A fragrance expert explains eau de toilette vs parfum to make summer scent shopping easy

Eau de toilette vs parfum: what's the difference, which lasts longest and which should you choose?

Two bottles of perfume - eau de toilette vs parfum on a blue and pink background with flowers
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

If you're weighing up eau de toilette vs parfum, that probably means you are thinking about buying a fragrance - lucky you! Few beauty purchases are more enjoyable than picking a new signature scent, whether you do so every season or once in a blue moon.

While most of us enjoy buzzing between beauty counters spritzing this and misting that, pinpointing the best perfume for women can feel intimidating or even downright inprenetrable. Much like the world of wine, huge swathes of people love fragrance, but there is a snobbishness around those considered to be 'perfume experts' that can put the rest of us off even trying to get to grips with it. 

Don't let snooty attitudes stop you learning about perfume notes or why your best vanilla perfume makes you feel all warm and fuzzy (hint: olfactory memories) The basics of perfume, are just that - basic - and they start with understanding strength. So let's get into it. Day one, lesson one: eau de toilette vs parfum. It'll make scent shopping an easier and more joyful experience forever. 

Eau de toilette vs parfum, by a fragrance expert

What's the difference between eau de toilette vs parfum?

In a word, power. "The strength of a fragrance is dependent on the amount of perfume oil used. This oil is mixed with alcohol to create the intensity; the more oil, the stronger the scent," explains perfume expert and The Fragrance Shop's Senior Brand Manager Hollie Race. "Eau de toilette is the lighter of the two, usually including between 5-15% of essential perfume oil and lasts around four to seven hours. On the other hand, eau de parfum usually has around 10-20% perfume oil and so is a much stronger blend. These fragrances can last up to eight hours." 

There is another strength, often found used in the finest, most long lasting perfume. "Pure parfum is the highest concentration of fragrance available - usually between 15-30% perfume oil - and is enough to make the scent potent, noticeable and last all day."

Is eau de parfum better than eau de toilette?

This is debatable. If you're judging eau de toilette vs parfum purely on strength and lasting power, then it's one-nill to parfum. However, the choice also comes down to personal taste, how well composed the scent is and even the time of year. 

"Lighter, softer scents can definitely pack a punch, as sometimes it's just that slight waft of fragrance that can create an impact. In fact, many lighter fragrances are actually more interesting since it requires a certain amount of measured restraint to make a soft scent," explains Race.

"Lighter fragrances can also be more captivating as scents for summer as the increased heat causes a heightened smell. Pair this with sweat and oily skin magnifying the perfume, it may not be the best time to choose a strong fragrance that becomes too much too quickly." This is why so many floral fragrances or the light eau de cologne-style of the best Jo Malone perfumes make such popular warm-weather scents. 

Does parfum last longer on the skin?

"Usually it is the case that eau de parfum lasts longer," agrees Race, "but there can be different factors that affect longevity, such as:

  • Oiliness of the skin: "Generally speaking, perfumes don’t like staying around on dry skin, oilier skin retains fragrance better. This is because the natural oils form stronger bonds with the essential oils and synthetic molecules in the fragrance." 
  • How you apply: "We see a lot of people rub their wrists together after applying perfume. Because fragrances are layered in complex combinations, the heat and friction released during that action break the formula up and actually shorten its lasting power. We’d recommend spritzing fragrance on your main pulse points (neck, wrists, throat, earlobes and inside elbows) and leaving it to settle on your skin, for maximum potency." 
  • Using body products: "One way to improve longevity is to make the skin oilier, a hack for this is applying Vaseline to the spots where you are going to spray perfume, like a primer" explains Race. Any of your best lip balms work in much the same way, as will oil-rich body creams.

Which perfume style expires more quickly?

Perfume bottles on a blue background with flowers

(Image credit: Getty images)

Do perfumes expire faster if they have fewer fragrance oils? It's complicated, says Race, "Perfumes don’t have a set expiry date and can last anywhere between one and ten years. However, three to five years is the average. Perfumes with high alcohol content tend to last the longest as the alcohol acts as a preservative and prevents the aromatic molecules from oxidising."

Technically, this means that the battle for the longest shelf life between eau de toilette vs parfum should be won by EDT, with its lower concentration of perfume oils thus higher alcohol content. However, there's more to it, such as how well the fragrance is made, what notes it contains and how you take care of it. 

"Perfumes that are stored correctly will last much longer than those that are not" agrees Race. "Keep perfume away from light, which can break down the molecules of a fragrance making it prone to oxidation. Heat can affect the chemical makeup of fragrance, so store your scent collection in a cool, dry place (ideally below 15 degrees Celsius) and out of direct sunlight." 

To preserve your precious perfume, Race also advises, "Keep using it until the bottle is empty: When half empty, the oxygen inside increases the risk of alteration. If you have an extensive perfume wardrobe, rotate so that the bottles with the lowest amount get used up first and the rest wait in a cupboard or a drawer."

Eau de toilette vs parfum: w&h verdict

As with so many of these little beauty battles (see: foundation vs concealer or waxing vs shaving) this isn't a clear cut case of one being better than the other. 

If you want a stronger and longer-lasting fragrance, then parfum may be the way to go, although these do tend to be more expensive and, as Race notes, could feel a bit full-on during summer months or on warm vacations. 

Eau de toilette, while not being as long lasting, has a soft appeal that suits warm weather, or anyone who wants to refresh their perfume without tickling the nostrils of those sitting near them. They are also generally less expensive, albeit a little less luxurious. 

Regardless of which you choose, you have the power to make your perfume go the distance. Take good care of your scent, apply it properly and you'll smell sweet for years to come. 

Fiona McKim
Beauty Editor, womanandhome.com

 As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about brilliant finds on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus). Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013 under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism). She has since covered every corner of the industry, from interviewing dermatologists and celebrities to reporting backstage at Fashion Week and judging the w&h Beauty Awards.