When you start looking at perfume, one of the first things you’ll notice is the array of terms used to denote the different kinds of perfumes and fragrances on the market. Some common terms you’ll see are perfume, cologne, eau de parfum, and eau de toilette. These terms are frequently confused with each other, and when buying perfumes, it helps to know what they are.
Perfume is the broadest of the categories. The word refers to both body scents generally, and a particular type of scent, specifically. In its general aspect, perfume includes all of the other terms, but not scented body lotions or creams.
As a specific term, perfume refers to the strongest, and longest lasting, type of body scent. Most perfumes are “layered” scents, meaning they contain a combination of different fragrances. These layers of scent are called “notes” in the French perfume industry, and they are not chosen at random.
Typical perfumes have three notes. The first, comprised of the strongest scents, is also the shortest lasting. These are the scents that you’ll smell when you first put on the perfume, but they will usually wear off within a few hours, exposing the next layer…
The second layer, or “middle note,” is made of less volatile scents that will usually last until midday or early afternoon. By evening, the third and final layer is all that remains of the perfume. This is usually the most subtle scent; even though it is longer lasting, the strength of it will decrease through the day.
As a result of this layering, the best perfumes will slowly change their scent through the day. Good parfumiers have perfected the science of blending scents, so that the layers compliment each other, and the change in scent, while recognizable, is both subtle and pleasing.
The next category of perfumes is cologne. I used to think that cologne was simple a word for “men’s perfume,” but that’s not actually the case. Cologne is a perfume, but one with only a single scent to it. Because of this, colognes are both stronger and shorter lasting than perfumes. The reasons for this apparent paradox are related.
Colognes, having only a single scent, will dissipate faster than perfumes. To balance that, they are prepared with a stronger scent, to last as long as possible. This gives colognes much less subtlety than perfumes, and makes it easy to “overdo it” when using them.
And back to my original misconception about cologne; while it is true that colognes are not exclusively for men, and that many fine women’s colognes are on the market, most men’s fragrances out there are colognes rather than perfumes. And even the men’s perfumes are frequently marketed under the term “cologne.” Perhaps perfume doesn’t sound masculine enough….
Eau de …
The last two categories of liquid based perfume scents are eau de parfum and eau de toilette. “Eau” is French for water, and “toilette” is French for the act of getting oneself dressed and prepared; eau de parfum and eau de toilette are, respectively, “perfumed water” and “make-up water.” Of the two, eau de parfum is the more popular.
Eau de parfum is a less expensive form of perfume, based on single scents, but less overpowering than cologne. This is the perfume that ladies like to daub on their wrists or necks, using the glass jar stopper. This sort of perfume might not last through a full day, but it will definitely last through a full date.
Eau de toilette is similar to eau de parfum, but not as strong, and even less expensive. Typically, these scents only last a few hours, but because they are relatively cheap, and sold in small bottles that are easily carried in a purse or handbag, it’s easy to refresh the scent during the day. Eau de toilette is usually not a strong fragrance.
Lotions and Creams
Finally, most body lotions and creams are scented, but these are not strictly perfumes. They typically contain scented oils in about the same concentration as eau de toilette: enough to detect, but not enough to overpower, and probably not enough to last more than a few hours. Such lotions are not intended as skin treatments, and not as perfumes. If you’re looking for body scents, it’s more cost effective to buy a good eau de toilette or eau de parfum than a scented lotion.