Cologne vs Perfume: What’s the Difference? [Complete Guide!]

When you are standing in a store looking to buy perfume, you are often presented with all the different types of options! In fact, one question that almost certainly will cross your mind is whether to buy perfume or cologne! You may also wonder if cologne is different from perfume. If so, then what exactly is the difference between cologne and perfume?

The key difference between cologne and perfume is in the percentage of essential oil used in it. Cologne usually contains 2% to 5% essential oil whereas most other forms of perfume contain 5% to 30% essential oil in them.

So basically, cologne contains LESS of the fragrance oil as compared to other perfumes such as Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum or even Parfum! Interesting isn’t it?

Don’t you wish someone should have shared this information with you earlier! I know I felt that way when I learned about it! So, in this article, I’ll share with you useful information about cologne and perfume – stuff that you should be aware of.

So, let’s get started!

Is Cologne a Perfume?

Cologne, also known as Eau de Cologne, is a less concentrated form of perfume. Cologne usually contains 2-5% essential oil and around 70-90% alcohol. Cologne is also used as a generic term assigned to perfumes that are designed specifically for the masculine gender.

Eau de Cologne is a type of perfume that originated from “Cologne” (Köln) in Germany! Hence, it has been given the name Cologne. It was first created in 1709 by Giovanni Maria Farina.

Giovanni’s ability to produce a consistently homogenous fragrance was a sensation at the time, and the cologne made by him was delivered to nearly all royal houses in Europe!

Once the free trade was established in Cologne in 1797, the fragrance spread to other parts of the world including North America. Several businessmen started marketing other similar smelling perfumes also as Eau de Cologne.

Slowly, Cologne became a generic term assigned to a perfume that was targeted towards men (due to the scents used in it).

People often compare cologne with perfume as though they are two different things.

The truth is that cologne is also a type of perfume

As mentioned above, it differs from other perfumes only in the amount of fragrance oil and the alcohol used in it which is a common differentiating factor amongst all perfumes.

That said, for the rest of the article, we shall consider the widely accepted understanding of cologne and perfume in order to avoid confusion.

What lasts longer – Cologne or Perfume?

Perfume lasts longer than cologne. On average, the fragrance of Eau de Cologne (or Cologne) lasts up to 2 hours. On the contrary, most perfumes usually last 3 to 24 hours. Since cologne contains a lower amount of fragrance oil as compared to other types of perfumes, cologne lasts less than perfume.

Here’s a quick reference guide to an approximate duration that each type of perfume lasts when compared to Cologne.

S. NoType of PerfumePerfume Oil ContentDuration of the Scent (on skin)
1Parfum20% to 35%6 to 12 hours
2Eau de Parfum15% to 20%4 to 6 hours
3Eau de Toilette5% to 15%2 to 4 hours
4Eau de Cologne2% to 5%Upto 2 hours
5Eau Fraiche1% to 3%0.5 to 1 hour

As you may notice from the above table, Cologne usually lasts the less than most other common types of perfumes that are available in the market.

Parfum is the purest form of perfume. It also lasts the longest as it contains the highest amount of essential oil amongst all the perfumes. Since it contains such high contents of oil, it also often leaves a very thin oily coating on your skin.

The other two most common types of perfumes i.e. Eau de Parfum and Eau de Toilette also contain more amount of perfume oil in it as compared to Cologne. As a result, they also tend to usually last longer than a cologne.

Eau Fraiche is more like scented water. It usually contains a large amount of water and used to give you a fresh feeling. Thus, the purpose of this perfume is quite unlike what you would associate with the purpose of perfume.

Thus, cologne lasts the least amount of time when compared to other types of perfume such as Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum, and pure Parfum.

Is Cologne Stronger than Perfume?

A bottle of Valentino Perfume
A bottle of Valentino Perfume (Image Credit)

Another common question that you may have is which is stronger between the two – Cologne or Perfume?

Perfumes are stronger than cologne as it contains a higher concentration of perfume oil. Colognes may seem stronger as it can project better and have a wider reach due to the higher alcohol content. However, perfume lasts longer and requires less amount when applied.

Even though perfumes are stronger than cologne, in real-world usage, you may often feel that a cologne gives a stronger scent.

This is because cologne often tends to have a higher percentage of alcohol content as compared to other perfumes. This allows cologne to spread faster throughout the room and project better – overwhelming the sense of smell temporarily. This may lead you to believe that colognes are stronger than perfume.

However, you will also notice that once the initially burst of scent settles down, a cologne will not last much longer.

On the contrary, a perfume will continue to project a consistent fragrance over a longer duration of time – a telltale sign of a stronger perfume.

Is Cologne More Expensive than Perfume?

