Cologne vs. Perfume

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Cologne vs. Perfume

Olfaction is the sense of smell and has one of the strongest ties to memories than our other senses. Think of grandma’s house or the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. Whether a man or woman, most people love the smell of something wonderful and the beauty and fragrance industry has bottled it. Perfumers release about 400 new fragrances for women and men each year, according to industry estimates. These new scents join the ranks of thousands of fragrances already available in every scent family. The language of perfume is often difficult to follow; because scents are a challenge to express in words, even perfumers sometimes find it difficult to describe their latest creation and their unique difference. Perfume and cologne are less ambiguous terms than most in this olfactory art form and the "smell" of a good fragrance is nothing to be reckoned with. 

Many people assume that perfume is for women and cologne is for men, but to perfumers, the terms refer only to the concentration of the scents, not to those who wear them. However, in common usage, even a potent fragrance with a high percentage of oils will be marketed as a cologne if it is for men. The same concentration might be sold as an extrait-extract or eau de parfum (edp) or even eau de toilette (edt) if it were a scent for women.

The terms also have different histories. Perfume is by far the older concept, and it originally referred to any personal fragrance worn to delight the nose and invigorate the sense of smell. Cologne, on the other hand, has a specific origin in Germany. Created in Cologne in 1709, the original eau de cologne was the first modern perfume, blending a number of scent notes in an alcohol base to create a product that smelled like more than its constituent ingredients. Instead of a single floral or spicy note, the first cologne was a symphony of fragrances.

Contemporary perfumes and colognes follow the same philosophy, combining dozens or hundreds of distinct scents into a new fragrance that has its own character. Colognes no longer refer only to the original citrus and floral blend from Germany but to everything within a certain concentration of scent.


The Making of Perfumes and Colognes

The active ingredients in perfumes and colognes are fragrance oils. These aromatics are collected in a number of ways, but all traditional methods require a great deal of raw materials to produce a small amount. For example, it takes about 250 pounds of flowers to make a single ounce of pure rose oil. Synthetic fragrances that are chemically identical to the natural fragrances are another option for perfumers, but are still expensive to make.

By themselves, perfume oils are intense, sometimes even unpleasantly so. They take on a different character when they are mixed and diluted, so a trained perfumer must compose a scent with dilution in mind. As few as two or three scents can make a fragrance; others may contain hundreds. Some perfumes must age like fine wines before they are ready for use while others are at their best when freshly mixed.


Fragrance Concentration

Pure oils are not perfumes, but they are the basis of all perfumes, colognes, and other fragrances. Perfumers blend them with alcohol, water, carrier oils, or unscented lotions to create a wide range of scented products. Most contemporary perfumes and colognes are alcohol-based. The alcohol helps the perfume oils meld into a distinctive new scent and help the product diffuse more widely.

Laws govern the minimum amount of fragrance oils contained in perfume products. However, these laws do not specify upper boundaries on the percentage of fragrance in the product, so some colognes can be as intense as perfumes, particularly among men's products. When possible, test a perfume or cologne to determine its strength. 
The following percentages listed below refer to the amount of oil used.



Not every perfumer uses this term, but it refers to products that are at least 40 percent perfume oils.

Eau de Parfum

When a product is labeled as a perfume or eau de parfum, it contains between 20 and 30 percent.

Eau de Toilette

An eau de toilette is made from at least 10 percent oil, although they typically contain about 15 to 18 percent fragrance as well.

Eau de Cologne

A cologne has a higher volume of perfumer's alcohol and water than other products. It contains about 3 to 8 percent oil.

Body Mist

Sprays designed to be worn all over have about 2 to 3 percent.

Lotions, Aftershaves

Perfumed body lotions and aftershaves generally contain less than 1 percent, although some stronger aftershaves exceed that amount.

These concentrations are designed for layering scents to give them greater depth and longevity. An intense extrait or perfume strengthens the faint scent of a powder or soap in the same fragrance. A light body spray refreshes perfume applied hours earlier but without becoming overpowering.

