Fragrance Labels: Decoded


Fragrance shopping should be easy, right? You spray a tester strip, fan it out a little, then purchase if you like what you sniff, right? I wish. If we're being real here, reading beyond the brand on your label overwhelms you with information and questions-- “What are notes? What is ‘eau de toilette’? Is ‘parfum’ the same as perfume? Why can’t these labels just be in English? Why is this one more expensive if the bottle is smaller?”


I get it, we live in a visual world. But guys, the bottles of your favorite fragrance are more than just chic packaging. We outta pay attention to what we're really reading.



Fashionistas, put the scent strips and frustrating labels down, and read closely. Here is the vocabulary you need to print out/screenshot and take with you on your next stroll through the fragrance department.






Types of Perfumes (explained in English):


espirit de parfum: Not too many perfume companies and brands offer this expensive, strongly-concentrated scent (30% fragrance oil), but they are becoming more popular!


perfume (aka ‘extrait de parfum’): These contain about 20% fragrance oil. After the rare

espirit de parfum, they linger the longest, are the most expensive, and usually come in the smallest bottles.


eau de parfum: These contain 10-15% fragrance oil, but tend to be the most noticeable at first whiff. They’re great for a date, but may smell a bit overbearing or “alcohol-like” in everyday settings.


eau de toilette: These contain five-10% fragrance oil, and are the most popular for everyday use. They’re light and tend to cost less than parfum. Reapplication is recommended about halfway through the day.


body mist (aka “brume de parfum” or “voile de parfum”): These sprays are meant for everyday body use but need to be reapplied very frequently to have any effect at all. They share a fragrance oil concentration (one to eight percent) with other diluted body liquids like aftershave and “body splashes”. In other words, Fashionistas, don’t waste your money—the scent of your burrito lunch will linger longer than these.





Even if you’re completely oblivious about fragrance, I’m sure you know that no perfume is made from 100% of one scent! Fun fact: there’s a word for that combination of scents! “Notes” are the separate scents within a fragrance that blend into the perfume you know and love. These are not just random ingredients in the perfume’s description. They provide more info than you think! Besides telling you what the perfume smells like overall, notes describe how the fragrance lingers on the body over time.


Top notes are what you smell first. It’s what you get a whiff of when you initially wave the tester paper in front of your nose, or first spray it on your wrist. However, don’t be fooled!—these scents disappear 30 minutes after application.


Middle notes are the backbone of the fragrance. They serve as a diluent for the base notes, which might not smell as pleasant or floral on their own. These fade in 1-3 hours.


Base notes are nearly undetectable until at least an hour after application, but are the most crucial! They’re what you smell after the other notes have worn off, until you reapply and start the short chemistry process over again. Unless you love the lighter notes so much that you’re willing to reapply every few hours, make sure the base notes create a scent you can live with!




Go take a look at any perfumes you may have bought based on the amateur spritz of the wrist—any terms look familiar now? It’s up to you to determine which scent combinations you prefer for yourself, but now you can decode fragrance labels like a pro!

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