Fragrance Terminology Guide

This glossary defines some commonly used terms in the world of perfume and fragrance. We will add to it when new terminology is introduced in the industry.


A

ABSOLUTE:
A concentrated fragrance material of a natural product, such as a flower (jasmine or rose). Processed by means of enfleurage, alcohol extraction or steam distillation.

ACCORD:
A combination of raw materials blended together to find the proper balance and effect a perfumer desires when creating a fragrance. When the materials are properly mixed, they are said to be in accordance with each other.

ACCORD (2):
A balanced complex of 3 or 4 notes that loose their individual identity to create a completely new unified odor impression. Analogous to the musical terminology where several notes are combined to create a single tone that is part of a complete composition.

ALDEHYDIC:
This is often referred to as the “modern” group since at one time the various aliphatic aldehydes used to create this group were actually “modern” in the time sense of the word. Basically, an aldehydic fragrance may be one to which aldehydes have been added because of their brilliance and incisive effect. Characteristics of all aldehydic fragrances are their brilliant and exciting top note. The classic examples of this would be Chanel # 5 and White Linen.

AMBER:
A fragrance accord designed to impart fullness, sweetness and warmth to a compound. Enhances the dry down of the fragrance and is of particular importance to the oriental type fragrance.

ANIMAL:
A note of animal origin derived from the natural isolates of civet, castoreum or musk. These materials, plus some man-made synthetics have been used to demonstrate this subtle yet penetrating odor quality. An important note in the development of many fragrances used to impart richness and fullness to compositions. A good example of fragrances with heavy animal notes would be Beverly Hills Gale Hayman, and Chimere.

ANOSMIA:
The medical term describing the total absence of the sense of smell, i.e., the inability to detect or recognize any vapor. It can occur temporarily after taking antibiotics and other drugs, or the result of an infection, influenza-like illness, head injury, congenital abnormality or can be associated with severe allergic rhinitis.

AROMA CHEMICAL:
Among the Perfumer’s primary tools, some synthetic aroma chemicals duplicate chemicals that naturally occur in nature. These are classified as nature identical aroma chemicals. The second category of aroma chemicals are those isolated from natural origins, and a third category are the synthetic aroma chemicals not known to be found in nature but contribute a unique odor value to help broaden a Perfumer’s library of tools.

AROMA-COLOGY:
A science conceived, named and supported by the Olfactory Research Fund which is dedicated to the study of the inter-relationship of psychology and the latest in fragrance technology to transmit through odor a variety of specific feelings… relaxation, exhilaration, sensuality, happiness and achievement… directly to the right side of the brain – thelimbic system which is the seat of emotions, memory, creativity and sensuality. Aroma-Cology is a service mark of the Olfactory Research Fund.

AROMATHERAPY:
The therapeutic use of pure essential oils and herbs in body massage, the rest of which is described by proponents as “healing, beautifying and soothing” the body and mind, has its roots in the folk medicine practiced in primitive cultures. The history of aromatherapy stretches as far back as 6,000 years ago in ancient Egypt. It wasn’t until the 1920’s, however, when the term was actually coined by a French chemist, R.M. Gattefosse.

B

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

BALSAM (BALSAMIC):
A sweet fragrance accord that provides rich, warm, resinous and very tenacious qualities to most compounds. Also, described as woodiness associated with fresh-cut, well-seasoned non-coniferous wood, as for example, maple. The balsamic effect is most commonly found in Oriental fragrances and powder perfumes.

BASE (dry down):
Base notes are made up of the underlying tones of the fragrance, and are responsible for its lasting qualities. The ingredients used in base notes are often referred to as the “fixatives.”

BLEND:
A mixture of natural and/or synthetic ingredients.

BODY:
The heart or main part of the fragrance. The characteristic note when the most volatile components have lost their dominance and all of the
components of the fragrance come into play. Body in perfumery is analogous to a symphony orchestra playing with the full complements of instruments.

BOTTOM NOTE:
Also called the dry down of the fragrance. This note contains the fixatives of the fragrance that impart the long lasting qualities.

C

CAMPHORACEOUS:
An odor resembling camphor to some degree. The essential oil spike lavender is a good example of a common aromatic material with a camphorous note.

CHARACTER:
A recognizable effect obtained in a fragrance. An effect that should be a faithful translation of the generating concept.

CHYPRE:
A fragrance accord blend of aldehydes built upon a citrus (Bergamot) and mossy base (Oakmoss). This classical accord has been widely used in both men’s and women’s fragrances.

CITRUS:
Most typically found in the top note of the fragrance composition and may contain: bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, lime, mandarin orange, petitgrain, and/or tangerine.

CLASSIC:
A classic fragrance can be considered in the same vein as classic literature or architecture.A fragrance that has been widely accepted by generation after generation and has enjoyed popularity for a minimum of 15 years.

