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A Guide to Terminology in Fragrances
Have you ever bought a fragrance and thought it smelled different than when you bought it before? It may be because fragrances come in different concentrations of the aromatic compounds that constitute them. Here’s what you need to know about fragrance strengths.
If you tried to use the scent-yielding compounds in perfumes full-strength, they would probably burn your skin! So they are buffered with carrier oils and alcohols to make up the products you use. The higher the concentration of aromatic compounds in the product, the higher its price.
Most terms used in the world of fragrances are French, since most perfumeries originated in France.
The Basic Fragrance Strengths
Parfum (pahr-FUHM, with a short u), sometimes called Extrait de Parfum (ex-TRAY duh pahr-FUHM), is the strongest concentration of compounds. But even within this designation, they can vary from 15% to 40% of the liquid. You may on occasion see the term Essence de Parfum (ess-AHNCE duh pahr-FUHM) used; this will have between 15% to 30% aromatic compounds.
One step down from the parfums is Eau de Parfum (OH duh pahr-FUHM). These typically are 10% to 20% aromatic compounds. Many women’s fragrances come in this strength. Eau is the French word for water.
Lighter than Eau de Parfum is Eau de Toilette (OH duh twa-LET). These are from 5% to 15% aromatic compounds.
Lightest of all is Eau de Cologne (OH duh cuh-LOAN), the most dilute form of a fragrance. These are made up of 3% to 8% aromatic compounds. Many men’s fragrances are found this strength. You will find a lot of the fragrances based on citrus notes in this strength, as well.
Often, a full line of fragrances may include multiple strengths that feature nuances between the standard divisions of concentration. If the name of the fragrance includes these terms, it denotes this difference:
Légère (lay-JHAIR) is used to describe a lighter, softer version of a fragrance, meaning the concentration of aromatics will be toward the lower end of the range for its strength.
L'Absolu (lahb-so-LUE) and Intense (ann-TAHNSE) are two different terms used to denote a stronger, more potent version of a fragrance. These will have concentrations of aromatics toward the higher end of the range for their strength, but not high enough to move them up to the next tier of strength.
Concentré (cone-sahn-TRAY) is a term used only by Chanel for its men’s eau de toilette lines to indicate a stronger concentration of aromatics. These fragrances have an intensity and longevity more like an eau de parfum.
What are Notes in Fragrances?
You’ll often hear fragrances described as having three distinct phases that emerge as you wear it. These are known as notes.
Top Notes are the aromas you notice when you first apply the fragrance, the first impression you get from it. They are also known as opening or head notes. These are light scents that fade more rapidly. They are often citrus or herbal essences.
Middle, or Heart, Notes are what you smell once the top notes have evaporated. These last longer and tend to be smoother, possible including florals or fruity aromas, or even spices.
Base Notes are the final lingering traces of the fragrance. These are the longest-lasting aromas in the mixture, and may be noticeable for several hours after you first apply the fragrance. Typical base note essences include woods, vanilla, musk, or mosses.
To fully experience a fragrance, you will need to wear it for a little while to discover all three of its notes.
Now, don’t you feel smarter and more worldly? You are at least better able to compare fragrances when shopping!
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