Before you head to the department store or click “add to cart” with your online order, there are some things you’ll need to know about fragrance strengths.
There’s a much to consider when learning how to choose the right fragrance to fit your needs. Not all scents are equally strong. And some fragrance notes of the same scent can vary by its fragrance strength.
Keep reading this article to avoid choosing the wrong fragrance for yourself.
What Are Fragrance Strengths?
The strength of a fragrance is determined by the percentage of fragrance oils that’s been added to the scent formula. This is also referred to as fragrance concentration.
The higher the fragrance concentration, the stronger and more lasting the scent.
Within the fragrance industry, there are a number of categories used to describe each level of fragrance strength. There are five categories that are most popular:
- Parfum (perfume) 20%-30%
- Eau de parfum 15%-20%
- Eau de toilette 5%-15%
- Eau de cologne 2%-4%
- Eau fraiche 1%-3%
Broadly speaking, the only thing that differentiates these categories is the amount of fragrance oil each one has. Parfum is the strongest and is usually offered in exclusive collections. Eau de parfum is the category most people make reference to when they’re talking about perfumes.
You’ll find an eau de toilette’s concentration to be mid-range. An eau de cologne requires constant reapplication and the weakest scent composition of them all is eau fraiche.
Why does this matter? Well, as you’ll see as I go into depth with each category, the amount of oil not only determines its scent strength, but it also influences how long the scent will last. Additionally, the higher the fragrance concentration, the more companies can charge you for that fragrance.
What’s in a Fragrance?
As explained here fragrances are primarily made of fragrance oils and a solvent. That solvent is primarily an alcohol and water mixture. Additional ingredients can be added to aid in longevity, preservation, sillage, and so forth.
The fragrance oils can be natural, synthetic, or a combination of the two. Purely synthetic oils are still based on scents derived from nature. Sometimes it’s more sustainable to produce a synthetic scent made in a lab because it keeps natural resources intact.
So, when I mention fragrance oil concentration, I’m generally referring to the amount of natural or synthetic oils added to the base solvent solution.
Is Parfum the Right Fragrance Strength for You?
As I’m sure you can guess, the scent from parfum will last longest once applied to your body. Typically, parfums last at least 8 hours. Many of them last even longer than that.
Also referred to as extrait de perfume, this is the purest form of a personal fragrance, as 20% to 30% of its total liquid is fragrance oil. In some cases, depending on the brand, there might be slightly more than 30%. When you think about it, that’s a significant portion of the liquid that you’re spraying or dabbing onto your body.
Parfums are in essence, oiler than the other fragrances, which makes it a good choice for individuals with sensitive skin. More oils, means less alcohol and water – both of which can cause already dry skin to become even dryer. The excessive dryness can lead to irritation or itchiness for some people.
A multi-layered fragrance, the scent of your parfum subtly changes throughout the day as it transitions between top, middle, and base notes. Fragrance notes can come from any of the categories: floral, spicy, fresh, or woody.
Because parfums are heavier, they’re the perfect fragrance category to wear in colder temperatures. This is because the scent will still project when it’s cold, and it’ll take longer to evaporate. Alternatively, if there was more alcohol or water, you wouldn’t notice the scent as well during fall or winter.
Lastly, you can expect parfum to have the most longevity of the group. Conservatively, parfum lasts for eight hours but in many cases, a high quality perfume can last a full 24 hour day.
Choosing Eau de Parfum as a Fragrance Strength
One of the most popular fragrance categories is eau de parfum. While price points for an eau de parfum can still be quite high, eau de parfums are more accessible than fragrances in the parfum category.
Less than a third of this liquid solution will have fragrance oil added to it. You can expect the fragrance oil concentration to range from 15%-20% for most brands.
While this is not as much oil as parfum, an eau de parfum is still one of the better choices for individuals with dry skin.
An eau de parfum can last for an entire workday, or at least close to a full work day. You can expect it to last from 6 to 8 hours, but many can last for 10 to 12 hours when made with high quality ingredients.
So you’ll have to test out your fragrance in order to know whether or not it will continue to project if you were to go have drinks after work.
As with a parfum, eau de parfum fragrances unfold throughout the day. Top notes are most fleeting and heart notes are usually most dominant. These middle notes also last for the longest amount of time. The scent fades out to base notes. Any of the four fragrance categories are common with eau de parfums.
Many eau de parfum fragrances can be worn year-round. They’re not so strong that they’ll be overbearing during warmer months. And they are still strong enough to continue to project when it’s cold.
You can choose an eau de parfum as a good everyday signature fragrance.
Should You Choose an Eau de Toilette Fragrance Strength?
Even more affordable is the eau de toilette with 5% to 15% of fragrance oil concentration. So this option has much more alcohol and water than the previous two categories.