COLOGNE:
A term derived from the French name of the German city of Cologne, where this product was allegedly first popularized. Originally, it was the condensate from the steam distillation of a water-alcohol infusion of citrus peels (bergamot, lemon, orange), herbs, leaves (rosemary, thyme, lavender), and flower petals (rose, orange blossom). With the modern advent of a wide selection of other essential oils and synthetics, this cologne has been considerably altered.

Today, cologne is usually a diluted version of a perfume using diluted alcohol as its solvent and contains from 3-10% fragrance oil in the finished product. A less expensive fragrance oil is generally used for cologne than for perfume.

After-shave lotions and toilet waters are technically considered to be in the cologne category. After-shave lotions usually contain 2-3% fragrance oil, while toilet waters sometimes utilize as much as 15% fragrance oil.

COLOGNE (CLASSICAL):
A term reserved for those fragrances which are basically citrus blends and do not have a perfume parent. Modern colognes, however, are often a lighter extension of the perfume.

COLOGNE (MEN’S):
Unlike women’s colognes, it is similar to the concentration of toilet water, eau de Parfum, and in some instances perfume.

COLOGNE (WOMEN’S):
The lightest form of fragrance with a low concentration of perfume oils mixed with diluted alcohol.

COMPOUND:
A compound is a completed perfume formulation ready to be used in a product such as perfume, toilet water, etc. The terms “composition” and
compound are interchangeable.

CONCRETE:
During the process of extraction, flowers are subjected to solvents of various types by which the oils are removed. What remains is a very concentrated oil known as a “concrete.” The concrete is usually a solid, waxy substance representing the closest odor duplication of the flower from which is derived. Since the perfumer cannot use the concrete as such, it is further processed into absolutes that have already been described.

CONIFEROUS:
Cone-baring trees and shrubs.

D

DEPTH:
A fragrance has depth when a leading identity of accord or character is noticeable during its evolution from top notes to dry down.

DIFFUSIVE:
A term used to describe a fragrance, the odor of which spreads quickly and widely. It fills the space. Also described as “throw” or “lift.”

DISTILLATION:
One of the oldest methods of separating oils from flowers and still widely used. It is a heat-dependent process for separation and purification of a liquid mixture based on differences in vapor pressure of components of the mixture. In each case, the flowers or other sources of oil are changed into a still and heat is applied to separate the oil. One type involves direct contact between the plant material and boiling water. In another type, the heat source is steam that is blown through the flowers. The process involves vaporization of the more volatile component(s) and then condensation of the vapor back to a liquid. The water and oil are collected and as they separate, the oil is removed from the top.

DRYDOWN :
The final phase of a fragrance—the character that appears several hours after application. Perfumers evaluate the base notes and the tenacity of the fragrance during this stage.

E

EARTHY:
The peculiar aroma of fresh turned soil. It is also described as “rooty” as is exhibited in vetivert oil and sometimes in patchouli oil.

ENFLEURAGE:
The traditional method of separating the absolute from flowers. The procedure involves placing the petals between layers of fat to which they impart their odor. The layering is repeated again and again with fresh petals until the fat is rich in the flower’s essential oils. The oils are extracted from the fat with alcohol, after which the alcohol is distilled leaving the absolute.

ESSENCES:
Products which endeavor to capture or emphasize the highly volatile top notes of natural products.

ESSENTIAL OIL:
The “essence” of plants or the fragrant, volatile extracts obtained from flowers, grass, stems, seeds, leaves, roots, bark, fruits, tree moss and tree secretions. They are obtained by various means including distillation, expression and extraction.

EVAPORATION:
The process of changing from a liquid to a vapor.

EXPRESSION:
A production method used to obtain citrus oils and fruit juices. The expressed or cold pressed essential oils are obtained from the peels of the fruits. Expression yields essential oils that can contain a certain amount of non-volatile material.

EXTRACT:
An alcoholic solution of fragrance oil. The traditional concentration of the fragrance oil in an extract is between 15 and 50% of oil in the finished extract. The layman refers to the extract as “perfume.”

EXTRACT (2):
Concentrated perfume or flower products obtained through the process of extraction using volatile solvents.

EXTRACTION:
A process for obtaining natural oils by means of tanks and solvents and is used with certain flowers and plants where the heat of steam distillation might damage or destroy the odorous substances or in such cases where the yield of oils is rather small. In one process, the tank is stationary and the solvent flows over the flowers or other natural matter. The other involves the use of a revolving unit inside of which the flowers move through the solvent. After removal of the solvent, alcohol is agitated through the remaining mixture of waxes and oils and the former is removed by chilling and filtering. The alcohol and oil mixture is then brought to the boiling point, the alcohol filtered off, and the concentrate allowed to remain for recovery. The concrete, as previously defined, is the pure essence in solid form from which an absolute is derived.

F

FATIGUE:
Odor fatigue results from overloading exposure to an odor, or from smelling too many fragrances at one time. The nose can no longer discern any particular smell.

FIXATIVE:
A material incorporated in a fragrance for the purpose of: 1. Retarding the volatilization of the fragrance 2. Producing a comparatively uniform volatilization of the fragrance, so that its character does not radically change as it evaporates. Most fixatives have an odor of their own which must be taken into account in the design of fragrance oil.

