Aftershave vs Cologne: what is the difference?

To get you started on the road to scent success, here's a T3 explainer

Colognes and aftershaves
(Image credit: Getty)

It's a well-known fact that our olfactive memories are just as powerful as our visual or auditory ones. In other words, when you meet someone, they are just as likely to remember how you smell as they are the shoes you wear or the things you say.

Thing is, you want to make sure you're remembered for the right reasons, and not because you reek like a teenager who splashed on too much aftershave for prom. Often that comes down to choosing the right fragrance in the right concentration. 

But even if you recognise some of the terms on the bottle, what's the difference between aftershave and cologne, or cologne and eau de toilette, or perfume and cologne? 

To get you started on the road to scent success, here's a T3 explainer…

Then, once you've finished reading this, check out T3's guide to the best men’s fragrances and colognes for more tips and recommendations.

What Is Aftershave?

The history of aftershave is as fascinating as it is fragrant. One of the oldest forms can be traced back to the Romans, who created an antiseptic formula made with medicinal herbs to prevent infection and even death when shaving.

There's probably far less deadly bacteria on your razor (at least, we hope), but aftershave is still used to help soothe and heal the skin after a tidy up. Most are also lightly fragranced with the same notes as a cologne, eau de toilette or parfum, allowing them to be layered to improve longevity.

What Is Cologne?

When it first appeared in the middle ages, eau de cologne (or simply "cologne") was originally formulated as a medicinal water that was ingested for health benefits. While we wouldn't advise knocking back a bottle you find in a department store today, we would endorse it as a solid choice for a summer scent. This is because, despite becoming a catch-all term for any men's fragrance, cologne refers specifically to a perfume with an oil to alcohol concentration of 2-4% (more than aftershave, but less than eau de toilette), typically made with citrus and herbal notes.

Aftershave VS Cologne

When it comes to a good scent, choosing something that stands its ground without being overpowering is paramount. Aftershave and cologne both contain a low concentration of perfumed oils, but that doesn't mean they're the same thing.

"An aftershave has a smaller percentage of perfumed oils than a cologne, but both will give an initial freshness and develop quickly, leaving a subtle trail," explains fragrance expert Sarah Binns (@theperfumepros). 

"Aftershave is intended to be used alongside an eau de toilette or parfum, whereas cologne stands on its own. They were both originally developed to be used liberally, so splashing rather than spraying is the intention.”

Men's fragrances

(Image credit: Hermés)

One To Try: Terre d'Hermès After-Shave Balm

Terre d'Hermes has the kind of trophy cabinet that even Novak Djokovic would be jealous of. Released in 2006, it has won everything from 'Fragrance of the Year' to 'Launch of the Decade', thanks to its blend of citrus, wood, and mineral notes. Amp up the fragrance with the brand's After-Shave Balm for a grand slam of a scent that lasts all day.

Men's fragrances

(Image credit: Acqua di Parma)

One To Try: Acqua Di Parma Colonia Futura

If you ever wondered what the inside of a barbershop along the Arno smells like, it's Acqua Di Parma. An updated version of the Italian brand's Colonia fragrance (ADP's signature scent), Colonia Futura is a vibrant scent created from 99% natural-origin ingredients, including Sicilian fruit, pink pepper and clary sage. It even comes housed in a recyclable bottle, so you can smell good and do good at the same time.

Shopping for the woman in your life? Check out the guide to the best women's perfumes.

Luke Todd