You might find an eau de toilette from mid-range companies like Bath & Body Works, but premier fragrance houses like Chanel also offer eau de toilettes. And this is where pricing is relative and varies widely by brand.
A Chanel eau de toilette is less expensive than a parfum or eau de parfum offered by the company, but their eau de toilettes are still well over $100 USD. So when considering your budget, the fragrance category alone might not be more affordable. You have to also compare prices by brand.
Since there’s less fragrance and more solution, you can expect an eau de toilette scent to evaporate more quickly. It can last you at least 2 hours, but likely no more than 4 hours.
Eau de toilettes are also layered but the top notes are most dominant, making them much more noticeable when you first spray them on. As a result, they’re likely composed of fresh, floral, or fruity notes. You won’t find many eau de toilettes that are spicy or woody.
This is where you might also notice subtle (or sometimes drastic) changes in the scent composition. Slightly different extraction methods or sometimes less intense versions of a fragrance ingredient might also be found in an eau de toilette.
For instance, La Vie Est Belle by Lancôme is a sweet floral eau de parfum. But La Vie Est Belle En Rose is a fruity floral eau de toilette. A different strength of the same fragrance doesn’t mean it’ll smell the same.
Since there’s less fragrance oil in an eau de toilette, it’s less likely to project much in colder temperatures. Eau de toilettes are not only ideal for warmer temperatures but also shorter special events or get-togethers.
If you already have dry skin, you’ll either need to veer away from a fragrance with so much more alcohol and water, or you’ll have to apply much more oil to your skin prior to spraying on the fragrance.
Is an Eau de Cologne Fragrance Strength Worth It?
Primarily marketed to men, eau de colognes also exist for women and many of them are now labeled unisex. But as you know, anyone can wear an eau de cologne no matter how it’s labeled.
With one of the lowest fragrance concentrations, eau de colognes are primarily formulated with its solvent mixture and only 2% to 4% of fragrance oil. So you can imagine that it won’t remain on your skin for long. Up to two hours at best.
Although this is one of the more affordable fragrance categories, you may not be saving much money because you’ll have to frequently reapply the fragrance if you want it to last throughout the day.
An eau de cologne will project best during warmer months. If you’re in and out of water during the summer, then an eau de cologne is ideal. You won’t have to feel as if you’re wasting an expensive fragrance due to frequent showers.
It’s also easier to switch scents throughout the day if that’s your preference. Due to its low oil content, you can simply shower or quickly rub the application area with soap and water or alcohol to remove the fragrance before applying a new one.
Woody, spicy, or fresh scent notes are common.
Should You Bother with an Eau Fraiche Fragrance Strength?
The primary ingredient used in this fragrance category is in the name. Eau fraiche means “fresh water” in French. (My high school French teacher would be proud.)
With such a small amount of fragrance oil added to this category (1% to 3%), you might wonder why anyone would want to wear an eau fraiche. Not to mention that the scent is likely to last up to two hours but closer to one. An eau fraiche fragrance won’t project very far either, especially when it’s cold outside.
There are a number of drawbacks to this fragrance strength, but an eau fraiche can give you a nice mid-day scent boost. It can also be a good layering option if you’re wearing another scent in the same collection or are good at pairing fragrances.
Similar to an eau de toilette, scent ingredients for an eau fraiche are almost always going to be quite different from its eau de parfum version. So, if you’re looking for a less expensive alternative to your favorite fragrance, you might want to purchase a smaller bottle of its eau de parfum instead of buying an eau fraiche.
While the cost of an eau fraiche is generally lower, this varies by brand. Brands that seriously invest in fragrance development, inclusive of carefully choosing high quality ingredients, might charge a premium price for their eau fraiche fragrances as well.
Since it’s primarily made of water, an eau fraiche wouldn’t be ideal for individuals with dry skin unless they heavily moisturize prior to application. But you can also use an eau fraiche as a hair mist since there’s little to no alcohol in it.
You can also expect lighter scent categories, like floral, fresh, and maybe spicy. Not everyone likes to project a fragrance, so an eau fraiche can work well for someone who wants to have some kind of scent but prefers to wear less noticeable fragrances.
What’s the Best Fragrance Strength to Choose for Yourself?
Choosing the strength of a fragrance is as personal a process as selecting the best scent to be worn on your body. There are a number of factors to consider.
In most cases, the fragrance strength directly affects the price of the product, so you’ll have to consider your budget. Next, it helps to consider the season in which you’ll be wearing the scent. Stronger fragrances can be offensive in warmer temperatures.
Your skin type is another factor to consider. If you have dry skin, then you’ll want to veer away from fragrances that have a really low scent oil concentration.
Also, the fragrance oil percentages and amount of time each scent lasts varies from brand to brand. So, the information provided here can never be exact.
All considered, you’ll have to test out some options to determine which is the right choice for you.