Aftershave vs Cologne: What’s the Difference?

Male grooming products are expanding in the personal care market. When determining which ones will best fit your needs, you might be wondering about the differences between aftershave and cologne.

Consistency is one major factor that differentiates cologne from aftershave. Cologne is typically in a thin liquid form that can be sprayed on. Aftershave can have the same consistency as cologne, but it can also be sold as a lotion, paste, or gel. But they’re also used differently.

This article will detail more of the differences between aftershave and cologne, as well as outline ways to figure out which one you’d prefer.

Aftershave vs Cologne

Aftershave vs Cologne: An Overview

To get started, it can help to compare the most basic differences between aftershaves and colognes, including their typical ingredients and how fragrances are transported.

Aftershave: Form & Function

Aftershaves are useful grooming tools. When a person shaves, they’re scraping a sharp razor along the surface of their skin.

This scraping action can not only irritate the skin, opens skin pores in the process, leaving a person’s pores vulnerable to bacteria. Bacteria can be introduced to other areas of the skin during the shaving process.

A person might nick areas of the skin or accidentally cut themselves while shaving as well. This is why aftershaves are helpful. They are designed to aid in recovery of the skin once shaving is over.

Aftershave Application

Aftershaves can smell a lot like colognes. When you hear the word aftershave, Old Spice might come to mind.

The scent of aftershave has evolved over the years, and there are more product options available. But an aftershave will only have about 2% of fragrance oils added to their formula.

In addition to a lower concentration of aromatic compounds, their purpose is different from cologne. An aftershave is applied to the skin as a disinfectant in order to prevent formation of razor bumps and reduce irritation.

Aftershave splash has the consistency most similar to spray colognes. This liquid version can be poured into the hand, and then directly applied to almost any shaved area of a man’s body.

In addition to splashes, aftershaves now exist as creams, pastes, gels, oils, and balms. These versions have little to no alcohol, which prevents the skin from drying out.

That said, many aftershaves are made with some sort of alcohol to prevent bacterial growth.

More contemporary versions are also both a disinfectant and soothing agent that can help the skin heal faster post-shave.

Instead of alcohol, they might incorporate witch hazel as the cleansing agent. Additional ingredients can include aloe as a cleansing and soothing agent. Oils like jojoba and coconut offer additional soothing.

What About Cologne?

Cologne is a non-essential luxury grooming product – something extra that you can add to your grooming routine.

But, if you like to smell nice, there’s nothing wrong with adding cologne to your daily routine.

Cologne is a fragrance that’s ideally applied to clean skin post-showering or bathing. For best results, you’d dry and moisturize your skin first, then apply cologne. Ideally, you’d apply an unscented moisturizer or one that compliments your cologne.

Spray Cologne

This most common form of cologne is simply a combination of fragrance oils and solvents. The solvents primarily consist of water and alcohol – both of which help carry and distribute the fragrance oils.

Fragrance oils can be natural, synthetic, or a combination of the two. Whether the scent notes are floral, spicy, aquatic, citrus, or otherwise, the inspiration from the scent is usually inspired by the natural work.

The sprayer on a cologne bottle is also called an atomizer. It transfers the liquid onto your skin by way of a fine mist.

Usually, you can still smell sprayed-on cologne four or more hours after application.

Solid Cologne

If spray on fragrances aren’t your thing, you might prefer a solid cologne. In solid form, fragrance oils are added to an oil and wax base instead of a liquid solvent, like alcohol.

This is especially helpful when traveling. A solid cologne won’t monopolize your liquid limits.

Additionally, if you have dry skin, then you might prefer a solid cologne over a spray on as the sprayed version can lead to more skin irritation due to the high alcohol content. Solid colognes are moisturizing due to their oil and wax content.

Rubbing solid cologne on pulse points is more precise than spraying on cologne.

The length of time a solid cologne fragrance will last on your skin will vary as much as it does with spray on colognes. But ones made with a higher fragrance concentration will generally last longer.

Also referred to as cologne balm, solid cologne scents have more pungent fragrances like woods, leaves, spirits, leather, pine, spice, and citrus scents. It’s common to reapply these colognes throughout the day.

