Eau de Toilette or Eau de Parfum, what's the difference?
Cologne, Extract ... To avoid confusion, let’s take a look at each one.
When we buy a perfume, the bottle obscurely tells us that it is an “Eau de Toilette” or an “Eau
de Parfum” ... but what is the real difference between the two?
Originally, the maturation of the perfume
Once the formula for a new fragrance has been created, the first step is to weigh and mix the
pure raw materials. These are then left to mature for a few weeks. This mixture, called perfume
concentrate, is then diluted in alcohol, giving distinct gradations of concentrate that correspond
to the terms Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum, etc.
- Fresh or Cologne Water: <7% concentrate
- Eau de Toilette: 7 to 12%
- Eau de Parfum: 12 to 20%
- Perfume, Extract or Perfume Absolute: 20 to 40%
It’s important not to over simplify, though. When it comes to the way perfumes are classified --
most often as Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum-- the concentration percentage is not the only
thing that differentiates them. Perfumers often maintain a common scent nucleus between the
two versions but adapt the remaining structure of the perfume so that it remains balanced. For
example, they may reinforce the heart or base notes in the Eau de Parfum version. Keep in
mind, however, that these different names are not universal and buying an “Eau de Parfum”
does not guarantee a set concentration of odorous matter.
Why is alcohol used in perfume?
We actually use ethanol (other bases are rarely used) because:
- It is water soluble and easily dissolves essential oils.
- It has a high volatility, which allows it to evaporate quickly and retain the odorous molecules of the perfume on the skin.
And yes, you may be thinking of the one you consume on Saturday nights but it’s not quite
that kind of alcohol. To avoid derivatives, perfume manufacturers use denatured ethanol (called SD
Alcohol on the labels). Also, if you find yourself running out of spirits at your next party, a little
advice: leave your perfume bottle on your bathroom shelf at the risk of experiencing a hangover
that is much more violent than usual, one that may even include diarrhea or vomiting!
To go further: The origin of Eau de Cologne
It all started at the end of the 17th century, at a time when perfume was associated with
drugstores and where odor was considered to be “the soul of medicine”. In these times, a
remedy that smelled good was thought to be more effective. This logic proved to be
unstoppable. A Florentine merchant, Giovanni Paolo Feminis, moved to Cologne accompanied
by a medicinal formula composed of citrus fruits (lemon, orange, bergamot, mandarin and
grapefruit), cedar and aromatic plants. There, he met a fellow perfumer, Giovanni Antonio
Farina, to whom he bequeathed the secret of his concoction. Farina later went on to baptize this
water “Aqua Mirabilis”, an “admirable water” with many therapeutic virtues and glorious olfactory
A few years later, at the beginning of the 18th century, Giovanni Antonio's grandson, Giovanni
Maria (difficult to navigate) learned the art of perfumery in Venice from an uncle and moved to
Cologne, where his grandfather gifted him the Acqua Mirabilis formula. To thank his adopted
city, then the “Free City” of the Holy Roman Empire, from which it was very difficult to obtain
citizenship, Giovanni Maria would then rename Acqua Mirabilis “Eau de Cologne”; a perfume
which quickly met unprecedented popularity. At the time, most people were used to musky
scents, so citrus fruits were new and exciting. The perfume became so popular that it was
featured in the Great European Courts – Louis XV and later Mozart and Napoleon Bonaparte
were all huge fans. On top of everything else, Giovanni Maria used the concept of "good
French" and called himself Jean-Marie Farina, French being the language of high society of the
time. A pure dandy, this Jean-Marie!
At the end of the 18th century, Napoleon annexed Cologne and the perfume was shamelessly
copied - no trademark rights at the time! – and became a general term for light citrus scents. In
1806, a Farina, descendant of Jean-Marie, settled in Paris and created – with the agreement of
the family still living in Cologne – a perfume brand. The creations are different from the
originals, although they retain the name of Jean-Marie Farina. Much later, the Roger & Gallet
group bought the brand to create its Eau de Cologne Jean-Marie Farina “Extra-Vieille”. The
scent still exists although it is probably quite different from the original.
Nowadays, we associate Eau de Cologne with any Old School blend of citrus fruits, but the
Americans have kept the term cologne to designate any masculine scent (Americans are not
particularly fans of strong smells).
A little less glamorous, the term Eau de Toilette comes from the Renaissance when baths and
other water washes were not exactly routine. Rather, people "washed" with rags soaked with
alcohol – which, like soap, dissolves dirt – and perfumed to mask body odor.
A little later, in the 17th century, the population – and the nobility – were not yet fans of the
shower head (jokes aside, there was running water everywhere in Versailles, so no excuses!)
There was a widespread fear of water, which was believed to carry disease and contaminate
organs. The result of this were minimalist ablutions with lots of scented water. This history has
given us, the French, an enduring reputation for being unhygenic. Thank you Louis XIV...
From this historical unraveling, we will remember: Whether it be Eau de Parfum or Eau de
Toilette, both are products of a marketing story, but nevertheless give a generally accurate idea
of the concentration and hold of the perfume...