Cologne is usually cheaper than perfume as it contains a lower concentration of fragrance oil as compared to perfume. On average, a cologne may cost $40 to $150. However, a perfume will usually be priced between $75 to $400.

That said, there are several factors that determine the cost of perfume and cologne.

You may have perhaps noticed that sometimes a cologne from a particular brand is more expensive than Eau de Parfum of another brand! This may happen due to the ingredients used in making the fragrance, brand value, and other associated costs.

Usually, the rarity of the natural ingredients used to make a fragrance determines its cost.

In fact, I wrote a detailed article on what makes a perfume expensive where I covered the nuances of the cost of the perfume. In the article, I also shared tips on how to buy a good quality perfume for cheap! So, make sure that you do check it out!

Generally speaking, Eau de Cologne of a particular brand will usually be cheaper than Eau de Toilette or Eau de Parfum from the same brand.

One thing to note is that most brands these days label cologne as a perfume that is designed for men. Thus, when you visit a store or search for cologne on a fragrance website, you will also see Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum (i.e. perfume mostly for men) along with Eau de Cologne.

So, if you want to buy a cologne, make sure that you check out the details on the label of the perfume bottle and choose only Eau de Cologne.

Is Cologne Better than Perfume?

Perfume is usually better in quality than cologne as it contains a higher concentration of fragrance oil. On average, a cologne contains 2-5% fragrance oil whereas a perfume mostly contains 5-30% fragrance oil. This makes perfumes last longer.

Perfumes also offer a wide range of fragrances as compared to a cologne. Thus, not only do you get to use a wide variety of scents, but these scents also tend to last longer during usage.

If you wish to choose a masculine scent, you don’t have restrict yourself to an Eau de Cologne. There are several perfumes that also provide male scents. Such fragrances are also often sold as a cologne.

Do Guys Wear Perfume or Cologne?

Another common question when purchasing a fragrance is what is more ideally suited for men – is it perfume or cologne?

Guys mostly prefer to wear cologne as it usually contains masculine scents that make them smell attractive. Furthermore, colognes also contain a higher alcohol content which is associated with masculinity.

That said, many modern-day fragrances are labeled as cologne even if they are not Eau de Cologne strictly speaking. This is primarily due to the scents that they generate which primarily work well with men’s body chemistry.

The most common types of masculine scents that colognes usually contain are citrus scents (such as lemon, orange, tangerine, etc), woody scents (such as sandalwood, cedarwood, etc or other earthy scents), smoky scents, or musk scent.

However, similar masculine scents are also found in Eau de Toilette or Eau de Parfum. When perfumes contain such scents that are targeted towards men, it is also usually referred to as cologne even though it may not necessarily be Eau de Cologne!

Thus, even though colognes are a go-to choice for men, a perfume that contains a masculine scent or is designed for men, can also be equally effective.

Why is Men’s Perfume called Cologne?

Men’s perfume is called cologne because the original Eau de Cologne designed by Giovanni Maria Farina contained masculine citrus scents. When this cologne reached North America in 1797, it instantly gained in popularity and the word “Cologne” became synonymous with men’s perfume!

Once the free trade was established, several traders and businessmen tried to take advantage of the mass appeal of Eau de Cologne, and they started marketing their own perfume line under the name of Eau de Cologne.

Often, businessmen would sell perfumes other than Eau de Cologne as a Cologne simply because of the popularity of the term. These perfumes were usually designed for men. Soon, perfumes that were specifically created for men started to sell better when labeled as “cologne”.

Over time, cologne became synonymous with mens’ perfume and this is a common observation till today!

Is Cologne a Perfume or an Aftershave?

A common question that people often have is whether a cologne should be termed as a perfume or an aftershave.

Cologne is more a perfume than an aftershave. Cologne differs from an aftershave in its purpose. Cologne, just as a perfume, is designed to make you smell nice. Whereas, an aftershave is supposed to be patted on your cheeks and neck after a shave to prevent an infection from cuts.

Both, a cologne and an aftershave contain the least concentration of fragrance oil in comparison to other perfumes!

A common misconception amongst men is that perfumes that are catered towards men are known as an aftershave. While, the reality is if you are asking for an aftershave instead of a cologne or a perfume, you will be going home with the least powerful scent!

It is interesting to note that even an aftershave will make you smell nice and its formulation process is quite similar to that of a perfume or a cologne. However, since the concentration of oil used in aftershave is mostly 1-3%, its fragrance will usually not last more than an hour.

Compared to an aftershave, a cologne usually contains 2-5% of oil and lasts longer than.

Most importantly, as described above, the purpose of an aftershave is quite different from that of a cologne or perfume.

So, the next time you are in store looking for a perfume, make sure ask for a cologne or, better yet, a perfume.

