Fragrance is incredibly personal. We associate it with a specific time, memory, or person, which is consequently why it evokes actual emotional responses. I know this to be true in my own life. You see, I hate heavy floral fragrances, yet my favorite perfume of all time (so far at least) is the original Chloé Perfume ($253), designed by Karl Lagerfeld in 1975. It smells like jasmine, honeysuckle, tuberose, and amber (you can't get much more floral, or heavier than that). Although I didn't question it for years, I've now come to realize that I call it my favorite because it's the very same perfume my mom wore throughout my entire childhood. So now when I wear it, as a 20-something, I'm reminded of her and home and stealing stealthy spritzes from her vanity when she wasn't looking.
This resulted in a minor fragrance epiphany. I realized I knew next to nothing about the other scents lining my vanity and much less about perfume in general. Sure, I can list the main notes in each bottle, but beyond that, things get murky. It was at this point, standing in front of my mirror, that I realized that I couldn't even describe the difference between fragrance's two main categories: Eau de parfum and Eau de toilette. (I know what you're thinking. That's blasphemous for a beauty writer to admit. But it was true).
What Are Notes?
Notes are scent descriptors that make up a fragrance and are sensed upon application. They are broken up into three categories: top notes, heart notes, and base notes.
With the help of experts, I was able to discern the differences between Eau de parfum and Eau de toilette, and yes, they are different. Keep reading to learn how these two types of fragrances compare.
Meet the Expert
Eau de Parfum vs. Eau de Toilette: What’s the Difference?
As it turns out, the distinction between Eau de parfum formulas and their Eau de toilette counterparts is clear and simple. According to both Wallace and Long, it all comes down to a classification that the brand makes, based on how the perfume feels in fragrance concentration and depth. "Generally, an Eau de toilette concentration is between 8 percent and 12 percent, while an Eau de parfum concentration is between 12 percent and 18 percent, although the concentrations of EDT versus EDP can vary," Wallace explains.
"It is important to understand that the percentage of fragrance oil in the perfume is not a simple qualitative value—because just like you would only want a certain amount of tea leaves in your pot of tea, more isn't always better," says Long. "Depending on the type of perfume, sometimes less is more—and sometimes a higher concentration is necessary to achieve the intended effect."
One thing is for sure: No matter if the specific numbers vary by product or brand, an Eau de parfum will always be more concentrated than an Eau de toilette.
Do Eau de Parfums Last Longer Than Eau de Toilettes?
What's interesting is how the scent "experience" changes between an Eau de parfum and an Eau de toilette. "As the juice is present in a higher concentration, the sillage—or lasting power of the scent—will often change, and this increased wear will change how the fragrance develops on the skin throughout the day," Wallace explains. In other words, an Eau de parfum has a higher concentration of fragrance, which results in a longer-lasting and more aromatic application.
Do Eau de Parfums and Eau de Toilettes Have the Same Fragrance?
Eau de parfum and Eau de toilette might not smell the same, even if they're labeled as being the same fragrance. For Diptyque fragrances, at least, the actual formula is tweaked to accommodate the different concentrations of fragrance. "For Diptyque, the Eau de parfum is not simply a more concentrated version of the Eau de toilette—the Eau de parfum is a new interpretation of the original composition. For example, in the Do Son Eau de toilette, you have tuberose, jasmine, and orange blossom in harmony, while in the Eau de parfum, you have a true overdose of tuberose. This note is amplified, which brings a different dimension to the experience of the scent," says Wallace.
According to Long, it depends on the brand. "In classic perfume brands, for example, it often isn't the same scent; both have the same central theme, but the proportions of top, middle, and base notes may be balanced differently," she says. "Sometimes the theme is stretched further with additional notes or a different twist entirely. On the other hand, in many niche perfumes, for example, you may find it's the same fragrance oil, but at different concentrations."
Wallace says that's why Eau de parfums and Eau de toilettes aren't exactly interchangeable. "Often, the Eau de toilette is both lighter and fresher, while the Eau de parfum is richer and more lasting. For daytime or office wear, the Eau de toilette may be more comfortable and appropriate, while the Eau de parfum offers more depth, which can be nice for the evening," she says. You might also want to consider the temperature and time of year before choosing one over the other. "In humid and hot climates, a crisp Eau de toilette may be preferable, while in cooler weather, an Eau de parfum may offer more warmth and depth."
Do Eau de Toilettes or Parfums Ever Expire?
Like most things, Long notes, perfume does expire. "Perfume is alive and has an expiry," she says. This can be due to many facts, and there is no hard and fast rule on how long a perfume is good for, as it depends on the brand, the scent, and where it is stored.
If you're unsure, check the label on your perfume. If your perfume has oxidized due to the chemical composition, changed colors, or the scent has altered (it can smell sour, acidic, or metallic), it's probably time to toss.
How to Choose Between Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum
In Long's experience, the best way to choose between Eau de toilette and parfum is to wear each (from a store tester or a sample or a trial size) if possible. You may find that you simply prefer one over the other. "If you're having to choose without this option, consider Eau De Toilette the likeliest to be one suitable for daytime and office wear, and Eau de Parfum the likeliest to last the night," she echoes of Wallace's statement.
The Final Takeaway
If you didn't believe it before, this should have convinced you that fragrance is indeed a fine art and not just an olfactory instinct of "this smells good" and "this doesn't." Before purchasing your next fragrance, test out both the Eau de parfum and the Eau de toilette versions. Also, be sure to pay mind to what time of day, time of year, and setting you'll be wearing the fragrance in. As Diptyque taught me, all of it matters.