Cologne vs Eau de toilette: what is the difference?

To ensure you hit the sweet (smelling) spot, here's a brief explainer about the difference between two of the most common concentrations: cologne and eau de toilette

Cologne vs Eau de toilette
(Image credit: Getty)

Fragrances may be invisible when worn, but they have a lot of sway when it comes to how others view you. No pressure, then. Aside from how the juice smells – which is dictated by its ingredients, also known as ‘notes’, in the trade – finding the correct concentration is essential. Too light, and it'll be gone before you’re out the door. Too intense, and it can leave everyone within a mile radius feeling like they just huffed glue. 

To ensure you hit the sweet (smelling) spot in-between, ahead is a brief explainer about the difference between two of the most common concentrations: cologne and eau de toilette. Tell your fellow commuters they can thank us later.

Once you're finished reading this, then head to our best men’s fragrances and colognes for recommendations, and how to choose the right cologne or aftershave for more exert tips.

What is cologne?

Eau de cologne (or simply "cologne") is one of the oldest forms of perfume in the Western world, dating back as far as the 14th century. Though today the term is often misused to describe any masculine scent, it refers specifically to a low-concentration fragrance containing just 2-4% oils, diluted predominantly with alcohol. 

That doesn't mean colognes aren't worth a sniff, though. They are typically created using citrus and herbal notes, including bergamot, grapefruit, lavender and neroli, making them brilliantly bright, fresh and incredibly easy to wear.

What is eau de toilette?

Despite translating literally to "toilet water", a well-picked eau de toilette is anything but a stinker. One of the most popular and accessible forms of fragrance, they typically contain a 10% oil concentration, placing eau de toilette somewhere between eau de cologne and eau de parfum both in terms of strength and price. 

Fresh top notes such as citrus are usually given centre stage, with richer ingredients like cedarwood and amber brought in at the base as a supporting act.

Cologne vs eau de toilette: what's the difference?

Attempting to memorise the difference between cologne and eau de toilette (and aftershave and cologne, and cologne and perfume) is enough to give you a headache before you even start sniffing scents.

"The main difference is the concentration and therefore the lasting power," explains Alex Goddard, training manager at Italian fragrance house Acqua di Parma. "A traditional eau de cologne will usually last up to two hours and an eau de toilette up to four hours."

That said, Goddard doesn't suggest putting too much emphasis on the words on the bottle. "Different fragrance strengths are associated with different types of raw material, and different types of raw material typically have different lasting powers."

In a nutshell, what smells you like will ultimately dictate which one you go for and how long your fragrance will last. Just remember to adjust how much you apply, and how often, to the strength of your fragrance. 

Men's fragrances

(Image credit: Maurer & Wirtz)

One To Try: Maurer & Wirtz 4711 Original Eau de Cologne

Arguably the most famous cologne in the world, 4711 is widely recognised as one of the oldest fragrances still in production. Launched in 1792, it's an uplifting blend of citrus fruits and aromatic herbs, making it ideal for the office or summer holidays. You'll need to reapply it often, but at less the price than a round of drinks, you can easily afford to. 

Men's fragrances

(Image credit: Dior)

One To Try: Dior Sauvage Eau de Toilette

An instant classic 10 years in the making, Dior Sauvage was released in 2015 and didn't take long to establish itself as the UK's bestselling fragrance. Inside, crisp bergamot and spicy pepper are rounded out with lavender and geranium for a juice that's strong but not overpowering. Plus, the brand has just launched a handy refill bottle to cut down on packaging.

If you're shopping for the woman in your life, then take a look at our list of the best women's fragrances.

Luke Todd