This is the secret to buying the right perfume
The designer name isn't the only reason certain bottles are pricier
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
When you’re shopping for a perfume to add to your collection or to give as a gift to a loved one, you may only focus on the fragrance. If you know you enjoy floral scents, you gravitate toward ones with notes of rose or jasmine. If your mother prefers a sweet aroma, you look for hints of vanilla or fruit. While you’re out shopping, though, you’ll notice labels like “eau de parfum” and “eau de toilette”—at different prices for different size bottles—that make you scratch your head.
So here’s the trick: Those are not just pretty French words—they indicate the concentration of the fragrance in the bottle, and therefore the longevity the aroma will last on your skin. Before you spend your cash, here’s what you need to know about each fragrance concentration.
For the longest lasting scent at a price: parfum
If you pick up a bottle labeled “parfum,” that means it’s the purest form of perfume without being solely perfume oil, which could irritate your skin or be obnoxiously potent at the very least. The concentration of perfume oil in the case of parfum is typically between 20 and 30 percent, but can range from 15 to 45 percent, according to Perfume.com, an online store selling a variety of fragrances, including popular brands like Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein, and Glossier. The remaining formula consists mainly of alcohol, which dilutes the fragrance oils and evaporates quickly on skin. This concentration level means that the fragrance should last about six to eight hours on the skin, depending on where on the body you put it and what your daily activities entail. A popular example of parfum is Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle, which costs $130 for 0.25 ounces.
For long-lasting fragrance at a lower price: eau de parfum
The next level down is an eau de parfum, which uses a concentration of 15 to 20 percent perfume oil and lasts four to five hours on the skin. You’ll see the price drop as the concentration of perfume oil lessens, but be aware that the amount of alcohol—not water, as the word “eau” translates to—typically increases in correlation, which can be drying to the skin. Popular examples of eau de parfums are Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle eau de parfum at $80 for 1.2 ounces (by way of comparison), Glossier’s You, and Le Labo’s collection of eau de parfums.
For everyday wear: eau de toilette
An eau de toilette (which—fun fact—translates to “toilet water”) is five to 15 percent perfume oil and lasts about two to three hours on the skin. The remainder of the formula is usually alcohol with a small amount of water. You can find these at higher price points, like the popular Diptyque eau de toilettes, but they’re also accessible at moderately priced retailers, like The Body Shop.
For a fresh blast of scent: eau de cologne
In this case, “cologne” doesn’t signify that it’s a fragrance marketed toward men. The name translates to “water from Cologne” referring to the German city where it was first made by Italian chemist Johann Maria Farina. In modern terms, eau de cologne has a two to four percent fragrance oil concentration and a high alcohol content, cut with some water. It lasts for up to two hours, similar to the wear time of a body spray or mist. If you’re interested in an eau de cologne, a popular one is the Muelhen’s for Men Original Eau de Cologne.
For a quick hit of fragrance: eau fraîche
The lowest of all concentrations, an eau fraîche, translates to "fresh water" and is made up of one to three percent perfume oil. Typically, an eau fraîche will last only about an hour or two. However, it seems many brands, like the popular Versace Man Eau Fraîche, are actually eau de toilettes, in terms of their fragrance concentration—another reason it's important to read labels carefully.
How to make the most of the scent you choose
Regardless of which level of fragrance you choose, you want it to last on your skin for the maximum amount of time possible. First, you’ll want to be specific in your application. Most perfumes direct you to apply the scent to pulse points, such as on the neck or wrists, as these areas typically heat up and “activate” the fragrance—e.g., help it emanate into the air for all to sniff.
You can help the scent linger longer by applying an emollient product like Aquaphor on the skin before your fragrance that’ll help the scent stick around longer.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Get Reviewed email alerts.
Sign up for our newsletter to get real advice from real experts.