Last Updated: May 29, 2017 | This Article May Contain Affiliate Links

Pop Quiz: Do Know The Difference Between Aftershave, Cologne, & Eau de Toilette?

In the world of men’s fragrances, it’s easy to get lost in the differences between body sprays, aftershave balms, colognes, eau de toilettes, and even simply a stick of antiperspirant.

But to be quite honest, you wouldn’t be the first guy, nor will you ever be the last to confuse these products!

To break it all down for you, we wanted to put together this handy primer that will clear up some of the misinformation that is often floated around in forums and other sites on how some of these really common (nearly everyday) products get mixed up.

To put it simply: each of these common products serves its own unique purpose and should not be confused.

1. The Core Purposes of Aftershaves vs. Cologne & Eau de Toilette

Everyone knows what aftershave is, but do they know was it does and how to use it?

Aftershave is the most versatile in the group and it serves two distinct purposes – and those are:

  1. Contains an astringent, which closes your pores to minimize any bacterial infections you could get from cuts or open wounds post shave.
  2. Provides some nice hydration to keep your skin from drying out.

The bonus of aftershave is it often comes in nice smelling scents leaving you feeling fresh and clean.

But here’s the kicker:

There are different versions of aftershave which can leave you wondering which one to use and which one works best.

We’ll get into that a little later but for now just remember that aftershave fragrance won’t last long so don’t count on it being there past a few hours.

That’s where cologne and eau de toilette come in.

Cologne is purely aromatic.

It doesn’t provide any health or skin benefits like aftershave but it is meant to keep you smelling good throughout your day.

Cologne is a great everyday spray to wear to keep you smelling clean.  When wearing cologne make sure during the day that the scent is kept light and airy, and during the night go for something with a deeper musk.

If you need a scent to last longer than your go-to cologne, eau de toilette is the stuff to buy.

Eau de toilette is a much more concentrated version of cologne.

Like cologne, it doesn’t provide any skin benefits but it will last the longest.  The concentration allows you to use less at a time and still smell just as strong.


2. Base Ingredients Can Vary Between Products

One thing to watch out for are different ingredients in all three of these items.

Aftershaves will always have an astringent to help close your pores and keep infections out.

Within the aftershave category, there are three different kinds.

Aftershaves come in splashes, lotions, and balms.

Most likely, you probably are already familiar with the worse kind of aftershave – the splash variant.

We hate to tell you, but that splash needs to go in the trash (corny I know :-))!

The astringent property found in splashes are normally derived from alcohol.

Alcohol can dry your skin out leading to ashy cheeks and general skin irritation throughout the day.

Ever cut yourself from shaving?

The alcohol found in an aftershave splash is going to burn that cut like a wildfire.

No one wants to wince and cringe when using aftershave – especially at 6:30 in the morning.

A better option is an aftershave balm (lotions typically also contain alcohol as well).

Balms are thicker than a splash and contain much more moisturizing ingredients to keep your skin irritation free and hydrated.

Another bonus to the balms is the astringent they rely on.

Instead of using alcohol, balms use witch hazel.  Witch hazel naturally cleans and protects the skin without the strong burn that alcohol gives.

Aftershave has a hand up because colognes do not contain ingredients that are meant to help close wounds from shaving.

Most colognes contain alcohol and fragrance.

The “fragrance” term is an umbrella term that can contain upwards of 5,000 different chemicals.  Most of these chemicals are rated quite hazardous by the EWG.  Because of this, it should be used sparingly and never come into contact with any open wound you have.

Eau de toilettes also contain alcohol but with a higher concentration of fragrance or perfume oil.

The alcohol in colognes and eau de toilettes is concerning because alcohol can dry out and irritate your skin.  If you are using cologne or eau de toilettes, make sure to spray it sparingly and never use it on your neck immediately after shaving (red blotches may appear if you do so).

If you haven’t already looked up what the ingredients in your cologne are, you can search each ingredient to find what it is and how harmful it is on the EWG website (a great resource for buying any grooming product).

If you are concerned about the ingredients in your favorite cologne, look for one that contains natural ingredients.