Should You Spray Cologne on Skin or Clothes?

Once you’ve perhaps made your purchasing decision, one thing that you should know about is whether to use cologne on clothes or skin!

It is usually better to spray cologne directly on skin rather than clothes as the fragrance molecules in the cologne project better, last longer and bind well with the natural oil present on your skin. However, if you perspire a lot or stay in a humid environment, you may want to use cologne on clothes.

If you do choose to use your cologne on the skin, then make sure that your skin is not dry. The best time for using cologne or perfume would be after a shower. That way, you can make sure that your skin is nice and moist! It is worth noting that hydrated skin absorbs fragrance molecules the best.

If you plan to use a cologne or a perfume at a time when showering is not an option, then make sure you use an unscented moisturiser on the skin before using the cologne. This will also help the scent last longer.

That said, if you do stay in a location that has high humidity levels or if you tend to perspire a lot – you’re probably better off using the cologne on your clothes rather than your skin. Excessive perspiration will wipe off the fragrance from your skin and you would not get a lasting effect of the scent.

Is Cologne Bad for your Skin?

Cologne is usually not bad for the skin when used in moderation. However, excessive use of cologne over prolonged periods can cause the skin to dry due to the presence of high levels of alcohol. Rarely, certain skin types can also cause an allergic reaction to colognes.

All colognes are tested for allergic components and toxicity before being sold in the market. Thus, colognes are not bad for the skin for most people. In fact, most of you will barely notice any issues ever in life.

However, some skin types can react differently to colognes and perfumes in general.

If you ever witness a skin reaction due to the use of cologne or any perfume, immediately visit a dermatologist. You can also undergo a patch test that helps to determine the specific chemical which causes the allergic reaction.

Another thing to note here is that most perfumes contain ethyl alcohol and other forms of alcohol. In fact, colognes have a higher alcohol content than perfumes!

Alcohol is known for its dehydrating properties. In fact, alcohol molecules can bond and rupture the cell membrane causing the cell to dehydrate. This process is commonly known as denaturation. The process of denaturation is what makes ethyl alcohol highly effective against cellular micro-organism.

As opposed to pathogens, our skin has a relatively stronger membrane that doesn’t easily rupture. That said, prolonged use of cologne or perfume in the same body part can enable the denaturation process; thereby causing loss of moisture and dry skin.

Difference between Cologne and Deodorant

With so many different terminologies for fragrances, it is easy to get confused between terms like cologne and deodorant!

The key difference between cologne and deodorant is in the purpose for which each of the two is used. Cologne is used to make you smell nice. Whereas a deodorant is used to prevent bad odor!

Deodorants can further be available as antiperspirants that have special properties that prevent perspiration from the area where it is applied. These can come in the form of an aerosol based spray can or a roll on.

Whereas cologne doesn’t have any such property. It is used specifically to smell nice!

You should use deodorants when you are heading for a session at the gym or some form of physical activity. Whereas, colognes and other perfumes can be used when heading to work, party, or even on a special occasion!

Top 5 Most Popular Men’s Cologne

If you are looking to buy Eau de Cologne instead instead of perfume, here are some of the most popular options that you can choose from!

1. 4711 by Muelhens

4711 is one of the oldest forms of Eau de Cologne available in the market.

This perfume provides you with a very pleasant and light musky citric smell that makes it a good cologne for men.

It has been popular amongst men for several decades. It is said that Napolean used this perfume!

2. Tabac Original

Tabac is another quite popular Eau de Cologne. Manufactured by Maurer and Writz, it is originated in Germany and quite popular across Europe.

Maurer and Writz was founded in 1854 and has been a very well known brand. What you get with this cologne is not just a great fragrance, but also experience of a traditional perfumery!

3. Dior Homme

Dior Homme by Christian Dior is one of the bigger brand names in the perfume industry.

Christian Dior is a French brand and known for some of its masculine perfume!

It comes with a lavender flavored top note, with middle notes being that of cocoa. Finally, the base notes are that of patchouli giving it a good classy fragrance!

4. Pleasures by Estee Lauder

Pleasures for men is specifically designed for the men interested in smelling nice!

The brand Estee Lauder needs no introduction. Despite its French-sounding name, it is an American brand that produces high-quality fragrances and skincare products! You can not go wrong with Estee Lauder!

Pleasures for men is one of the most popular fragrance that you can find on the market!

5. Aramis ‘Devin’ Country

Aramis ‘Devin’ Country cologne is definitely a classic!

It was launched in the late 1970s and was a sensation back then! These days, it is difficult to locate one of these in the stores. However, with the power of internet, you can surely relive 1970s and 1980s with this cologne!

It does come in a flowery smell, but that is exactly what often makes it desirable for many men!

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