Why is Perfume So Expensive? [With Tips to Buy it Cheap!]

I have been sitting on my couch trying to buy perfume for my spouse. But, when I look at the price, it just makes me wonder – why is perfume so expensive! So, I did a little digging, and here’s what I found out!

Perfume can be expensive when rare ingredients are used. Ingredients, when available in limited quantities or are perhaps hard to extract and process, can drive up the cost of a perfume significantly. Other factors include perfume promotion costs and brand value.

Type of PerfumeHow Expensive?
Parfum (Extrait de Parfum or Pure Perfume)Most expensive
Eau de Parfum (EDP)Expensive
Eau de Toilette (EDT)Affordable
Eau de Cologne (EDC)Affordable
Eau FraicheInexpensive

Didn’t we open a can of worms – or better still a bottle of perfume – with that one?! Honestly speaking, there are certain aspects you need to consider to really understand what all goes behind that price tag pasted on the perfume bottle. Let us quickly dive in!

What Makes Perfume Expensive?

For centuries, people have been applying fragrances. From the Egyptian to the Romans, to the French, and then some in between! It has been around for quite a while, and it has been dearly coveted! But, good perfume can often demand a premium price.

There are several factors that can influence the cost of perfumes. The below mentioned factors can drive-up the cost making a perfume expensive –

1. Natural Ingredients

The fragrant essential oils used in a perfume determine a sizable chunk of the cost of the perfume. While these days many perfume makers also use synthetic oils that are identical to natural oils, however, pure natural oils are definitely the costliest to procure. 

Natural raw ingredients used in perfume are expensive as they are either: rare and available in limited quantities at a time, hard to find, hard to extract and process, or highly regulated for environmental reasons by government bodies.  

Hence, you will usually find natural ingredients used only in the most expensive perfumes. 

The cost of a vial of pure natural perfume oil or a bottle of Eau de Parfum is, therefore, set higher as it would typically have a higher perfume oil concentration than an Eau de Cologne or Eau de Toilette.

In fact, in this article, I am going to give you a glimpse of which perfume ingredients are truly the most expensive to add to perfume. So, keep reading!

2. Cost of Perfume Bottle and Packaging

The experience of buying a perfume extends to the bottle the fragrance comes in and the pretty box it is placed in. However, I would say there are largely two types of packaging: vanity and intelligent packaging.

Vanity Packaging:

Many expensive perfume bottles are custom made decorative bottles designed especially for their label. They might even be bottles done up in vintage themes such as cameo, art deco, or art nouveau. Certain glass containers used such as hand-blown Italian Murano glass or French Baccarat crystal glass are expensive to manufacture and could be a factor in determining the cost of the end product i.e. the perfume bottle. 

Certain perfume manufacturers might use metal foiling or bottle caps made of gold or silver, even! There are some who would want to add a precious gem stone or too. Whatever that attracts the eye basically. 

Such decorative perfume bottles can actually be good for resale.

Intelligent Packaging

Sometimes the perfume’s box packaging has a wider purpose. First to look appealing to customers searching for a new perfume; second to help protect the perfume from harmful UV rays and humidity, and third to provide a thick, stable base that will prevent the perfume bottle from tipping over when placed inside a closet.

In fact, I recommend that you keep the outer box with the perfume bottles, when possible.

3. Advertising Costs

Pick up any fashion magazine and you will very likely have glamorous models posing with a big bottle of expensive perfume. 

Interestingly, 800 million USD is estimated to be spent on the marketing of perfumes each year as per AT Kearney perfume report. The money is spent on launching over 100 new brands and label extensions each year.

Despite this exorbitant expense budget assigned to the marketing of new perfumes, the top four of the five fragrances have remained constant for the last five years:

Top 5 Best Selling Perfumes

RankPerfume ManufacturerPerfume Brand
1Dolce & GabbanaLight Blue
2ChanelCoco Mademoiselle 
3ChanelChance Eau Tendre
4ChanelNo. 5
5Marc JacobsDaisy
source: Dollars and Scents: Winning in Fragrances, AT Kearney report [2015] 

(Online survey took place online and covered 844 shoppers above 18 years-of-age —72 percent women and 28 percent men). 

