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Understanding Fragrance Terminology


A highly concentrated perfume material obtained by volatile solvent extraction or more traditionally, through enfleurage, from a concrete. The concrete undergoes repeated ‘washings’ with alcohol, during each of them the fragrant oils mix with the alcohol leaving the waxes behind. The waxes are discarded leaving a mixture of alcohol and oil which is heated at reduced pressure to ensure that the oil is not damaged, the alcohol evaporates, leaving behind a substance known as an absolute. Absolutes are generally full bodied and sensual.


A complex balance of at least two notes, which lose their individual identity to create a completely new, unified odor impression.


Denatured ethyl alcohol is added to a fragrance compound to serve as carrier. It modifies the fragrance intensity and makes application on skin easier.


An aroma chemical that contains a functional group consisting of a carbon, a hydrogen, and an oxygen atom.  One of the first “aldehydic” fragrance is the famous N°5 created by Perfumer Ernest Beaux in 1920 and launched by Gabrielle Chanel in 1921.


or animal-like notes…Important ingredients such as musk, civet, amber-gris, and castoreum were once provided by the animal world. In modern perfumery, synthetic chemicals more or less successfully mimic the sensual, heady base notes associated with these scents. 


A term used to describe a sensation which is between smell and taste, such as the aroma of coffee.


Among the perfumer’s primary tools, some synthetic aroma chemicals duplicate chemicals that occur naturally; these are classified as nature-identical. A second category is isolated from natural origins, and a third category consists of the synthetic chemicals not found in nature.


In perfumery, a family of ingredients, usually shrubs containing camphor, most of them with a fresh and herbaceous odor profile: lavender, laurel, thyme, artemisia or mint are a few typical ingredients used by perfumers to convey a nature-like freshness. Traditionally, aromatic notes have been used a lot in masculine fragrances.


The result of the blending perfumery components into one harmonious sensory experience.


A term used in perfumery to describe the sweet, soft and warm character of balsams and resins.


Same as drydown. They are made of the underlying tones of the fragrance, and are responsible for its lasting qualities. They are heavier, therefore evaporating slower, which makes them them the foundation of any fragrance construction .


Thin, odorless filter paper that is extremely absorbent. It is dipped into raw materials or finished fragrance for sniff-testing by perfumer, fragrance evaluator and consumer.


The main fragrance theme – the “middle” or “heart” of the perfume. Also used to describe a fragrance that is well-rounded or full.


An ingredient- preferably odorless- used to favor the evaporation/ diffusion of the fragrance material or the fragrance blend. Alcohol is the carrier of choice for fine fragrances, but natural oils (olive oil, Jojoba oil, and many more) can be used as carriers for essential oils. It is sometimes believed that the carriers are used to “dilute” fragrances but it is a misconception: without the carrier, the scent does not “take off” the skin, and does not become “alive” and diffuse around the person who wears it.


This family was fashioned from the acclaimed fragrance”Chypre”, created by Francois Coty in 1917 as a tribute to the island of Cyprus. The Classic construction is based on patchouli, oak-moss, cistus labdanum, a floral accord and bergamot, and can include fruity, green or leathery notes as well. Today, practically anything that contains patchouli is dubbed “Chypre” while it should really only say “woody”, but the wonders of marketing sometimes transcend facts.


An important step in the quality manufacturing of a fine fragrance: the matured ( see maturation) mixture of oil  is put on alcohol and allowed to age for weeks and sometimes months in order to create an homogeneous blend where all the ingredients are fused together, very much like an aged wine. This process, together with maturation, is critical to the quality and beauty of the fragrance.


A synthetically produced fragrance component of modern perfumery that evokes ocean-like qualities.


Also called the heart notes, they serve as a transition between the top notes and base notes. It usually takes about 20 minutes for the middle notes to develop on the skin. Most floral notes are considered middle notes, and are important to build a full bodied fragrance.


An effect suggestive of oak moss, reminiscent of forest depths.


Musky notes originally were derived from musk Tonkin, but now they are created through organic synthesis. Musk provides diffusion and tenacity in the fragrance, with a distinctive warm scent that is skin-like, sensual and clean.


A vernacular expression for a perfumer.


Borrowed from the language of music to indicate an olfactory impression of a single smell, or to indicate the tree parts of a perfume.


Airborne chemicals that stimulate the olfactory system. They emanate from objects, perfumes, etc., and constitute the characteristic smell of something.


The sense of smell, more than any of our four senses, influence our ability to recall past events and experience. Fragrance is considered one of the most potent mediums for conjuring up memory.


