Perfume vs. Cologne: It’s More Than a Battle of the Sexes

The casual fragrance lover may think that the difference between perfume and cologne is a simple and straightforward one; perfume is for women and cologne is for men. It is definitely not that simple. But really, is anything ever as simple as it seems? When you dig a little deeper you’ll find that every fragrance, including what we generally refer to as cologne, is actually just a variation on pure perfume and the category of variation depends on the concentration of oils in the fragrance.

First there is perfume, well what we call perfume anyway. The perfume we buy in stores—or online from Lily Direct—is not actually pure perfume. The pure perfume essence would not smell very good if it was not diluted at least somewhat, but anything called perfume is the most concentrated of all the fragrance options and therefore it is generally the most expensive scent. Something like Sensuous Perfume by Estee Lauder is what we would call a “pure” perfume.

Next down the fragrance line is eau de parfum. This variation uses the same perfume essence but less of it (typically 10-20 percent) and it is more diluted with alcohol and water. The smell of an eau de parfum fragrance is usually lighter and doesn’t last quite as long. Miss Dior Perfume for Women by Christian Dior would be an example of an eau de parfum fragrance.

The next step down the fragrance line is eau de toilette. Even lighter and shorter lasting than eau de parfum, you can feel free to spray it more liberally. Eau de toilette is generally considered the best day-to-day fragrance. Armani Code Cologne for Men by Giorgio Armani  is a delightful eau de toilette scent you may want to try.

Finally, we come to eau de cologne. We generally call this fragrance cologne for short and think of it as the only men’s fragrance. But as you can see from the eau de toilette example above, you can use any variation of perfume to create both men’s and women’s fragrances. Eau de cologne is the most diluted version of perfume. There are specific blends of fragrances that fall in this particular category. Eau de cologne fragrances are very light, fresh and fruity, and they contain the essential oils lemon, bergamot, orange and the absolute neroli. They may also contain the essential oils lavender and rosemary. Eau De Lacoste Blue Cologne for Men by Lacoste is an example of an eau de cologne.

As you can tell, simply referring to fragrances as perfumes or colognes doesn’t even begin to cover the complexity that is the fragrance system. This is why the best perfumers have a background in chemistry and dedicate a good portion of their lives to understanding the complicated mixing process. Luckily, all you have to worry about is finding the perfect scent, or scents, for you.