The complete guide to perfume strengths
Do you know your eau de toilette from your eau de parfum and what about cologne, extrait and plain and simple parfum? If these categories are all sounding French to you with little to explain what perfume strengths they are, then our guide gets you sorted.
First though, why does it matter? The level of perfume strength affects a number of important factors. Price and preference being the most obvious. Thinking of gift an eau de toilette and not the perfume strength? Be aware of your recipient’s expectations before you decide on the cheaper vs the more expensive perfume strengths. See our other guide for some tips on how to gift perfume:
What are perfume strengths?
Let’s clear up several points first. When we ask, for example, which perfume is the strongest, we generally mean which has the most powerful projection (or sillage) and longevity on the skin. However, we need to bear in mind that a strong initial blast of a perfume does not always equate with sillage or staying power.
A fragrance may start with a sharp, powerful citrus scent that tingles your nose and make you think of cutting open a lemon or peeling an orange. But while strong, citrus scents, especially all-natural citrus aromas, are mostly fleeting top notes that disperse quickly.
On the other hand, some musks can be barely discernible if you sniff them neat from a bottle. Yet, in base notes of a perfume, they can add fixative powers and work their magic with other materials to become quite powerful notes. Similarly, sandalwood can be slow to get going in strength as its heavy molecules evaporate slowly. Give it time, and see it in action as a base note, and you find it lasts 60 hours plus – even discernible for a month on a smelling strip.
So, strength is relative to time. Many perfumery ingredients may be thought of as strong, but they only reveal their true power slowly, over time. Our glossary of perfume terms helps explain sillage, longevity and more.
So, to recap, by strength, most of us are talking about the depth of scent over time. We might mean a perfume that starts and stays intense or one that also could start like a whisper but also end up with great sillage and staying power. Generally speaking, a stronger perfume is achieved with a balance of short-term but powerful notes (like those top citrus notes) and heavier, slower peeling heart and base notes.
A perfume’s strength is therefore part of its creation. Perfumers will know at the outset what they wishes to achieve and will choose materials to accomplish this. There are a lot of variables but the perfume shopper has shorthand notes to help. These are the handy perfume concentration name of cologne, eau de toilette, eau de parfum, parfum, and so on.
Why strength of fragrance is elusive
The percentage concentration of the neat perfume blend in its diluent (alcohol denat, carrier oil etc) is a quick way to assess the likely strength; better described as impact on the wearer and those around them. Having pointed out above that concentration doesn’t always equate to the impact of the fragrance, it is however the best way to judge a perfume’s performance. Not perfect, but useful as a guide.
Parfum to one brand is EDP to another
Another caveat to mention is that each fragrance brand has its own definition of what constitutes each so-called strength of perfume. An eau de parfum for one perfume house may be as strong as a parfum for another. Even these category names are open to interpretation. Ultimately, the perfume consumer will need to test and trial perfumes to decide for themselves. This is important to do not only to save wasting cash on a blind buy perfume that didn’t suit you, but also because our own skin ‘chemistry’ interacts with perfume and can influence how it performs from individual to individual.
Does perfume get stronger with age?
Yes, it can as its alcohol may evaporate over time, leaving a higher concentration of the aromatic blend. Perfume can change over time but not necessarily degrade as such. Alcohol is a preservative, but if a perfume contains a large percentage of, or certain natural ingredients, there may be changes to its colour and scent over time. This is normal and won’t necessarily change your experience of the perfume. Oil perfumes are likely to get stronger over time too as the perfume concentrate macerates more fully into the carrier oil. Depending on the oil diluent, oil perfumes might degrade as certain oils oxidise faster than others. Many oil perfumes include antioxidants like Vitamin E at around 1%.
Now, let’s hop back to those names we’re familiar with on perfume packaging.
Types of perfume strength
You can sense now that the world of perfumery is one of mystery and as lacking in transparency as the invisible ‘fumes themselves. Below, we offer our guide to making sense of all those names for perfume strengths.
1-3% perfume concentrate to alcohol and/or water-based diluent. This is the lowest perfume strength and is similar to splash-and-go refreshing colognes or sprayable body mists. At this fragrance strength, the perfumed product will be cheaper as it contains less of the neat aromatic materials and intended for frequent daily use. Imagine it as a useful handbag product for hot summer days when you’re out playing tourist and need to freshen up. Even this strength of perfume has its purpose.
Perfumed Mist, Brume Parfumée, Voile de Parfum
These, along with another rarely-used term eau parfumée, and eau sans alcool, are among the lightest fragrance concentrations. Generally falling in a similar range to eau de cologne, they are between 5-8% strength. Typically, baume and mist are alcohol-free perfumes and can be composed of simple perfumed waters drawing on hydrolats (the fragrant water produced during the steam distillation of essential oils). Added oils are solubilised into the majority water content.
Alternatively, they may be pure water simply scented with solubilised oils, which would make a cheaper product than one using hydrolats. A new type of hair product uses this formulation method; the hair mist which is used to freshen up and help style hair between washes. It can be an ultra-thin emulsion using a few nourishing botanical carrier oils in addition to the scented oils and water.
