Below is a list of the 5 main scent concentration formats from strongest to weakest. Note that the percentage breakdown varies from source to source and I would assume also varies from fragrance to fragrance, so the percentage numbers offered here are just a guideline. The base of any perfume is the perfume essence, which is the part that produces the smell. Perfume essence could be a combination of essential oils (cedar wood, lime, sandalwood, etc.), absolutes (jasmine, rose, neroli), animal extracts (musk, ambergris, castoreum), and/or synthetic fragrance (which could be anything). The rest is filler, usually in the form of perfumer’s alcohol, water, and/or carrier oils.
The percentage of pure perfume essence does not always indicate that the quality is higher. There are many essential oils that you wouldn’t want to smell directly in even small amounts. Real musk and ambergris, for example, are very expensive and not pleasant to the nose in their pure form. Less than a single drop of either can dramatically raise the price of a perfume and indeed probably also the quality of the overall fragrance, but you would want the effect of that single drop, not that tiny amount itself.
1) Parfum / Perfume / Extrait / Extrait de Parfum
Extrait is French for extract, and this is the strongest fragrance available, usually consisting of a 20~30% concentration (though I’ve seen reports of up for 40%) of perfume essence. This means that not only do you need to use less, but also that the fragrance lasts longer, typically for 6 hours or more, depending on factors such as your skin type. It’s interesting to note that extrait does not have the heavy sillage – meaning projection power – that fragrances with more alcohol have. Alcohol diffuses fragrance as it evaporates on skin. This is a better choice for those with sensitive skin, is oiler in consistency, and unsurprisingly is usually the most expensive (and therefore is usually sold in smaller bottles with a stopper; meant to be dabbed on, not sprayed all over).
2) Eau De Parfum (EDP)
This is lighter than pure perfume, usually with 15%~20% concentration, but still has long-lasting characteristics, up to about 5 hours. It is less expensive than pure perfume and much more common. You shouldn’t have to or want to spray eau de parfum all over your person.
3) Eau De Toilette (EDT)
This is lighter than EDP, with no more than 10% concentration of the essence (though some have as much as 15%). It usually lasts for 2 to 4 hours, and is appropriate for warm temperatures, daytime wear, or for those who simply do not want to be overwhelmed with stronger concentrations. Users can be much more liberal with application from this concentration on.
4) Eau De Cologne (EDC or just COL for cologne)
This is lighter than EDT, often referred to just as cologne, and has a bigger dilution of fragrances with an estimated 5% concentration of perfume essence. The name is the French word for the city of Köln where a particular scent was first made – hence referred to as a water from Cologne. It usually lasts for 2 hours, and originally tended to be very light, fresh, and fruity – containing essential oils such as lemon, bergamot, orange, neroli absolute, lavender, and rosemary. Now the term is used simply to indicate a greater dilution of perfume essence, and like eau fraiche, body spray or splash below, is affordable and often marketed to a younger crowd.
Men’s cologne tends to be of a different dilution than women’s, more like an EDT. Many so-called aftershaves fits into this category, and they are lighter than men’s cologne, usually intended to cool and soothe the skin after shaving. After shave balm is an emulsion-type lotion used to provide scented moisture to freshly shaven skin.
5) Eau Fraiche
This is the most diluted of scent forms with just 1-5% concentration of essential oils. I define Body spray or splash as the same thing, but if you want to put them in a separate category, I’d say it has even less perfume essence, probably around 1%.