Understanding Perfume Concentrations: Extraits, Eau de Parfum & Cologne

Perfume Concentration and Strengths: 

The word Perfume came via Latin ‘per fumum’ from ancient civilisations, meaning ‘through smoke’, as early unctions were made by heating materials for ceremonies and rituals.

By the 20th century Perfume was a whole industry and much of the action happened in France, and so, perfume names and concentrations were traditionally written in French. They have gradually become more Anglicised as America became the bigger market, but concentrations are mostly still in French.

The strongest dilution of perfume today is generally referred to as  ‘Parfum’ (perfume or pure perfume) or ‘Extrait de Parfum’(extract of perfume). In the first half of the 20th century, these were distinct categories, now they are used interchangeably. 

Natural Perfumers and Artisan Perfumers tend to use considerably higher concentrations than the mass-market alternatives.

Parfum:15%-40% aromatic compounds.Extrait de Parfum: is now usually the same, (originally, it was up to 45%).

The next highest dilution is Eau de Parfum and the male equivalent is Cologne Intense. The concentration, between 15%-35%. As the name implies, water was traditionally added to the alcohol, to give a weaker, and less expensive perfume. Some houses still use a little water, but most use other solvents too and instead. 
see Common Solvents (below).
Eau De Toilette is often made by the larger houses as a cheaper alternative (using a different formula from Extrait and Eau de Parfum). It also varies in concentration and can be from 2%-15%. Cologne/ Eau de Cologne is the male perfume equivalent.
A relatively new dilution, now very popular, is Eau Fraîche (fresh water), the male equivalent is After-shave spray. This tends to be marketed as a light scent, to be re-applied throughout the day. It contains just 1%-3% perfume concentrate - again, a different formulation from that used for the more expensive versions.
In the last few years, there has been a desire to wear lighter perfumes that won’t distract people working/eating/travelling in the same space. Although the better option, for an unobtrusive scent, would be to wear an oil-based perfume, or a Parfum/Extrait as these are less volatile. However the big houses have answered this plea with a perfume product called a ‘Splash’ or ‘Body Splash’ with an even lighter dilution of up to 1% concentrate. These tend to be made with very strong aroma chemicals, so the initial spray can seem strong, but will fade quickly. It is very unlikely to be the same formula as is used for the Eau de Parfum.
Our Concentrations are: Parfum/Extrait, Eau de Parfum/Cologne Intense and Cologne concentrations.
In summary:
  • Parfum/Extrait – 15-35% (Mass Market) 20-40% (Natural/Niche/Artisan).
  • E deP/Cologne Intense: 10-20% (Mass Market) 15-35% (Natural/Niche/Artisan).
  • Eau de Toilette/de Cologne: 2-10% Mass Market 7-15% Natural/Niche/Artisan).
  • Eau Fraîche/Aftershave: 0.5 -2% (Mass Market) 0.5-2% (Natural/Niche/Artisan)
  • Splash/Body Splash: 0.5-1% (Mass Market) up to 1.5% (Natural/Niche/Artisan).
  • Note: Much of the attraction in producing a diluted perfume, is price. It is cheaper to fill a bottle with a solvent instead of expensive oils. But… there are other important considerations too. The pre-1960s era had relatively few restrictions on the use of perfumery materials. Since then there has been an ever increasing list, including a ban on using animal-derived materials and rare and endangered plants (hurrah). As we have access to better quality, research, so the ingredients that cause them are further controlled.
    Perfumers all largely take instruction from the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) an international trade body, set up in 1973. (There are some that don’t, and some that do, but are quite grumpy about it - but no space to extrapolate why here…). Suffice to say that It isn’t compulsory to join, but few outlets will sell perfumes that don’t comply with their Code of Practice, which are updated regularly. So putting a high concentration of perfume into a bottle takes an awful lot of careful planning as it is very easy to fall outside IFRA approved limits for some of the tightly regulated components - some, commonly used and beautifully scented were unrestricted in 1980s, now limited to 0.02%.
    So, whilst a stronger dilution often results in a more complex, longer lasting scent, it must be safe to use. The renegade perfumers who choose to work outside IFRA limits, some with a huge following for their bottled art, must ask their customers to understand and agree that they are buying art and if they choose to wear it, well…Que sera, sera!
    Common Solvents (alongside ethanol):
     Dipropylene Glycol (DPG) is moisturising and it can stabilise some fragrance oils.
    Iso Propyl myristate (IPM) is used as an emollient and moisturiser, but performs poorly in perfume containing high levels of terpenes. It is used instead of ethanol (or oil) in alcohol-free perfumes.
    Propylene Glycol: has good solubility and can adjust the viscosity of a perfume. Diethyl Phthalate (DEP): can improve the oil-bending in a perfume and give the oils a longer shelf-life. 

    The Oils

    Jojoba and Fractionated Coconut oils: We use these two oils in our alcohol-free perfumes for the following reasons:
    • they are stable and so perfume will not oxidise easily. Jojoba is probably the closest oil, in composition, to the oil in our skin, so it is well-tolerated and not greasy.
    • As they are non-volatile, the perfume will be more discrete and longer lasting.
    • Scent evenly distributes in jojoba oil.
    • Some essential oils, used in natural perfumery, are water-soluble, so do not remain stable in most oils. However, fractionated coconut oil has had its long-chain fatty acids removed, leaving just medium-chain triglycerides. It remains liquid at room temperature and is able to solubilise water-soluble compounds.