Fragrances for Men and Women

Cologne has evolved to mean any men's fragrance regardless of concentration. This broadening of the term leads to some confusion about men's fragrance concentrations. A few are almost as potent as perfumes, yet they are still marketed as cologne. When shopping for men's colognes, use the price and the size of the bottle as a rough indicator of the product's strength. A large bottle of body spray is likely less intense than a small bottle of cologne with a stopper instead of an atomizer. Some perfume designers also label their men's colognes with terms to denote a higher concentration of oil. A scent described as intense or concentrated is probably intended for sparing use.

As a rule, women's fragrances are more intensely scented than those designed for men. Women's perfumes have greater radiance, expanding a few feet from the skin and making a conscious impression on others. Men's colognes are subtle and worn closer to the skin. They should only be noticeable from close range, so manufacturers typically use less perfume oil in men's colognes.


Other Differences Between Cologne and Perfume

Concentration is the chief distinguishing characteristic of colognes and perfumes, but it is not the only one. Cost, staying power, and even the fragrance itself can separate cologne from perfume.


Perfumer's alcohol is not a costly ingredient, but the fragrance oils that give the scent its personality can cost thousands of dollars per ounce. Perfumes are therefore costlier than colognes of the same brand because they contain more perfume oil. Depending on the ingredients they contain, inexpensive brands of perfume may cost more than a designer cologne.


The alcohol in a perfume or cologne evaporates quickly, leaving the fragrance oils behind on the skin. More oils mean a longer-lasting product, so extraits and perfumes have greater staying power than colognes, powders, and body mists. Aftershaves and lotions are meant to impart a light fragrance that is only noticeable shortly after application, so these products are not intended to last throughout the day.


The concentration of a scent affects its character, but some manufacturers take this concept a step further and develop slightly different perfume oil profiles for their colognes and perfumes. This practice allows each wearer to create a signature scent by layering a coordinating perfume and cologne. Other perfumers find that the balance of a fragrance is not the same across multiple dilutions; they may change the formula to add depth to the eau de cologne or brighten the perfume within the same fragrance line.

When to Wear Perfume

Perfumes are potent, complex, and expansive. A powerful perfume can radiate for a yard or more around the wearer. The French word for the wake that a ship leaves as it sails, sillage, is the term perfumers use for the faint trace of perfume that trails the wearer as a woman walks past. These attributes are alluring for an evening of dancing, but they can be distracting in a small office or during a wine-tasting party. Choose perfume over cologne when a more dramatic scent will not invade others' personal space or intrude on other scents and tastes.

The nature of the scent should also influence the choice between perfume and cologne. Light florals, aquatic scents, and bright fruity fragrances are naturally less intense than musky, spicy, and gourmand perfumes. If a perfume is light and airy, it may work well for day or evening.

When wearing perfume, apply it sparingly to pulse points at the wrist, on the neck, and behind the knees. It is always easier to apply more than to remove too much perfume. Fragrances become more potent and shorter-lived on warm days, so reserve heavier scents for cooler weather to keep them from becoming overpowering.


When to Wear Cologne

Colognes' lightness makes them ideal for wearing in situations that call for fragrance that stays close to the skin. Small offices, airplane cabins, and long car trips are good occasions to use a light spray of cologne instead of a rich perfume. Colognes also fit well into dinner plans because they take a secondary role to the savory scents of the food. As a gift for younger wearers, cologne is a more practical and economical option than perfume and millennials are flocking to beauty and perfume counters alike to find them.

Those with oily skin often find that a perfume is too intense on them and choose colognes instead. Natural body oils intensify the higher concentrations of fragrance oils in perfumes and make an already potent scent overwhelming, but a cologne version of the same fragrance is more wearable. Conversely, those with dry skin may opt for perfume to concentrate the scent.


Shopping for Cologne and Perfume on eBay

Fragrances on eBay are part of the Health & Beauty department that is accessible through the All Categories tab on the site's home page. Hold the mouse cursor over the All Categories section to open a pop-up menu or click on the tab to bring up a list of options. Choose the Fragrances category from the Health & Beauty section to find colognes and perfumes.


The difference between cologne and perfume lies in concentrations, not in the wearers. Try cologne for a lighter version of a classic scent whether a man or woman. Invest in perfume for a lasting and radiant fragrance.

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