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Fragrances, also known as perfumes, are generally a combination of fragrance oils and an odorless solvent. The fragrance oils, aromatic compounds typically natural essential oils and/or perfume oils, give the fragrance its scent. Fragrance oils can be either from plants or animals (usually refered to as "essential oils" or EO) or synthetic man-made oils ("fragrance oils" or FO). The odorless solvent, typically ethanol or a mix of water and ethanol, carries the fragrance oils. The ratio of fragrance oil to solvent determines what the fragrance compound is called.

  • Perfume or Perfume Extrait: 15% to 40% fragrance oils, typically 20%
  • Eau de Parfum (EdP): 15% to 30%, typically 15%
  • Eau de Toilette (EdT): 5 to 15%, typically 10%
  • Eau de Cologne, or simply Cologne: 3% to 5%
  • Eau de Solide: about 1%

These names are not regulated, and are not always indicative of stronger or weaker scents. For example, an Eau de Toilette may not always be stronger in scent than an Eau de Cologne. The exact quantity and blend of fragrance oils will determine how long the fragrance lasts (longevity), and how far it projects away from you for others to smell it (sillage).

A fragrance that comes in multiple versions, like EdP and EdT, or in a regular version and an "intense" version, may just a difference in the strength, or it may be a completely different fragrance with different fragrance oils. While the stronger fragrances are typically made to market to ladies, there are some that are made to market to men or to both (unisex). There is nothing inherently masculine or feminine about a fragrance other than cultural and personal associations.

Sampling Fragrances

Fragrances are even more subjective than blades; what one person may think smells marvellous, may force another to recoil in horror. This isn't just a result of the formulation of the fragrance, it is also depedent upon a person's taste, cultural referents, and skin chemistry. The same fragrance can smell quite different on two people.

For this reason, it is recommended to, wherever practicable, try before you buy. Many department stores, for example, will have a fragrance counter where you can sample the tester bottles. You can either spray directly on to your skin (recommended), or on to a small piece of card kept at the counter for this purpose.

After spraying, remember to walk around for a while to let the scent develop on your skin before committing. You may enjoy the top notes, but find that as it settles, it becomes less appealing. Or, conversely, the immediate effect may be quite harsh, but it may settle gracefully and you find that, after half an hour or so, you are quite taken with it.

If you don't have ready access to a fragrance counter, many online establishments sell decants; 1-5ml, typically, of scents decanted from full bottles that you can try at home without having to commit to a 50 or 100ml blind buy.

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