What are perfume notes? Complete guide

Posted On: 2/17/2022

This topic is one of the essentials, yet only a small percentage of perfume enthusiasts tend to understand it completely. And that is why we decided to create this post.

Our goal is to educate our audience about perfume notes, their nature, the creation process, and how we classify them when talking about perfumes and so much more.

What are perfume notes?

Perfume notes are oils. These oils contain scent molecules from things that surround us.

That is why in our talk about "Commonly used perfume terminology", we said that perfume concentration represents the percentage of oils present in the perfume. These oils are our main topic in this post.

Scents of things like fruits, flowers, trees, animals, drinks, even water, and air are being captured and stored within these oils. Perfumers then mix those oils while following specific rules and create unique perfumes.

It might sound simple, but it is very far from it.

Perfumers have to be aware of many different things about mixing oils and how those oils would behave when mixed with other oils.

But the starting point is always the separation of perfume notes into three general categories. And those categories you are probably already familiar with. We are talking about separation into top, mid and base notes. But more talk about this topic is coming right up.

How are perfume notes created?

This question is exciting, so we would like to give you at least some basic insights into the process.

The old way

The original way to extract scents from things was very limited and complex. We are talking about the process of collecting endless amounts of flowers, picking only petals (or other parts of the flower you wish to extract into your oil). Bruising petals so they would release as much scent as possible. Then adding oils into the mix, so the petals would release their scent molecules into the oil, and the oil would trap the scent in its core.

This process was cumbersome and expensive because lots of flowers were required for small volumes of oils.

Another problem with this approach is the fact that all animal scents require the killing of wild and domestic animals. That resulted in many species being extinct by hunters.

Also, these oils would usually have underwhelming performance. Of course, depending on the nature of the scent being captured, if it was some weak scent, it was impossible to make it into a strong, dominant, long-lasting aroma.

So this approach for creating oils certainly had its flaws. This is why synthetic scents were born.

The new way

Chemists create synthetic scents in laboratories.

When you think about it, this way allows us to create almost any scent by employing our modern knowledge of chemistry and understanding of elements from the periodic table.

Only a small percentage of raw materials are required when compared to the old ways of creating oils.

Of course, we cannot create substitutes that are 100% replicas of the original scent in nature, so we still use some materials, but the amount is significantly decreased.

Also, there are regulations for saving animals, so there are no animal killings nowadays for the requirements of the fragrance industry. Every single animal-related scent is being created in laboratories.

Another significant benefit of synthetic oils is the fact that we can create oils containing scents that were impossible to extract naturally. Things like air, water, stone, metals, and many others were physically impossible to be extracted into oils. And we can recreate scents that resemble these materials very much. So we are so much more flexible when it comes to perfume creation than before.

Yet another benefit is that we can now enhance the duration and performance of some scents. Their synthetic nature allows us to make them more resilient and harder to fade over time.

The only downside to using synthetic ingredients is that often these oils do not offer the same quality compared to their natural counterparts.

What do we mean when we say quality? We indicated that synthetic rose smell does not replicate the original rose smell 100%, it mimics it with great accuracy for sure, but it is not entirely the same. Of course, a rose was just an example. Some scents are not even closely copied with the synthetic approach, so we still use natural ingredients in those cases.

People are unique, and so are perfume notes

What is this supposed to mean?

We wanted to say is that each person has different skin chemistry. We explained this in our talk about "Commonly used perfume terminology", when discussing perfume dry-down term.

This means that the same exact oil would not smell the same way when applied to two different people. There is a chemical reaction that will take place and blend the perfume's base notes with the smell of the skin.

Also, each oil has its own properties, which define its performance and lifespan.

So, when you combine these facts, you will easily understand the entire process of your favorite perfume's evolution on your skin.

You have certainly noticed that the scent of any perfume changes with time. That is due to quite a few different things, but the one that we are referencing right now is based on mixing oils with our skin.

With great perfume complexity, perfumers leave a lot more room for the perfume to evolve on our skin and create chemical reactions. Not just reactions between notes and our skin, but between notes themselves. When a perfume can be described as complex, it contains many different notes in each note layer (top, mid, and base). And when that is the case, each of those notes has the opportunity to mix and blend with other notes, that way creating harmonies that leave us breathless.

That is why we stated earlier that perfumers need to know a lot if they wish to create true pieces of art!

Great. That was just the introduction to our story. Now we can hop into the talk about different note layers and what differentiates them.

Top notes

Of course, the main question here is, what are top perfume notes? And the answer to that question is simple.

Top notes are oils that we can smell first when applying any perfume. They are also the first ones to leave our presence as well.

These notes are, in most cases, fresh, zesty, light scents. This is why their performance tends to be weak.

So, let us name a few common note categories used for perfume top notes.

Citrusy Perfume Notes Image
Fruity Perfume Notes Image
Floral Perfume Notes Image
Green Perfume Notes Image

As we already stated, top notes are what we smell first as soon as we apply any perfume. So, when you think about it, perfume manufacturers are giving their best to make these opening aromas as attractive as possible. That way, when people try the perfume out in any perfume shop, they will smell only that opening and be impressed by its allure.

