing, fragrances are mostly unisex. The real difference between cologne vs perfume is largely in the staying power. Perfume tends to have a higher concentration of oils than cologne. This can often be reflected in the price as well as how often you have to spray the scent.
If you are someone who likes it layer scents or switching from one to the other (think office to one after work), this is an important distinction to make sure you don’t suffocate everyone around you with a cloud of scent.
2. Cologne vs Perfume: Differences in strength
One of the main differences between cologne and perfume is strength. Perfumes are made with a higher concentration of scented oils, which makes them stronger and longer lasting.
This means that even with minimal amounts of spritz, you will be able to catch a whiff of the scent for several hours. Colognes are made much lighter and contain lower oil concentrations, so their scent can only last for about 2-4 hours at most.
You will also notice your choice of the scent will fade quickly or last longer depending on the weather. The higher level of moisture in the air often leads to the longevity of the scent (have you ever noticed your scent when you wash your hands?). Alternatively, heat and humidity (along with sweat) will destroy the fragrance more quickly.
3. Cologne vs Perfume: Differences in notes
Perfume is the most concentrated of all fragrances, with a pure perfume essence (or essential oils) of 20-30% compared to cologne at 2-4%. To balance the lower levels of fragrance oils, cologne has a higher amount of alcohol and water, which is why it fades faster.
Despite the very different oil levels, both cologne and perfume consist of top, middle and base notes. You’ll notice that many colognes favor lighter scents that aren’t quite as strong or long-lasting, and perfumers lean toward heavier scents that linger longer on the skin. So you have a good frame of reference, the fragrance notes for cologne and perfume can be divided into three typically used aromas:
Top: citrus/floral (orange, lavender, berries)
Middle: spices (cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon)
Base: earthy (musk, sandalwood, vanilla)
4. Cologne vs Perfume: Differences in intensity
Perfumes will obviously have more intensity than cologne because they tend to use heavier levels of ingredients plus they have a much higher level of essential oil than cologne. This of course assumes that you do not bathe in your chosen fragrance. To avoid overpowering everyone in a scent radius, apply perfume or cologne to your pulse points.
Cologne can be reapplied once or twice a day. To avoid being smelled before you are seen, try to apply perfume or eau de toilette only once a day. If you are a fan of the stronger aromas, we would recommend not changing scents during the day.
5. Cologne vs Perfume: Differences in use
In general, very highly concentrated perfumes are seen as an experience rather than daily wear, while colognes are widely accepted in everyday life and tend to favor masculine scents. However, the unspoken rule that cologne is for men and perfume is for women is a myth. Historically, perfume has been a genderless word to describe scents.
Today, it’s more about deciding whether you want a scent to spritz on for every occasion or something more dedicated to special events. But if you’re afraid of smelling too much like a daffodil, look for the word “homme,” which means men with fragrance bottles.
6. Cologne vs Perfume: Differences in aging
Perfumes and colognes both age, there’s no doubt about that. The difference is how they age. Each fragrance will age differently based on the notes, bottle type and where it is stored. Some will age gracefully, while others will leave you smelling like vinegar. Two rules to live by. First, always store your fragrance in a cool, dark place. Two, when in doubt, smell before you spray.
7. Cologne vs Perfume: Differences in ingredients
Real perfumes tend to be made with more expensive ingredients ranging from essential oils to natural elements. Colognes usually stick to more affordable synthetics that have a masculine scent.
8. Cologne vs Perfume: Differences in endurance
The longevity of a fragrance is all about the alcohol-to-oil ratio. Since perfumes have a higher oil concentration, you can bet on a longer-lasting fragrance. Colognes don’t have nearly the same level of oil, so it’s safe to assume you’ll need to reapply a few times throughout the day.
9. Cologne vs Perfume: Price differences
These days, fragrance prices reflect more than just ingredients – packaging, marketing, labor, etc. In other words, you can expect your wallet to feel significantly lighter, regardless of whether the bottle says perfume or cologne.
But the endless options also mean you can find budget-friendly fragrances that smell amazing, so it all depends on your fragrance preferences, how long you want it to last, and whether it’s for everyday use or just for special occasions. Just remember, if you want the best, expect to pay some money.
There are many differences between cologne and perfume, from strength and ingredients to price, intensity and staying power. Perfumes tend to be more luxurious, long-lasting and expensive, while perfumes are more affordable, subtle and best suited for everyday use. Whichever type you prefer, it’s important to choose a fragrance that you will enjoy and connect with.
What to look for when considering cologne vs perfume
What are the different fragrance types?
Perfume: This is the strongest (and usually most expensive) with 20-30% fragrance oils, generally reserved for special occasions by most wearers.
Eau de parfum: Also known as ‘extrait de parfum’, this is the second most concentrated form of fragrance with 10-20% oil fragrance, making it a great long-lasting option.
Eau de toilette: Usually seen as EDT, it is about 5-15% fragrance oil. The higher level of alcohol in eau de toilette gives it a more distinctive smell.
Colognes: Colognes contain around 2-5% fragrance oils and are not known for being exceptionally long-lasting, but they are one of the better choices for everyday use.
Eau fraiche: This ultra-light and refreshing type of fragrance contains less than 3% fragrance oil, which means it usually doesn’t last more than a few hours. Think of it as a fancy word for body spray.
Aftershave: An effective way to refresh your face after shaving, a scented aftershave will help cleanse and soothe the skin, but don’t expect the aroma to linger for more than a few hours.
State how essential oils are used in each type of fragrance?
Eau de parfum – Essential oils are used as the main ingredients in an eau de parfum, due to the high oil concentration in this type of fragrance.
Perfume – Essential oils are used as main ingredients and top notes in perfumes. This helps create a unique, long-lasting fragrance.
Eau de toilette – Essential oils are used as main ingredients and top notes in eau de toilette. This helps create a milder, more moderate fragrance that is still quite concentrated.
Cologne – Essential oils are used as top notes in colognes. This helps create a milder and more delicate fragrance.
Eau fraiche – Essential oils are used sparingly in eau fraiche due to the low oil concentration. They still need to add a “something special” to the scent, so their presence is still key.
Aftershave – Essential oils are not used in aftershave as alcohol is the main ingredient in this type of fragrance.
The main difference between cologne and perfume is strength. Perfumes are made with a higher concentration of scented oils, which makes them stronger and longer lasting, while colognes are made with lower oil concentrations and are considered lighter and more subtle. Perfumes are also more expensive than colognes.
Generally, men wear cologne and women wear perfume, although there is no hard and fast rule. Colognes are usually less expensive and contain lower oil concentrations, making them a good choice for everyday use. However, there are also unisex fragrances that are popular with both men and women, so ultimately it will come down to personal preference.
Perfumes are stronger than colognes as they are made with a higher concentration of scented oils. So even with minimal amounts of spritz, you will be able to catch a whiff of the scent for several hours. Since colognes are made much lighter and contain less oil concentrations, their scent will not linger as long.
Cologne is usually cheaper than perfume because it contains fewer fragrance oils, resulting in its lighter and more subtle scent. It is important to note that production, packaging and branding play a large role in the price tags of both.