That said, the marketing expense is needed to nurture long-term brand loyalty such as seen in the case of Chanel. Till then one needs to be cognizant that advertising and marketing campaign costs are passed on to the consumer via the price tag of the perfume.

4. Celebrity Costs

Apart from the advertising costs, some perfumes also come with a huge celebrity fee! When a famous artist, actor, player endorses a perfume, it is more likely to sell well as you want to associate yourself with the famous perfume, and you want to smell success like them!

In fact, celebrity fragrances have become a category on their own! Several known singers, actors and sports stars are investing in growing their perfume label. For examples, if you want to smell like Cristiano Ronaldo or Beyonce you will need to pay a pretty penny!

Here is a list of a few known celebrities who have launched their own perfume line in recent years:

15 Celebrities Who Have a Perfume to their Name

Ser NoCelebrityProfessionPerfume BrandPerfume ManufacturerLaunch Year
1Ariana GrandeSingerR.E.MLuxe Brands2020
2Britney SpearsSingerGlitter FantasyElizabeth Arden, Inc.2020
3Michelle PfeifferActressHenry RoseInternational Flavors & Fragrances2019
4BeyoncéSingerShimmering HeatGivaudan’s Claude Dir & Oliver Gillotin2017
5Katy PerrySingerIndiCoty Inc.2017
6Cristiano RonaldoSoccer PlayerChristiano Ronaldo LegacyEden Parfums2016
7Nicki MinajRapperThe PinkprintElizabeth Arden, Inc.2015
8Lady GagaSingerEau de GagaHaus Laboratories in association with Coty, Inc.2014
9RihannaSingerRogue ManCoty Inc.2014
10ShakiraSingerRockPuig2014
11David BeckhamSoccer PlayerHomme by David BeckhamCoty, Inc.2011
12Neil GaimanWriterLemon-Scented Sticky BatBlack Phoenix Alchemy Lab2011
13Antonio BanderasActorThe SecretPuig2010
14Bruce WillisActorBruce WillisLR Health & Beauty Systems2010
15Kim KardashianSocialiteKim KardashianLighthouse beauty2009
(source)

5. Cost of Perfume Designers

As you may have observed from the above table, even your most talented singer or a soccer player has to employ perfume design agencies. These are chemists who really can combine fragrant ingredients to create the alluring scent. Some of these people are geniuses and have invested in considerable research discovering or engineering new fragrances.

A perfume designer will employ natural ingredients – such as flowers, root, spices, wood, fruit – and synthetic materials – such as alcohol and other petrochemicals – to create a fragrance mixture.

In the case of less expensive perfume, the natural ingredients are replaced with synthetic materials that mimic the natural scents. Getting just the right balance, however, is something between a form of art and science.

6. Cost of Testing and Safety Checks

Perfumes are applied directly to the skin, and have to adhere to basic health and safety standards.

This is where perfume design agencies partner with institutes such as Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) that specialize in this field.  These institutes work to ensure the fragrance ingredients are safe and analyze the potential health or environmental impact of the fragrance. 

Also, such agencies enable safe and ethical testing of perfumes. This would mean no cruelty towards animals or human testing;  now a standard request by most big perfume brands. 

7. Cost of Using Patented ‘Captive Molecules’

Perfumes are made of fragrant molecules. It is chemistry at the end of the day!

There are dedicated research scientists who are developing new scents! These are new fragrant molecules that are patented and licensed like any other invention. If a perfumery decides to buy or get one bespoke molecule made, you can bet your dollar that you have contributed to the cost of the scientific research behind it.

What is the Most Expensive Ingredient in Perfume?

