Finally, the two primary categories of fragrance explained.

By Kaitlin Clark
Updated May 14, 2020 @ 8:30 am
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Like it or not, fragrance is vividly evocative.

The area within the brain that controls memories, emotions, and scent are all intertwined, meaning that there is, without a doubt, an uncontrollable connection between your most powerful memories and fragrance. So, in a sense, selecting a perfume is not just choosing a scent, you’re also choosing how people will remember you.

That said, fragrance is undoubtedly one of the most personal beauty products you can purchase, and there’s a lot to unravel with each bottle: type, price, top notes, bottom notes (what?), not to mention how it mixes with your own unique body chemistry. But there’s one element you can be sure of, and that’s understanding the difference between the fragrance world’s two foundational categories: eau de toilette and eau de parfum.

With a sea of options and scents, here’s everything you need to know to choose what’s right for you.

Eau de Toilette vs. Eau de Parfum: The Lowdown

Turns out, the key difference between the two types isn’t so nuanced after all; in fact, it’s wildly straightforward and scientific.

“An eau de parfum has a higher concentration of fragrance oil than an eau de toilette,” explains Laura Slatkin, Founder of NEST New York. “In the fragrance world, the order of highest to lowest concentration is pure perfume, which tends to be solid: eau de parfum, eau de toilette, and eau de cologne.”

Generally, an eau de parfum is composed of 15% to 20% perfume oil, while an eau de toilette scales a little lower, ranging from 10% to 15%, according to Bee Shapiro, founder of the NYC-based clean fragrance line, Ellis Brooklyn.

Precise compositions will vary between brands, but it’s a safe bet to think of an eau de toilette as “lighter and fresher,” says Eduardo Valadez, director of marketing at French perfumery Diptyque, while a parfum tends to be “more dense and richer” due to its higher concentration.

Do Eau de Parfums and Eau de Toilettes Smell The Same?

If both types of fragrance are made with the same notes, then yes, they would smell similar, but not exactly the same. For example, a spritz of lavender eau de parfum would release a higher concentration of fragrance than an eau de toilette, and as the level of fragrance oil is increased, “certain notes can develop on the skin to be richer, sharper or sweeter,” depending on the chemical makeup of the scent, explains Valadez.

Different concentration levels of the same fragrance can be extremely subtle, which is all part of the fun, according to Shapiro, as it “allows different notes or ingredients to breathe,” creating a singular experience for the wearer.

For Diptyque fragrances, a fragrance is often gently tweaked between the two types in order to produce a slightly different dimension. “In the Do Son eau de toilette, you have tuberose, jasmine and orange blossom,” Valadez shares. “While in the eau de parfum, you have an overdose of tuberose, which brings a new, heightened sensation to the scent.”

The bottom line: consider the same scent in the two different forms to be cousins, not sisters, within the fragrance family — there will be hints of similarities, but each will definitely be unique.

Does an Eau de Toilette or Eau de Parfum Ever Expire?

“Depending on the quality of ingredients and where it’s stored, most perfumes have a shelf life of at least three to five years,” explains Slatkin, but it really comes down to each scent’s architecture.

An eau de toilette tends to age a little slower, thanks to the higher concentration of alcohol in the formulation, which acts as a protective preservative. On the flip side, clean and alcohol-free fragrances will lose intensity the fastest.

To maximize the shelf life of either an eau de parfum or an eau de toilette, Slatkin recommends keeping it in a cool, dry, and dark location.

Beware of excessive light, variations in temperature (especially heat), and exposure to oxygen, as they will accelerate any fragrance’s deterioration. And if the perfume’s color shifts to a darker hue, or the scent becomes a little sour or musty, it’s time to retire.

The hard, sad truth: although your perfume bottle may look chic and trés Instagrammable on your sun-lit vanity, it’s probably not the wisest choice.

Do Eau de Parfums Last Longer Than Eau de Toilettes?

For the most part, eau de parfums should last longer, says Shapiro, who also warns that different notes carry different patterns of longevity. “You can’t compare, let’s say, a fruity, very fresh eau de parfum with a very woody eau de toilette,” she explains. “Fruity and fresh notes tend to be top notes and evaporate faster, even at higher concentrations.”

