Oil vs. Alcohol

There's a common belief that perfume oils are stronger and longer-lasting than perfume sprays, and that if there is a choice, you should always go for the oil. 

I hate to break it to you, but that's too good to be true. It's a misconception stemming from the fact that both fragrance oils (the scented materials themselves) and fragrances set in oil (what you get in rollerballs) are both referred to as "perfume oils." Naturally, you're inclined to think that a perfume oil would have more fragrance oil in it. Unfortunately, that's rarely the case. If a perfume is available as an oil and an alcohol-based spray, they usually contain the same concentration of fragrance oil. So in terms of value, oils and sprays are pretty much on par.

So what's the difference, and how do you choose? It comes down to personal preference. Oils and alcohols interact with fragrance materials in completely different ways, which is why a perfume oil and a perfume spray will never smell the same, even though the fragrance composition is identical. It's like looking at a photo of something versus a painting of it.


Here's a quick breakdown of the key differences:

• Alcohol base (ethanol, sometimes mixed with water)
• Typically the more expensive option (bigger volume, a custom bottle) 
• Strong projection—the alcohol helps the fragrance molecules evaporate around you
• Makes certain ingredients sharper and more perceptible, so you can pick up on different notes at different times (top, middle, base, etc.)
• Overall effect is that of an evolving narrative—experiencing the notes individually, seeing how they change on your skin

• Oil base (a neutral and odourless carrier oil, like fractionated coconut or jojoba)
• Usually the more affordable option (a travel-friendly amount, in a bottle that's easier to produce)
• Subtle projection—the oil keeps the fragrance close to the skin, like a secret
• Softens the composition and mutes some of the top notes, so you get a more constant "scent" that's a little blurrier in terms of what goes in it
• Overall effect is that of a mood—experiencing the scent composition as a whole


Ultimately, it's about how much you want the world to smell you. If you prefer something that has a strong sillage, a scent that trails behind you, go with a spray. And every time you check in on it, it'll smell like something slightly different.

But if you want something more intimate, or something subtle that won't trigger your coworkers' allergies, go for a perfume oil—what you'll get is a scent that's subtle but consistent. 


Photo credit: Myth and Symbol