It is not until the 1630s that perfume became available and associated with luxury products. In fact, between 1600 and 1620 the cost of imports associated with perfume ingredients shot up by 40 percent in England! It has been quite a lucrative business since then.

The cost of raw natural ingredients – i.e. the fragrant essential oils – depends largely on their availability and the chemical process that goes into extracting them. Certain ingredients, though are available freely, are expensive as they may be regulated by government bodies to protect the environment and conserve wildlife.

Needless to say, the rare ingredients that are used in the perfume make is expensive. But, what is the most expensive ingredient that is used amongst all the rare ones?

Here is a quick overview of expensive perfume ingredients:

 Most Expensive Ingredients in Perfume

Natural Perfume Ingredient Sourced FromIngredient AvailabilityWhat is it?
Ambergris (or Ambra)AnimalRegulatedSperm whale excrement (whale poop) with sweet, woody fragrance. One in 100 sperm whales produce this waxy substance due to indigestion.
Deer MuskAnimalRegulatedMale Musk Deer produce it in a ‘musk pod’ i.e a hairy pouch just the size of a golf ball, in front of the penis. Only 25gm per animal, per year is produced and has led to heavy poaching. Extracted scent takes several months to years to mature.
Civet MuskAnimalRegulatedMusk produced by African Civet Cat. Odor is produced by the perineal glands and collected as scrapings of its anal glands. Civets produce more musk as a reaction to stress.
Castoreum MuskAnimalRegulatedLeather scent produced by the Castoreum beaver. Beavers are killed to harvest the castor sacs.
JasmineFlowerDifficult to extractThe night-flowering jasmine flowers produce this strong fragrance. The pure essential oil is produced mostly in India with the co-distillation of the flowers with sandalwood oil, or by extraction of the flowers with fixed oils. It is largely dark orange to brown in color. It is estimated that you need to distill over 200,000 jasmine flowers to produce a single ounce of oil!
Bulgarian Rose “Otto”FlowerDifficult to extractOne the most delicate and prized floral fragrance alongside Jasmine. In fact, it is most often mixed with Jasmine scent.Even traces of this perfume oil creates a warm, spicy yet deeply floral, honey-like fragrance.Bulgaria and Turkey are the leading exporters. In the 1960s, the total world production fluctuated between 1200 and 2500 kilos per year generating then USD 2 and 5 million.
Ambrette SeedsSeedDifficult to extractAmbrette seeds are produced in the fruits of the Hibiscus plant. Used more as an ambre base note and often mixed with musk fragrances to round off the scent.
OrrisRootDifficult to extractOrris is the root of the purple flower, Iris. It is often in traces combined with fruity scents such as strawberry and raspberry. The roots of the flower have to be dried for 3 years before the chemical process can be begun. Hence, it is one the most adulterated scents. Often the synthetic nature-identical scent will cost 1/3rd of the original absolute.   
OudWoodRareIt is very rare as it is produced by Agarwood trees once infected by a type of fungus. The indiscriminate felling of these evergreen trees that grow in Asia has added to its rarity and cost. Agarwood, Orris and Vetiver have similar sweet wood smell reminiscent of wet forests.
SandalwoodWoodRegulatedThis oil comes from sandalwood trees after they become mature i.e. after 15 years. Due to environmental reasons these trees are protected and only sustainable cultivation is allowed under government directives.
(Source – Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin by Steffen Arctander, 1960)

Difference between Cheap and Expensive Perfume?

The difference between cheap and expensive perfume is mainly in the quality of the fragrant oil used, the number of layers or perfume notes, and the packaging of the bottle. Expensive perfumes do not cut corners and use the best quality material and 3 to 4 perfume layers.

Let’s understand these in further detail –

1. Cheap Perfume Uses Lower Quality of Ingredients

Only the most expensive of perfumes invest in either obtaining natural essential extracts or bespoke captive molecules to create a unique fragrance.