But maybe the coolest whimsy of all types of perfumes is that each wearer’s experience of a fragrance is different, depending upon how the formulation reacts with their skin’s specific oils. In other words, don’t blindly buy the perfume that smells divine on your best friend, because it might smell less than savory on you.

Fragrance adheres to oils, says Shapiro, and those with drier skin may need to wear a higher concentration of fragrance in order to have an impact.

Above all, you must obey the golden rule of scent, according to Valadez, who steadfastly proclaims: “Never judge a fragrance until you try it on your own skin.”

Is An Eau de Toilette “Cheaper” Than An Eau de Parfum?

Looking at price points between the two, it’s easy to judge an eau de toilette as a cheaper, and therefore less sophisticated product, but cost doesn’t tell the whole story.

“Eau de toilette is less expensive because they have a lower concentration of fine fragrance oil,” says Slatkin. “Not because the ingredients are different.”

The intensity of the fragrance you want to wear is entirely up to you, and you should wear “what you connect with and what smells good on you, regardless of concentration,” says Valadez.

Think of an eau de toilette and eau de parfum as two types of perfume options that are available to you depending on what you’re looking for, not a stark either/or situation, and definitely not a representation of who you are as a person. After all, people aren’t going to be looking at the bottle while you’re out and about.

VIDEO: How To Make Your Fragrance Last Longer

How Do I Choose Between an Eau de Toilette and an Eau de Parfum?

The simplest way to choose one over the other is to ask yourself how strong you want your fragrance to be. An eau de parfum’s higher concentration of fragrance makes for a longer lasting, more aromatic scent, while an eau de parfum is more “like a body splash to be applied more liberally” than a parfum.

“Some may choose to start with an eau de toilette and eventually transition to eau de parfum, but that shouldn’t be the rule,” says Slatkin.

She recommends trusting your nose’s own instincts to see what scents and notes you naturally gravitate towards before committing to a specific type.

And above all, shake off the seriousness! “Don’t be afraid to explore all available fragrance variations of a scent you enjoy,” says Valadez. “You may find a new scent you may not have known you liked. Have fun with fragrance, you may be surprised!”

How Do I Wear an Eau de Toilette or an Eau de Parfum?

We’ve all experienced the coworker or fellow subway-rider with a scent so overpowering, it’s nearly impossible to focus on just about anything else. To avoid being that person, a little awareness about a scent’s wearability goes a long way.

In hot, sticky, summer months, Shaprio usually reaches for an eau de toilette because “there’s something fresh and light and easy to wear about a lighter concentration.”

Rich, full bodied eau de parfums pair nicely with evening activities and colder climes, as scent dissipates faster in dry air, so you’ll need a higher fragrance concentration for the same scent payoff.

For a daytime wear of either fragrance, spray the scent directly onto pulse points — neck or wrist — and to amp it up for the evening, add an air-spritz and walk through it, or loosely spray the perfume once or twice into long hair for an easy, wafting scent with movement.

Wearing a fragrance is a fine art and a balancing act, but it adds a whole other level of playful self-expression without ever saying a word.

Fragrances We Love

Eau de Toilette

Credit: Courtesy

Gucci Flora Emerald Gardenia

Inspired by an early summer's morning, this scent's mix of pear, lemon, and watermelon notes along with gardenia, frangipani, and lotus will easily whisk you away.

To shop: $80; sephora.com

Credit: Courtesy

Miu Miu L'Eau Rosée Eau de Toilette

This delicate floral fragrance offers you hints of lily of the valley and blackcurrant wrapped in musk.

To shop: Starting at $83; nordstrom.com

Credit: Courtesy

Maison Margiela ’Replica’ Beach Walk

Notes of bergamot, lemon, heliotrope, coconut milk, and musk will remind you of a warm summer's day.

To shop: $130; sephora.com

Eau de Parfum

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Chloé Eau de Parfum

Let the hints of peony, lychee, and springtime freesia remind you of your free, flirtatious spirit.

To shop: $132; sephora.com

Credit: Courtesy

NEST New York Sunkissed Hibiscus

Notes of frangipani and orange blossom will help to make you feel radiant and energized.

To shop: $27; sephora.com

Credit: Courtesy

Ellis Brooklyn Salt Eau De Parfum Travel Spray

Be reminded of the divine summer heat with top notes of ylang ylang and violet leaves absolute.

To shop: $30; ellisbrooklyn.com