Confused by what cologne or perfume is? If you picked up a new bottle, would you really understand what the label says? Are they the same thing with just two different names?
If these questions aren’t bouncing around your head while you’re shopping for a new scent, you’re one of the lucky ones. It’s easy to get lost with the vast amounts of products available, but if you’re going to make an investment in your scent, you need to make sure you’re picking 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 perfumes, 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 existing in the 21st century) it’s likely that you’ve noticed gendered marketing tactics from fragrance companies. Cologne is most likely to be marketed toward men and perfume is more likely to be marketed toward women.
While gendered language can be helpful in some situations, it certainly isn’t the case for fragrances. Regardless of their marketing, scents are mostly unisex. The real difference between cologne vs perfume largely shows up in the staying power. Perfume tends to have a higher concentration of oils than cologne does. This can often reflect in the price as well as how often you need to spray the fragrance.
If you’re someone who likes to layer fragrances or switch from one to another (think office to an after work date), this is an important distinction to ensure you’re not smothering 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 fragrant oils which makes them stronger and longer lasting.
This means that even with minimal amounts of spritz, you’ll be able to catch a whiff of the scent for several hours. Colognes are made a lot lighter and contain fewer oil concentrations, so their fragrance can last for about 2-4 hours at most.
You’ll also notice your choice of fragrance will fade quickly or last longer depending on the weather. The higher level of moisture in the air often leads to scent longevity (ever notice your fragrance when you wash your hands?). Alternatively, heat and humidity (along with sweat) will destroy the scent faster.
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 many colognes favor lighter scents that aren’t quite as potent or long-lasting, and perfumes lean toward heavier fragrances that linger on the skin longer. So you have a good frame of reference, the fragrance notes for cologne and perfume can be broken down into three typically used aromas:
Top: citrus/floral (orange, lavender, berries)
Middle: spices (cardamon, nutmeg, cinnamon)
Base: earthy (musk, sandalwood, vanilla)
4. Cologne vs Perfume: Differences in Intensity
Perfumes will naturally have more intensity than cologne because they tend to use heavier levels of ingredients plus they have a much higher essential oil level than cologne. That’s assuming you aren’t bathing in your scent of choice, of course. To avoid overpowering everyone in a smelling radius, apply perfume or cologne to your pulse points.
Cologne can be reapplied once to twice a day. To avoid being smelled before you’re seen, try to only apply perfume or eau de toilette once a day. If you’re a fan of the stronger aromas, we would recommend not switching scents throughout the day.
5. Cologne vs Perfume: Differences in Usage
In general, very highly concentrated perfumes are seen as an experience instead of daily wear, while colognes are widely accepted in the everyday routine 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 fragrances.
Today, it’s more about deciding if you want a fragrance to spritz on for every occasion or something more dedicated to special events. But if you are in fear of smelling too much like a daffodil, look for the word “homme” meaning for men of fragrance bottles.
6. Cologne vs Perfume: Differences in Aging
Perfumes and colognes both do age, there is no doubt about that. The difference is in how they will age. Each scent will age differently based on the notes, bottle type, and where it’s stored. Some will age with grace, while others will leave you smelling like vinegar. Two rules to live by. One, always store your fragrance in a cool, dark place. Two, when in doubt, smell before you spray.
7. Cologne vs Perfume: Differences in Ingredients
True perfumes tend to be made with more expensive ingredients ranging from essential oils to natural elements. Colognes usually stick to more affordable synthetics that feature a masculine scent.
8. Cologne vs Perfume: Differences in Staying Power
The staying power of a scent is all about the alcohol-to-oil ratio. Since perfumes have a higher oil concentration, you can bet on a longer-lasting scent. Colognes don’t have nearly the same oil level, so it’s safe to assume you’ll need to re-apply a few times throughout the day.
9. Cologne vs Perfume: Differences in Price
These days, scent prices reflect more than just ingredients—packaging, marketing, labor, etc. In other words, you can expect your wallet to feel considerably lighter regardless of whether the bottle says perfume or cologne.
But the endless options also mean you can find budget-friendly fragrances that smell great, so it really comes down to your scent preferences, how long you want it to last, and if it’s a daily wear or just for special occasions. Just keep in mind if you want the best, expect to shell out some cash.
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 colognes are more affordable, subtle, and best suited for everyday use. Regardless of which type you prefer, it is 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) at 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 at 10-20% oil fragrance, making it a great long-lasting option.
Eau de toilette: Commonly seen as EDT, it’s around 5-15% fragrance oil. The higher level of alcohol in eau de toilette gives it a more distinctive smell.
Cologne: Containing around 2-5% fragrance oils, colognes aren’t known for being exceptionally long-lasting, but they are one of the better choices for daily use.
Eau fraiche: This ultra-light and refreshing type of fragrance contains less than 3% fragrance oil, meaning it doesn’t usually last more than a few hours. Think of it as a fancy word for body spray.
Aftershave: An effective way to freshen up your face after shaving, a scented aftershave will help clean and soothe the skin, but don’t expect the aroma to linger for more than a couple of hours.
List how essential oils are used in each fragrance type?
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 the main ingredients and top notes in perfumes. This helps create a unique, long-lasting scent.
Eau de toilette – Essential oils are used as the main ingredients and top notes in eau de toilettes. This helps create a milder, more moderate scent that is still quite concentrated.
Cologne – Essential oils are used as top notes in colognes. This helps create a mild and more delicate scent.
Eau fraiche – Essential oils are used sparingly in eau fraiche, due to the low oil concentration. They still need to add a ‘special something’ to the scent, so their presence is still key.
Aftershave – Essential oils are not used in aftershave, as alcohol is the main component in this type of fragrance.
The key difference between cologne and perfume is strength. Perfumes are made with a higher concentration of fragrant oils which makes them stronger and longer lasting, while colognes are made with fewer oil concentrations and are considered lighter and more subtle. Perfumes are also more expensive than colognes.
Generally speaking, men wear cologne and women wear perfume, although there is no hard and fast rule. Colognes are usually less expensive and contain fewer oil concentrations, making them a good choice for everyday wear. However, there are also unisex fragrances that are popular among both men and women, so ultimately it will come down to personal preference.
Perfumes are stronger than colognes, as they’re made with a higher concentration of fragrant oils. So even with minimal amounts of spritz, you’ll be able to catch a whiff of the scent for several hours. Since colognes are made a lot lighter and contain fewer oil concentrations, their fragrance won’t stick around as long.
Cologne is usually cheaper than perfume because it contains fewer scented oils, which results in its lighter and more subtle scent. It’s important to note that production, packaging, and brand name play a big role in the price tags for both.