Cheaper perfumes are more ubiquitous and usually have more synthetic fragrance ingredients used. Increasing the alcohol percentage also reduces cost of perfume. 

2. Cheap Perfume contains Lighter Perfume Notes

When creating a perfume for the mass market, most perfume manufacturers will reduce the number of layers or notes used in the perfume.

The base note, which enables the perfume to bind to the skin for several hours might be trace amounts or even missing. Cheap perfumes concentrate more on the fresh top notes such as floral or citrus. These notes last between 30 min to 2 hours and will need to be reapplied more often. 

3. Quality of Perfume Bottle

Expensive perfume bottles are sometimes designed especially for the brand. These decorative bottles might be made out of crystal, hand painted or have a vintage style.

Cheaper perfumes use bottles that are usually simple, clean-cut glass containers. They get the job done. The latter is actually better when it comes to recycling. Of course, the cheapest are plastic bottles and are better for carrying a body spray bottle.

Do Expensive Perfumes Last Longer?

Expensive perfumes usually last longer as they have a better fragrance mixture with a heavier base note. Base notes, for example, Vetiver or Musk, combine well with the top and middle notes to create a more stable fragrance that will last for hours after the initial burst of scents evaporate.

That said, sometimes you are being charged simply for the advertising campaign or celebrity status attached to it. In that case, the price tag does not guarantee the quality of the perfume.

The fragrance is really the mixture of the various scents that are combined to create the top, middle and base notes. Better the quality of notes, better the wearability of the perfume.  

Point to Note:
How long a perfume – expensive or not – also depends on personal body chemistry. Scents react differently to the natural oils present in the skin. A perfume will fade faster on dry skin than oily skin.

What is the Most Expensive Perfume in the World?

Perfumes can be jaw-dropping expensive! So, don’t be surprised to know that cost of some perfumes can run into tens of thousands of dollars!

Here’s a list of some of the most expensive perfumes in the world!

List of Most Expensive Perfumes in the World

RankPerfume ManufacturerPerfume BrandCost (last updated 2021)USPYear of production
1Clive Christian No.1 Imperial MajestyUSD 12,721.89 per ounce (30ml)
(USD 205,000 per 500ml bottle)
Limited edition10 bottle run onlyDelivery in Bentley2005
2Spirit of DubaiShamukhUSD XXX  per ounce (30ml)
(USD 1,295,000 per 3 litre bottle) 
Perfume bottle: Italian Murano Glass
Decorative items: 3571 diamonds (38.55 carats in total)Gold plating: 2.5kgSilver: 5.9kg
Remote control spray mechanism
2019
3DKNYGolden Delicious Million Dollar FragranceUSD XXX  per ounce (30ml)
(USD 1mn per 100ml bottle)
Decorative items:2700 diamonds183 sapphires
Created and auctioned at charity
2011
4Morreale ParisLe Monde sur MesureUSD XXX  per ounce (30ml)
USD 1.8ml per 5 litres (USD 360/ml)
Decorative items:1000 diamonds2kg gold 2018
5BaccaratLes Larmes Sacrees de ThebesUSD 6,800 per ounce (30ml)Handmade bottle by Baccarat crystal experts. 
Amethyst crystal for perfume stopper
1990s
6ChanelGrand Extrait USD 4,200 per ounce (30ml)Has historical value; collector’s itemMade for Coco Chanel by famed perfume designer Ernest Beaux1921
7Clive ChristianNo. 1USD 2,150 per ounce (30ml)Handmade crystal bottle Neck is gold plated sterling silver set with a solitaire diamondTwo flavor options: Floral Oriental (women) Woody Oriental (men)2001
8Hermès24 FaubourgUSD 1,500 per ounce (30ml)Limited to 1000 bottlesUses Ambergris and Sandalwood – two of the most expensive perfume ingredients
9CaronPoivreUSD 1,000 per ounce (30ml)Perfume bottle made of Baccarat crystalWhite gold neck1954
10Jean PatouJoy Baccarat Pure Parfum USD 1800 per 30mlLimited Edition (50 bottles made each summer)10,600 jasmine flowers 28 dozen roses per bottle.1930
11JARBolt of LightningUSD 765 per ounce (30ml)Handmade bottleNatural floral ingredients2001
12Annick GoutalEau d’HadrienUSD 441.18 per ounce (30ml)Citrus, sweet basil flavors1981
Morreale ParisName not disclosedUSD XXX  per ounce (30ml)
Expected price of USD 18mn for 10 lt bottle!
(USD 1800/ml)
Expected to be covered in gold and diamondsWIP