Now, how long can you expect these top notes to linger around you after applying the perfume? The answer is, of course, not the same for every perfume, but some commonly accepted range is from 5 to 15 minutes.

Do not get us wrong. These notes do not disappear completely after 5 to 15 minutes. They just get overpowered by the heart notes. But, as we already stated, light scents are hard to be very durable, so you can expect them to usually be completely gone from your skin within 1 to 2 hours from the application.

Middle - Heart notes

So, as their name suggests, this is the part of the perfume that you will smell after the zesty, sharp opening of your top notes starts to dissipate and lose on its initial impact.

This layer of the perfume is what makes it special. This is where true art comes to play.

Why is that the case?

Because top notes are similar in most cases, fresh, clean, zesty, sharp, light scents are what we all expect to find in the top note layer. The same thing can be stated for the base notes, which we will talk about right after we are done with heart notes.

So you can see that the only part that can change a lot is the mid-layer of the perfume. This is where perfumers are playing around the most. Mid notes can be the host for almost any type of scents, which makes their flexibility all so larger.

Also, heart notes tend to last quite a bit. If we generalize every perfume, as we did in our talk about top notes, we would say that heart notes can be present somewhere in the range between 6 and 8 hours since the application of the perfume. So you can say that they are present on our skin for the quite a bit after the application of the perfume.

Ok, we stated that this layer could be played around with, but what can we usually find in heart notes?

In most cases, floral notes make every perfume's heart, but this can wary a lot. Spices can often be found in mid-notes as well.

Floral Perfume Notes Image
Spicy Perfume Notes Image
Oriental Perfume Notes Image
Beverages Perfume Notes Image

So heart notes are what really defines each perfume and are what will make you fall in love with it or not. If you think about it, you will smell them for 6 to 8 hours, that is what we usually expect our perfumes to last. That is why heart notes are essential, and we recommend you to make sure to test perfumes before buying them. That way, you will explore sensations created by mid notes of the perfume.

Base Notes

The time has come for us to cover the base of our perfumes. Base notes are what create a strong foundation for each perfume.

Base notes are the last thing that we can smell from each perfume. They are giving perfumes their depth and complexion. If any perfume did not have base notes, it would be dull and simple for sure.

Base notes usually consist of woody, animalic, and very strong and sweet scents. These scents are powerful and heavy scents that can linger in the air for very long.

The expected duration of these scents can range from 12 to 24 hours with quality-oriented perfumes, of course.

But the one thing that makes the base notes amazing is the dry-down phase of the perfume. That is when your skin's chemistry starts blending with the chemistry of the perfume. Once again, if you are interested in this topic, feel free to read our post related to "Commonly used perfume terminology", in it you will be able to find a section dedicated just to the dry-down phase.

Usually, base notes give the perfume its dark side, its serious side. That is why you can expect base notes to be from one of the following categories:

Woody Perfume Notes Image
Animalic Perfume Notes Image
Sweet Perfume Notes Image
Spicy Perfume Notes Image

And that would be our short talk about perfume notes. We hope you have found everything you were looking for about this topic.

But wait, there is more.

We wish to share a quick addition to our glossary of perfume-related terms. Two terms that are very commonly used are:

  1. Fragrance Pyramid - is a term supposed to give us a better, more graphical representation of any perfumes note classification. The pyramid consists of three areas. Each area is dedicated to one layer of perfume notes.

    The top of the pyramid is reserved for the top notes of a perfume. Its pointy nature and small area are supposed to represent that this part of the perfume lasts the shortest and takes up only a small portion of the entire perfume journey.

    After the top part, we have the mid part of the pyramid, of course, reserved for heart notes of the perfume. Again, the area is a very good representation of the performance and longevity of heart notes. That is because it stays right in between the base and top of the pyramid, which very nicely describes the relation between perfume notes and their performance.

    Finally, we have the base of the pyramid, which is reserved for the perfume's base notes. This portion of the pyramid has the largest area, the same way as base notes of the perfume last the longest.

    And that is it. We have covered the meaning and descriptive powers of the fragrance pyramid. Now you do not have to feel confused when you hear someone throwing fragrance-related terms around.

  2. Soliflore perfumes - the term "soliflore", when translated, does mean "single flower". Soliflore perfumes are perfumes based on a single ingredient, usually flower So the idea here is to create a perfume that will contain only one note? Nope! It will contain more than a single note, but the goal of all notes except the main one is only to complement and extend the capabilities of the star of the show. There are quite a few perfumes on the market that are based around a single flower. There are entire brands that are based on a single note. The first brand that come to mind is the one bellow:

Les Parfums de Rosine Image
Les Parfums de Rosine

And that is it. We are at the end of this post. We hope that you enjoyed reading it as much as we did writing it. It is supposed to make you feel much more comfortable with perfume terminology and concepts.

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