How To Understand Perfume Strengths

If you are a novice perfume buyer, you might think that selecting your perfect smell was the main job in hand. After all, it’s a big enough task to work through the huge assortment of fragrances on offer, so once you’ve selected your scent shortlist of favourites, job done, right? Well, not quite.

There is another key factor to understand when buying scent, that of fragrance strengths. Somewhere on the bottle, often in small writing, will be the words eau de parfum or eau de toilette or maybe extrait de parfum. This strength categorisation indicates the amount of pure oil held within alcohol (usually ethanol) and dictates how long the fragrance will last. To get the best value and the most useful-to-you strength, it’s important to get your head around these different styles.

Perfume and Extrait de Parfum – the ‘lean in’ strength.
This is the most concentrated ‘fragrance oil to alcohol’ measure, typically featuring between 20-40% perfume oil, often making it the most expensive version of the fragrance available. But don’t be confused by the high price tag and small bottle size, as the higher oil ratio means this fragrance will sit on the skin longer. Just one small drop will last all day, with the refined base notes of the fragrance detectable 24hours after applying, so in hours-per-wear terms, it’s often the best value for money.

Despite being so concentrated, this is often the softest and quietest form of the fragrance too, as it has fewer volatile top notes (which make a big impact on first spray, but typically disappear swiftly) and more of the longer-lasting heart and base notes which linger close to the skin.

We think of this as a ‘lean-in’ strength; perfume or extrait is something you might want to wear for yourself, or those close to you, rather than to impress a crowd.

After years in the perfume hinterlands due to being thought of as old-fashioned, it’s making a bit of a come back as a lux-level strength, with some niche brands offering collections made from high quality ingredients for an ever more discerning customer. One of our favourites is the musk-inspired Jeroboam range, try the spiced woody floral Hauto, where just a small spritz will keep you smelling delicious for hours.

Eau de Parfum – the fashionably niche strength.

Eau de Parfum (EDP) is typically 10-20% perfume oil to alcohol and is a popular strength with niche brands, who align the high strength of fragrance oil with a better quality and more long lasting perfume. Over the last decade this has become the strength of choice among perfume consumers too, with brands such as Chanel changing its Les Exclusifs range from eau de toilette to all EDP in late 2016, to keep up with the trend.

It is a hard working strength, often lasting five to eight hours on the skin. The top notes make quite a big ‘noise’ when they are first sprayed and the base notes will linger nicely. We are big fans of EDP and love its wearability and longevity. There are far too many good ones to mention, but Ormonde Jayne’s fragrances use a high level of perfume oil in its EDP collection, try Tiare – an elegant floral- or Ti’af – a beautiful rose- to start.

Eau de Toilette – the fast and furious strength.

Typically 5-15% fragrance oil to alcohol and/or water, Eau de Toilette (EDT) strength fragrances last around two hours and frequently feature a noisy opening spray of fresh, citrus and floral notes that captivate and enchant instantly, but quickly fade.

This strength is used by popular big brands, where much effort is put into making the initial burst of the fragrance’s top notes intoxicatingly impactful. Brands are very aware that if their fragrances are tried in a busy perfume hall, they need to make an impressive first impact to catch you attention, hence the fast and furious explosion of beautifully captivating tops notes. Our How To Buy notes explain how you should always give a scent time to develop on the skin.

This strength would suit regular sprayers, who might enjoy the top-up spraying ritual, or anyone who likes to change their scent throughout the day. One of the nicest EDT fragrances we’ve tried recently is Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Aqua Celeste, a cloud-light burst of watery-bright freshness you’ll want to spray as often as possible.

Eau de Cologne – the uplifting and refreshing strength.

Often treated like an uplifting body splash, this is a super light strength of just 2-4% fragrance oil in alcohol and/or water.. Due to its very short life – around an hour or two – eau de cologne (EDC) is often packed with zingy citrus and green herby notes that freshen and brighten instantly, but do not last long. It’s perfect as a refreshing and invigorating strength, think after-the-shower freshness or a tonic to uplift you mid-afternoon, or perhaps after a sweaty bus journey. The classic here is 4711 cologne by Maurer & Wirtz.

Eau Fraiche – the hardly there strength.

Coming in at a barely-there 1-3% concentration, this is less a fragrance and more a smudge of scented air. Useful as a body spray or to add a very light spritz of aroma to your personal olefactory atmosphere, remember you are paying for a lot of water/alcohol mix over scent here. We rarely use this strength but not everyone wants a heavy hitting scent and it has its fans among quieter fragrance wearers.

Our beautiful illustrations are by Jean Philippe Calver