Eau de Cologne and Colognes
With the cologne, we return to familiar territory, although the name cologne can be a false friend if you happen to use it in the USA. Traditionally used to denote men’s fragrance, colognes are around 2-5% perfume concentrate and on the lighter side of strength. However, look out for cologne intense which is eau de toilette or eau de parfum strength. Mainstream brand Jo Malone has a range of cologne intense.
Probably the first fragrance products to be adopted by men, the word cologne can apply in the States to all fragrance irrespective of concentration. The cologne’s lower strength and generally lower price are meant to encourage the user to splash it on more liberally, almost as an after shave. Of course, not all colognes are cheap enough to apply in this carefree way.
To discover why it is called cologne at all, we must dive back in history to the early 1700s and the arrival of Italian-born perfumer Giovanni Maria Farina in Cologne, Germany. Also known in German and French respectively as Johann Maria Farina or Jean-Marie Farina, he founded what is now the world’s oldest perfume factory and went on to create his Kölnisch Wasser or Eau de Cologne named in honour of his newly-adopted city. Based on citrus and herb notes, the original Eau de Cologne is still manufactured today now under the Roger & Galet French perfumery brand. Another cologne also started in the same city, but almost a century later, is 4711 Cologne; it too is still made today. Contemporary colognes follow similar note structures, though with many additions of woods, ambers, florals, musks and resins to extend the structure and also the longevity of the traditional citrus opening.
Eau de Toilette
Now, we start to get into vaguer territory when it comes to defining the percentage of perfume concentrate. Each perfumery house will have its own version of what is an Eau de Toilette (EDT). Ranging from 5-15%, an EDT can overlap with Eau de Parfum strengths. Again, this is fluid as a citrus-dominant fragrance with few base notes or fixatives might well be nearer the 15% mark but seem weaker simply because of the chosen notes/oil within it. An EDT that has heavier, longer-lasting floral notes like tuberose or is predominantly composed of base notes like tonka, sandalwood or amber, will appear stronger even if diluted to only 8% in the perfume. Eau de Toilette make a good daytime, wear-in-the-office perfume strength and of course can be reapplied to suit. With a cheaper price tag, the EDT is a good daytime concentration to opt for. An ideal choice to gift teenagers who might be keen to simply try out fragrances rather than decide on a firm favourite or signature scent for several years.
Eau de Parfum
At 15-20%, although possibly starting from 10-12%, Eau de Parfums are the most popular perfume strength and make for more intentional gift-giving. Most fragrance houses and online perfumeries offer sample vials and purse spray sizes so you can trial an eau de parfum before committing to a full flacon. At Olentium, we also offer trial vials with each 50ml flacon purchased. This way, you can decide on the fragrance before opening the 50ml. If it doesn’t suit you, we accept returns on unopened, new flacons although it might be best to keep it as a gift for someone (see our FAQs for details).
Olentium parfums are 25% strength so are quite heavy hitting in terms of power. Other perfume houses offer parfum at 15%, so again, every brand will be different and you may not know as few are transparent about their perfume strengths. We offer parfums in 15ml French flacon with retro glass stoppers. You use the stopper to dab the parfum on pulse points so a little goes a long. You only needs a few dabs to sense the radiance and diffusion of the parfum.
Recently, the concept of slow perfume has taken hold which encourages us to take time, sense the moment and enjoy the application of parfum of high strength rather than spritz and go. Perhaps Covid made us cherish life’s little moments. With nowhere to go, whether office or outing, perfume may have become a more intimate affair and part of our selfcare rituals to savour for our own delight rather than to smother others in our vapour trail. Parfums strengths are far more about self than showiness these days.
Soie de Parfum
Literally meaning silk perfume, voile is another old term and for perfume strengths around 15-18% of concentrate. It is rarely use to denote strength these days, but is occasionally found on mainstream brands. We have seen it used also to indicate perfume oils as the notion of silk, and silken skin, pair well with the concept of perfume oils.
An extrait, or extract, is the most powerful of all perfume strengths and comprises up to 40% aromatic compounds vs alcohol or other diluent. Extraits are rarely offered these days, but are common for attars and in Middle Eastern perfumery. Niche and luxury fragrance houses may offer limited edition parfum extrait often in designer flacons that hark back to the early 20th century and the birth of haut couture.
Extraits are to be used very sparingly given the high concentration and price. Some niche perfume houses create extraits that are not IFRA compliant, which means that some aromatic materials in the fragrance are used above percentages recommended given certain allergens they may contain. If you buy extraits, and may have sensitive skin, take a close look at the allergens listed in the ingredients. The fragrance compound is proprietary but in the EU and most parts of the world, allergens will be listed on consumer-facing packaging and online. For more on IFRA and perfume labeling, see our post:
We hope you enjoyed this guide to perfume strengths. Do let us know below in the comments which you prefer and why, and when you wear a particular strength.
Olentium perfume strengths
Eau de Parfum: 12-15% depending on the power of the materials in the concentrate. Olentium Le Parfum EDP is 15%.
Parfum: 18-25%, depending on the ingredients. Olentium Le Parfum is 25%.
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