Basic Guide to Buying Perfume, Cologne or Eau de Toilette

Perfumes, colognes and eau de toilletes can be a great gift for any adult. Most adults like to smell good when they go out somewhere special or when they meet someone special. Perfumes do make an excellent example of a gift which targets one of the five senses. But it is important to know the difference between perfumes, colognes and eau de toilette and the types of fragrances which exist.

Difference between Perfume, Cologne and Eau de Toilette

Most people do not realize the difference between a perfume, cologne and eau de toilette. When you enter any departmental store and see three bottles of the same perfume and wonder what is the difference between a cologne, or a parfum (perfume) or a eau de toilette. Here is the difference between the three: it depends on the percentage of aromatic constituents. The classification is done as follows

  • Perfume extract or simply perfume or parfum:  15-40% (on average 20%) aromatic compounds
  • Esprit de Parfum (ESdP): 15-30% aromatic compounds
  • Eau de Parfum or Eau de Perfume (EdP) or Parfum de Toilette (PdT) or millésime: 10-20% (on average 15%).
  • Eau de Toilette (EdT): 5-15% (on average 10%) of aromatic constituents
  • Eau de Cologne: 3-8% (typically 5%) of aromatic constituents. Not to be mistaken with Cologne as Cologne is a trademark brand.
  • Perfume Mist: 3-8% aromatic constituents but in non-alcoholic solvent.
  • Splash and aftershave: 1-3% of aromatic compounds.

From the above list, it must be therefore obvious that, in most cases, the perfume extract must be the most expensive, while the splash or aftershave will be the least expensive. In most cases you can buy a Eau de Parfum as a gift.

Understanding Fragrance Notes

Understanding fragrance notes is very important before selecting a perfume for a gift. Any perfume is described in a musical metaphor as having sets of tones or notes which unfurl over time to give a musical type experience. What this means is that a perfume might smell differently after several hours of application than it did when applied immediately. The notes are divided generally into three classes:

  • Top Notes / Top Tones / Head Notes: The top notes consist of molecules which evaporate quickly and therefore is the smell perceived immediately upon application of the perfume.
  • Middle Notes / Heart Notes: The middle note is the smell which is intermediate in nature and helps in the transition from the top notes to the base notes. These can be smelt any time between 5-30 minutes after application of the perfume.
  • Base Note: The base note of the perfume is the last odor one can perceive before the perfume dissipates completely. The odor becomes prominent only after the middle notes begin to dissappear after 30 minutes or so. However, the base notes may even last for hours to days.

In order to therefore judge all three tones of a perfume it is best to apply the perfume and smell it at three different times: within 30 seconds of application, then at 15 minutes of application and finally after 1 hour of application. The best idea is to go to a mall having a Macy’s or Nordstrom or a perfume store and trying the different perfumes and then roam around the mall so that you have enough time to smell all three notes prior to deciding which one you are going to buy.

Fragrance Wheel

The Fragrance Wheel

Olfactive Families

The fragrance wheel, created by the fragrance expert Michael Edwards in 1983, is a useful tool in identifying the class of perfumes which would be ideal as your gift. It gives you an idea of what odors are present in the perfume and also what similar or different perfumes you can buy as a gift for your loved ones.

According to the wheel, fragrances in the form of perfumes, colognes and Eau de Toilette can be classified broadly into 4 major classes namely: floral, amber or oriental, woody or fresh. These 4 classes can further be subdivided into many other sub-classes for further segregation of perfumes into different classes depending on what is the most dominant note in the perfume.

1] Floral Notes: These are flowery notes containing compounds from floral sources. Floral perfumes are often long lasting and are often mixed with oriental and fresh notes, but rarely with woody perfumes.

2] Amber/Oriental Notes: These are scents that are having animal origins. Traditionally animalic scents from ambergris and labdanum have been used. This class also includes musks. Oriental fragrances are combines with woody and floral fragrances.

3] Woody Notes: This class of perfumes contains oils obtained from wood sources. Classic examples of perfumes include extracts of sandalwood, cedarwood, agarwood and many more. Woody notes are mixed with fresh notes and oriental notes.

4] Fresh Notes: Fresh notes is a newer class of perfumes including three major subclasses: water, green and citrus. Water subclass in fresh notes include typical sea or oceanic smells indicative of fresh air. Green notes for example include scents of fresh cut grass, or leafy notes such as basil. Citrus notes include scents from citrus fruits and other fruity odors such as those from lime/lemon, orange peel extract etc. Fresh notes or often mixed with woody and floral smells.

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