Aftershave vs Cologne: How Are They Used?

As you may have picked up from the previous section, both aftershaves and colognes can smell nice, but they aren’t used in the same way.

Aftershaves not only smell good, they help heal and soothe skin post-shaving. Colognes solely exist as a bodily fragrance. Both can exist in multiple forms, but there are more forms of aftershave than there are colognes.

Consumer Audience

Colognes are marketed to men, but anyone can wear them. The only thing that makes them different from perfumes – which are traditionally marketed to women – is that colognes are made with a lower concentration of fragrance oils.

Aftershaves, on the other hand, are used by men. There aren’t any hard or fast rules against women using an aftershave, it’s just not common.

A woman needs to protect and moisturize her skin post-shaving as well, but women usually go about doing this in a different way. A woman might simply apply witch hazel or isopropyl alcohol to the shaved area, followed by her preferred moisturizer.

Another factor is aftershave fragrances. Unless they’re unscented, women might not be drawn to aftershave fragrances. A woman might like how an aftershave scent smells on a man, but that doesn’t mean that she’d want to wear the scent herself.

Scent Longevity

Due to the lower fragrance oil concentration, aftershave scents don’t last long on the skin. The scent fades pretty quickly. If you still smell it after an hour or two, I’d be surprised. This isn’t because it’s an inferior product, it’s because aftershaves aren’t meant to fragrance the body.

There are even unscented aftershaves for those who would prefer to solely smell their cologne without the interference of an aftershave.

An unscented aftershave can also further reduce inflammation or skin irritation as different skin types respond to fragrance oils differently.

Colognes, on the other hand, last much longer on the skin. You’ll experience more longevity with spray colognes than solid ones, but both will last longer because up to 6% of fragrance oils are added to cologne. This is in comparison to the concentration of 2% or less found in aftershaves.

In short, colognes are strictly a fragrance accessory while aftershaves are primarily formulated to care for the skin post-shaving.

Aftershave vs Cologne: Difference and Similarities

We’ve covered a lot of information, so let’s summarize the differences and similarities between aftershave and cologne.

Similarities between Aftershave and Cologne

  • Both cologne and aftershave can contain fragrance.
  • Both are available in multiple formats (liquid, solid, etc).
  • Alcohol–free options are available for each (solid form of cologne).
  • In comparison to perfumes, both cologne and aftershave have less intense fragrances.
  • They’re essential grooming products.

Differences between Aftershave and Cologne

  • Aftershaves come in more consistencies than cologne (gels, pastes, creams, etc).
  • Aftershave use is usually restricted to men.
  • Aftershave disinfects and soothes the skin post-shaving.
  • Aftershave isn’t a source of long-term fragrance; it quickly fades from the skin.
  • Cologne solely fragrances the skin; it’s not a conditioner or disinfectant.
  • Cologne has a 2-6% fragrance concentration.
  • Aftershave has a 2% or less fragrance concentration.
  • Cologne fragrances last for hours on the skin.
  • You can apply aftershave to the face post-shaving but cologne shouldn’t be used on the face.
  • Cologne is optional, but aftershave is essential.

Should You Buy Aftershave or Cologne?

Since each one serves a very different purpose, you might not want to choose between the two. It can be helpful to have both on hand for your male grooming needs. But if you have to choose one over the other, aftershave is beneficial, cologne is a luxury.

An aftershave won’t give you a personal fragrance that lasts throughout the day, and a cologne won’t heal or soothe your skin after shaving. The question you might want to ask yourself is which type of each would you prefer to have on hand?

Would you prefer to apply the traditional aftershave splash, or would you prefer to rub in a cream or balm? Do you like to spray on cologne, or would you prefer the precision of a solid cologne?

Your skin type can factor into narrowing your aftershave and cologne choices. Dryer skin could benefit from creams, balms, and oils over splashes or sprays.

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Hello and welcome to Fragrance Advice! My name is Grace Young, and I’ve been drawn to fragrances since I was a little girl. There's just something about scent that brings me so much joy! 

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