Are Expensive Perfumes Worth It?

Expensive perfumes are usually made using better ingredients. They also contain a higher percentage of essential oil. This makes them last longer, and create a unique smell. Thus, despite a higher cost, expensive perfumes are worth it!

That said, all perfumes are not made equal. So all expensive perfumes may not provide a premium class!

However, as a thumb rule check these three things to determine if you are getting your money’s worth from your chosen expensive perfume: quality of ingredients, the quantity of perfume oil, and quality of packaging.

Natural Ingredients or Nature-Identical

Natural ingredients are hard to find, extract and process. Hence, the cost of these are higher. However, many a time these are replaced with synthetic molecules that can replicate the scent. It is a much cheaper process. Mostly, if you see Orris, Jasmine or Bulgarian Rose written – double check, if these are original perfume or synthetic substitutes

Quantity of Perfume Oil Concentrate

The quantity of perfume oil makes all the difference between a Eau de Parfum vs Eau de Cologne. The higher concentration of fragrance oil, higher the cost.

However, remember that alcohol is a great carrier of fragrance. This is why sometimes – if you want the perfume to radiate through the room – you might in fact want to buy the Cologne version. 

Quality of Packaging

Expensive perfumes look exclusive. If it looks cheap, then go by your gut and investigate further to see if this is perhaps a fake.

Good, name brand perfumes invest in packaging your perfume in good boxes. The outside print or label does not easily tear or fade. The store where you are buying your perfume will also give you an indication of whether a perfume is genuine.

How to Get Expensive Perfume for Cheap? [With 3 Tips!]

This brings us to the most important question of all: Where and how do I get expensive perfume for cheap?

1. Buy Perfume Online

If you are looking to save some money when trying to buy perfume, the best option really is to buy it online.

Buying perfume online can help you save anywhere from 10% to even 70% especially during Black Friday sales! Moreover, you can get it delivered anywhere in the world! You can get access to more than 400 international perfume brands when purchasing it online.

There are several different websites where you can buy perfume online at a discounted price. One of the biggest concerns that you might have when buying perfume online is whether the perfume you get is fake or real.

While, it is indeed true that there are a lot of sites that sell fake products, but you can definitely rely on at least the following websites –

  1. FragranceNet.com
  2. FragranceX.com
  3. Sephora.com

2. Buy a Travel Coffret

Another option could be to buy a perfume travel coffret.

A perfume coffret is a discovery set of popular perfumes and ideal for travel purposes. Each coffret comes with three to five bottles of the brand’s top-selling perfume. These are usually sample-size, and allow you to discover a perfume before paying for a full sized version.

Apart from being perfectly suited for travel purposes, it is also a great way to get multiple bottles of the same brand before spending a lot of money for a single bottle.

3. Get a Fragrance Subscription

Another great way to save money when purchasing perfumes is to get a fragrance subscription.

A fragrance subscription services allows you to try out multiple different fragrances every single month for a small fee. Sometimes, a subscription service may also give you a discount code to buy a full-sized bottle.

A fragrance subscription is great as you not only get help to select the right perfume as per your personality and preferences but also it allows you to stay updated about the newest perfume trends. A perfume subscription will also ensure that you get a genuine product from the brand.

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