ad Do you know your aftershave for your eau de cologne? Do you know the difference between a unisex fragrance and a perfume for men? Did you even know perfume for men was a thing?

Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash

The market for men’s fragrances has boomed in recent years. Rather than just relying on that one bottle of aftershave they get for Christmas, a lot of men have started to take fragrances seriously. That means delving deeper into the options available, and exploring options at the more luxurious end of the scale, too.

If you feel a little left behind with just how much choice there is available for men these days, never fear. In this quick and easy guide, we’ll explain the differences between all the main fragrance options out there for the modern gentleman – and end with a fantastic hack for sampling a wide range of them for very little cost.

Let’s start with the one everyone knows about. Or at least they think they do…


Ok, so most guys probably know that aftershave isn’t just about smelling nice. It also serves another purpose, i.e. to help calm the irritation caused by shaving. Most aftershaves traditionally had an alcohol base. Alcohol serves as an astringent which both disinfects post-shaving cuts and sores and helps them to heal. Many modern aftershaves use other products like witch hazel that do a similar job.

Alcohol is also a perfect base for dissolving aromatic essential oils. It is widely used in fragrance making. So it makes perfect sense to add pleasant-smelling volatile oils to aftershave to give it a dual purpose.

Concentrations of aromatic oils in aftershave are generally pretty low, in the region of 1% to 3%. That means the scent wears off in a couple of hours, less than other fragrance products.

Eau de Cologne

Cologne and aftershave are often used interchangeably as generic terms for male fragrances. But while there are similarities, their origins are quite different. Cologne was, surprise surprise, first developed in the German city of Koln (Cologne in French) in the early 1700s. Although it is alcohol based like many aftershaves , Cologne is first and foremost intended to be a fragrance. It therefore contains a higher concentration of essential oils (up to 7%) which gives it a richer, longer lasting fragrance.

Eau de Toilette

If you’re thinking, hang on a moment, eau de toilette – that’s women’s perfume… well that’s actually not true. Eau de toilette, or EDT, is nowadays a term used by fragrance manufacturers to state the concentration of aromatic oils in a product, typically between 10% and 15%.

That means EDT is more strongly scented and lasts longer than cologne. But there is nothing to say that concentration of aroma makes one more suitable for men and the other for women. An EDT for men just means a more concentrated fragrance than a cologne.

Incidentally, EDT often gets mistranslated as ‘toilet water’. But toilet and the French word ‘toilette’, which used to be widely used in English too, have different meanings. The old fashioned phrase ‘to be at one’s toilette’ means to wash and beautify yourself. Nothing to do with toilet in the modern sense!

Eau de Parfum

There’s no confusion with translations here – parfum is French for perfume. But again, if you are immediately thinking perfume is woman’s fragrance, that’s only because of convention. Eau de parfum is simply the term used for even more concentrated fragrances, all the way up to 20% aromatic oils. That means eau de parfums are richer, more intense and last considerably longer than other categories of fragrance.

They are also more expensive. And if you really want to push the boat out, you can look for extrait de parfum, which can have concentrations of up to 30%. While these are considered real luxury fragrances, the pay off is that you only need to use a very small amount at a time and they will last all day – much longer than any aftershave, no matter how liberally you apply it.

Unisex fragrances

So whether a fragrance is classified as an eau de cologne, eau de toilette or eau de parfum, it doesn’t necessarily say anything about whether it is a fragrance for men or women. It’s simply an indication of how concentrated a fragrance is. You can find scents for men in each of these categories.

The same goes for unisex fragrances. Unisex fragrances are designed to appeal to both men and women. What that usually means is that they are fairly ‘neutral’ in their aromas, focusing on fresh, zesty scents without veering into territory traditionally associated with male or female. Or they will play around with those associations, for example by mixing ‘masculine’ musky, spicy scents with floral notes to create something different.

Men’s aftershave samples

Now that you’ve got a better idea of what all the different categories mean when you shop for men’s fragrances, here’s a great trick. If you want to try examples of them all to compare and see which works best for you, you don’t have to spend a fortune. Shop for men’s aftershave samples and you can buy a whole range of sample sized bottles of different scents for the cost of a single full sized bottle of cologne or EDT.


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