It may not last as long, but it won’t be as harmful to your skin.

scent strength
3. Scent Strength Of Aftershaves, Colognes, and Eau de Toilettes

Nobody wants to smell like BO.

That’s why all of these great smelling items were made!

But, when you first smell them and they all smell great, how are you supposed to know which one to go with?

You don’t want to smell overpowering but you want people to notice that you smell good.

Aftershave, cologne, and eau de toilette really differ on scent strength.

If you are only going to a morning breakfast, aftershave will work for you.  The scent is not very strong and definitely can’t compete with cologne.

Expect your aftershave to dissipate before lunchtime due to the soft scent from the natural essential oils contained within.

Aftershave should be used more for the shaving benefits than it should for aromatic purposes.

Have a full day of work?  A great smelling cologne would be the best option for you.

Colognes won’t have a problem lasting throughout your day and keeping your smelling great.  If you are wearing cologne in the daytime, always remember to pick something with a light, clean, and fresh smell.

If you’re going out at night, use something with a heavy musk or spice.

Cologne can be used on a daily basis and will keep you smelling great.

Cologne is strong but if you only use 1-2 sprays you won’t smell like your Grandpa Fred that likes bathes in sandalwood each morning and knocks over an entire room when he walks through (sorry Gramps!).

Eau de toilette can last even longer than cologne due to its high concentration of fragrance.

If you use eau de toilette make sure to use it sparingly so you aren’t left with something too overpowering.

Eau de toilettes are a great option for a party or the long nights out to ensure you will still smell great when shredding up the dance floor.  Aim to put a small drop of eau de toilette on your wrists and side of your neck for the longest lasting scent.

traveling with a safety razor

4. Travel Considerations

Traveling sucks – especially when it comes to grooming products.

Aftershaves can be hard to take on a plane.  Most of them come in larger sizes that just can’t be put into your carryon or any other hand held bag that is with you.

Don’t delay your security check by forgetting to put your aftershave in your checked luggage.

If you aren’t checking a bag but desperately need your aftershave, pack a few days worth in an appropriately sized travel bottle.

Colognes are great to travel with because most colognes come in under the TSA required 3.4 ounces.  If you carry a larger bottle of cologne, you could buy the travel version of your cologne, which usually is around a one-ounce bottle.

However, if you don’t want to have to worry about the bottle breaking or it leaking onto your clothes, solid colognes are a great option.

A solid cologne comes in a hardened wax like state that you rub your fingers in and then apply to your pulse points like your neck and wrist.

Solid colognes come in small sizes so you won’t have to compromise bringing it on your flight.


5. Budgetary Restraints For Your Next Aftershave Balm, Cologne, or Eau de Toilette

Budget is something we always have to consider.

No one wants to be hitting their overdraft protection threshold by trying to look and smell their best.

One of the great things about aftershave is that it is incredibly affordable to use.

The downside of aftershave is because you most likely shave on a daily basis, you run out of your favorite stuff fairly quickly.  You’ll most likely have to replace your bottle pretty often and the scent just can’t compare to your go to cologne or eau de toilette.

If you are in it for the scent strength, aftershave is not the best buy for your money. Colognes will last a lot longer than your aftershave and they come at a price that can be bought on any budget.  The prices of cologne can vary a lot depending on the brand and size you get.

You can find a cheap bottle of cologne for around $20 or if you’ve got the cash flow, a few hundred dollars for the highest luxury brand.

Find a few different scents that you like and they are bound to last for a few months or up to a year.  If you want something to smell even stronger, don’t be fooled by eau de toilettes smaller size.

They may look small compared to the big bottle of cologne but because they are highly concentrated, you only have to use a small amount so they will last just as long as your cologne bottle. These too come in a myriad of prices so they are affordable for anyone.

Shawn Burns | @toolsofmen

Hi, I'm Shawn! A beard and shave enthusiast! I am an aspiring writer that wants to give guys great tips on how to pick up better grooming habits!From beard oil to using a double edge safety razor (yes I do get rid of my beard every now and again), I wanted to create this site where readers can get great information about men's grooming.

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