The sense of smell.


The first region of the brain to receive sensory input from the olfactory epithelium. The olfactory bulb receives the initial input and communicates with numerous other regions of the brain, e.g., the hypothalamus and cortex, via the limbic system.


Layer of the sensory cells in the upper rear portion of the nose. Each side of the nose contains millions of sensory cells in the epithelium.


is a name for the common experience of losing sensitivity to odors after continued smelling.


A fragrance construction borrowed from the traditional ingredients of the Orient: balsamic notes such as amber, incense, woods, musks and spices. Oriental scents stand out because of their unique blend of warmth and sensuality. Shalimar is often considered the first oriental fragrance in the genealogy.


The fragrance raw materials from which the perfumer selects those needed for a particular fragrance creation.


Often referred to as the nose, the perfumer has an innate artistic and imaginative sense, as well as a highly developed sense of smell. It takes many years of training for the perfumer to perfect the olfactory memory that will allow him or her to not only recognize thousands of raw materials, but to recall innumerable beautiful harmonies and blends. The perfumer, must have the rare creative ability to visualize a scent and “construct” it using the olfactory memory just as an artist draws upon memory of color and form and a musician upon musical repertoire and fundamental structure of music and harmonies.


An effect referring to traditional face powders, originally scented with notes of orris, violet and some combination of vanilla & woods. It applies to a scent that expresses a dry, soft and musky character.


Located in the olfactory epithelium, each cell has microscopic hairs(cilia) extending into mucus. Odor molecules are thought to bind chemically to specific sites on these cilia. This chemical event is translated into an electrical message that is transmitted to the olfactory bulb.


Stimulation of the olfactory receptor cells by odors that originate in our mouth (most often during eating) and travel to the olfactory epithelium during exhalation.


A fine fragrance blend is refined until perfect balance and harmony are achieved. Once the composition is rich mellow, smooth and perfectly toned, the fragrance is considered to be round.


The fragrances aura perceived after an individual wearing a perfume has passed by.


A solvent (from the Latin solvō, “loosen, untie, solve”) is a substance that dissolves a solute (a chemically distinct liquid, solid or gas), resulting in a solution. A solvent is usually a liquid but can also be a solid, a gas, or a supercritical fluid. In perfumery, there are two distinct uses of solvents: the first is simply to dilute something to make it- for example- less strong in odor. The second use is for extracting the odoriferous part of a plant through a technique called volatile solvent extraction. In this case, the oils of the plant will be extracted through dissolution into the solvent.


Closely related to the food ingredients of the same names. Piquant or pungent notes such as clove oil and cinnamon. They are divided into: Cold spices with cardamom, ginger, coriander, pepper… and Warm spices with clove bud and cinnamon.


Can be used to described an ingredient or fragrance that ambrosial characteristics associated with sweet taste. Vanilla, cotton-candy or chocolate are typical examples of sweet notes.


May be derived or isolated from nature or synthesized in the laboratory. Some aroma chemicals are superior to natural ones in esthetic, uniformity, stability, availability and safety.


A tincture is where a raw material is placed in alcohol and left to macerate. It was the process used for the animalic notes and is still used for materials like vanilla. All that is needed is alcohol, the raw material and patience, as the oils contained in the raw material will eventually seep into the alcohol and scent it.


The first impression of a fragrance after the bottle has been opened and immediately after it has been applied on the skin. Designed by the perfumer to be ephemeral and volatile, it sets the sensory stage for the development of middle and base notes, which provide the final impression of the fragrance as they all blend together on the skin.


The subtle nuance of the fragrance background.


The property of being diffused freely into the atmosphere, easily vaporized at low temperature.


An abundant scent that generates emotional warmth and conveys a sensation of intimacy and well-being. It is somewhat opposed to fresh.


In perfumery, waxes typically refer to a by-product in the volatile solvent extraction: the concrete obtained in this process, is a mixture of the precious scented material coveted by the perfumers and of some fats from the plants that have been extracted at the same time. The concrete is most often “rinsed” with alcohol in order to get rid of the waxes and obtain a more concentrated form of raw material called the absolute. The other advantage of separating the waxes is that they are not easily soluble in alcohol which can be a problem if they were part of the formula for a fine fragrance. These waxes still have some odor value and we are looking for ways to use them in some product form instead of discarding them as trash.


A family based on warm, opulent or dry woods, Sandalwood, Patchouli, Cedarwood, Vetiver and Guaiacwood.


   The end of the list for now

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