Fragrance Notes: Everything You Need to Know
Fragrances are an important accessory for any look. From your signature scent to perfumes for special occasions, fragrances can help complete a look and help us feel more confident.
Just like personalities, fragrances are made up of individual notes that when combined, present an aromatic perfume with depth.
This guide will take you through all you need to know about fragrance notes and perfumery.
Perfume notes – what are they?
Perfume notes are the individual ingredients that make up the whole fragrances. They can be natural scents or synthetically created molecules. With the technology on offer, it is now possible to create almost any smell.
Perfume makers are experts in selecting smells that when paired create an inviting aroma and also one that represents a certain experience or feeling. Each ingredient is carefully selected to blend together to make the perfume accord – the whole character of the fragrance. There can be a wide range of ingredients used or just a small select few notes – but even simple scents will contain at least three notes blended together. It is the perfumer’s job to use individual arrangements of these notes to create a completely unique fragrance.
Notes are split into three areas; top notes, heart notes and base notes to form a ‘fragrance pyramid’. Notes at the top evaporate faster while the base notes last longer.
What are Top Notes?
Top notes, as the name suggests, make up the top layer of a fragrance. They are the smells you detect first after applying a fragrance and so, are the first impression of the whole perfume.
Top notes only last for around five to fifteen minutes. They are usually made up of lighter molecules so that they evaporate quickly and help the scent move into the next part of the fragrance. Their purpose is to create that first introduction to the fragrance story.
Common top note scents include citrus smells such as lemon, orange and bergamot as well as floral notes such as rose and lavender. You may often find basil and anise used as top notes too. Fresh, fruity smells work great as top notes, bursting onto your skin before fading so that heart tones can shine through.
What are Heart Notes?
Heart notes make up the core, mid-tones of the fragrance. The scents of the heart notes have two functions – to add depth whilst carrying some of the scents of the top notes and serve as a buffer for the base notes, which may not smell nice on their own.
Heart notes make up 70% of the total scent, which means they last longer than the top notes (approximately twenty to sixty minutes). These are usually floral and full of body, dominating the fragrance before the long-lasting base notes come in. Heart notes often include floral scents like geranium and jasmine as well as warming and spicy notes such as cinnamon, pepper, lemongrass and cardamom.
What are Base Notes?
Base notes are the foundation of the whole fragrance, helping to add depth and boost the lighter top and heart notes.
Due to their long-lasting nature, base notes are usually quite rich and heavy. They will start to shine after about 30 minutes, working alongside the heart notes and sinking into the skin. Base notes will last for approximately six hours and in some fragrances, even longer. These are the notes that will linger on the skin and the ones you remember most from the fragrance.
Common base notes include amber, musk, patchouli and vanilla as well as wood tones such as sandalwood and cedarwood.
Identifying fragrance notes
The easiest way to identify notes in a perfume is based on the time passed once you apply the fragrance. Top notes are the immediate smells once the perfume hits your skin. These will then fade into the heart notes, forming the essence of the perfume. Base notes are the strong foundation, lasting the longest and are usually the smells you remember most.
The Fragrance Wheel
As one of the most common and popular families in fragrances, the floral scent family is used in many well-known perfumes. Though they are mostly used in women’s fragrances, they are occasionally used in men’s too.
True to the name, the smell is usually fresh-cut flowers and often with a powdery note. Two of the most-loved notes are jasmine and rose which can be found in almost every fragrance creation. Floral tones can also be warmed with spices or can be made more vibrant with juicy fruits.
Subfamilies include floral (fresh-cut flowers such as rose and lily), soft floral (powdery and sweet, with creamy hints) and floral oriental (florals with spice notes for warmth).
With rich and exotic scents, the oriental fragrance family adds depth to a fragrance and is often described as seductive, lingering sensually on the skin. Using spices, musks, resin, incense and herbal notes, the oriental family is a historic part of perfumery – with the same ingredients used today that were first used at the very start of fragrance creation.
The oriental family of fragrances tends to be warm and rich, suited to nighttime wear.
Common ingredients include herbs, sandalwood and resin notes, often softened with sweet notes like amber or vanilla. Subfamilies consist of soft oriental (floral notes mixed with warming spices and incense) oriental (sweet and warm notes of vanilla, musk and cinnamon) and woody oriental (earthy and grounding tones such as patchouli and sandalwood mixed with sweet and spicy notes).
Woody, oriental notes
This family is warm and luxurious, with woody tones that can often be described as coniferous and sometimes bitter. There are so many woody elements that can be added to perfumes including cedar and sandalwood – even patchouli and vetiver which although are roots and leaves rather than wood, have strong earthy tones to fit into the family perfectly.
Woody fragrances are versatile and can be mixed with spices, fruity tones or even notes of herb. Many masculine fragrances fall under the wood family however there are some women’s fragrances that use it too.
Subfamilies consist of woods; aromatic scents such as vetiver, sandalwood and cedarwood, mossy woods; providing smooth, sweet yet earthy notes such as amber and oakmoss and dry woods; smoky tones mixed with leather notes.
Dry, woody notes
True to its name, the fresh scent family is light, bright and clean. They are uplifting notes that are often vibrant pops such as lemon, orange, grapefruit and bergamot. This family is mostly used in men’s fragrances rather than women’s.
Often associated with summer fragrances, many conjure up the notion of sunshine, sea breeze and an airy feel. They are an uplifting family that can be paired with spicy tones for more depth and power.
Subfamilies include; aromatic (pairing fresh herbs with woody scents or calming lavender), citrus (tangy and energetic notes such as bergamot and lemon), water (embodies the smell of the salty sea or rain) and green (scents of freshly cut grass and crushed green leaves).