FLAT:
A word descriptive of a fragrance that is lacking in distinction and top note.

FLORAL:
A term used to describe an accord built around a singular or multi-floral theme.

FLORAL BOUQUET:
This is the most general group in the categorization of perfumes. The combination of Jasmine, Rose, Ylang and Tuberose, just to name a few, play an integral part in the creation of a Floral Bouquet. Florals are combined in various ways to give different nuances to the fragrance. The use of other aromatic materials in conjunction with these floral blends is a most exciting family in today’s fragrance trends. Joy, Anais Anais, Paris and Escape are examples.

FLOWERY:
Possessing a fragrance resembling a flower.

FOREST BLENDS:
A definition of this group would be that of –woody, mossy, leafy and herbaceous. The aroma chemical manufacturer has given the perfumer many new materials that are characteristic of modern perfumery. These notes, when blended with natural forest products, develop into a wide variety of fragrances ranging from chypres to herbals. Examples of this group are Aliage, Polo and Devin.

FOUGERE:
A classical accord built upon mossy, lavender, citrus character. The fougere accord is a very important class of fragrance used in perfumery.

FOUGERE (2):
French word for “fern.” Fougere fragrances depend on aromatic chemicals to produce the fern-like notes that combine well with lavender, citrus and coumarin in fragrances for men.

FRAGRANCE:
A composition of various natural and/or synthetic aromatic materials that create a definite odor effect.

FRESH:
An effect introduced into a fragrance by the use of citrus oils, green notes, mint notes, and most recently ozone notes.

FRUITY:
A note reminiscent of cherry, apple, peach, strawberry, plum, or any other fruit type.

FULL-BODIED:
Well-rounded fragrance possessing depth and richness.

FUNGAL:
Odors suggestive of molds, mushrooms and fungi. Important notes in muguet fragrances as well as other florals.

G

GREEN:
A note reminiscent of fresh cut leaves, grass, stems, and certain flowers. Among the essential oils, violet leaf absolute in an outstanding example of this green note.

GUMS, RESINS, BALSAMS:
The resinous exudates of the bark, twigs or leaves of trees or shrubs.

H

HARMONIOUS:
Order, accord and unity in fragrance.

HARSH:
Describes a crude, pungent or objectionable note. Not to be used instead of “sharp.”

HAY:
A sweet clover odor.

HEADY:
Exhilarating, sparkling, stimulating. This quality would be comparable to the exciting taste and effervescence of a glass of champagne. “Headiness” in fragrance is much sought after by the creative perfumer, but it is difficult to achieve because of the very limited number of materials available for this purpose.

HEART:
The heart of a fragrance is the part or accord which gives the fragrance its character.

HEAVY:
An odor that can be forceful, intense, often sweet and balsamic.

HERBACEOUS:
A fragrance note that is grassy-green, spicy and somewhat therapeutic, e.g., thyme, hyssop, chamomile.

HONEY:
A very sweet, heavy, syrupy, fragrance note; is tenacious.

I

IINCENSE:
The burning of fragrant gums or resins in a solid or powder form. It gives off a lingering, scented smoke and is the original form in which fragrances was used.

INFUSION or TINCTURE:
A solution obtained by prolonged contact with alcohol. When hot alcohols are used it is called infusion. When alcohols are at room temperature or warm the method is called a tincture.

L

LASTINGNESS:
The ability of a fragrance to retain its character over a given period of time.

LEAFY:
One of the many variations of the green note.

LEATHER:
A certain smokiness related to the old fashioned leather goods. In spite of its odd qualities, the leather notes (French: “cuir”) play an important part in the background of complex florals as a contrasting medium to break up monotony, as exhibited in the fragrance “Cabouchard.”

LIFT:
To add life to a fragrance blend is to give it lift and some brilliancy; lift can also refer to diffusiveness of a given blend. A perfume having lift has a brilliant top note with wide diffusiveness.

LIGHT:
A generally non-sweet, non-cloying fragrance where the fresh note is predominant. Often formulated as an eau fraiche or deodorant cologne for all-over body wear in warm climates or for sports.

LIGHT & HEAVY:
A light fragrance is balanced toward the top notes. A heavy fragrance is balanced towards the bottom notes.

M

MACERATION:
This process is quite similar to enfleurage. In the latter cold fats are used, while in maceration the fats are heated. The flowers are immersed, the cells bearing the odoriferous oils are ruptured, and the fats absorb the oils. To obtain the pomade, the flowers are removed from the fats and fresh flowers are mixed in over and over again until the fats are completely saturated with the flower oil.

MELLOW:
A fragrance that gives a balanced, smooth and rich impression.

MICRO-ENCAPSULATION:
A method of incorporating thin-walled, microscopic capsules containing fragrance oils into a solid substance (fragrance advertising inserts, capsules, blotters, paper, etc.)

MIDDLE NOTE:
The middle or “heart” notes make up a main blend of a fragrance that classifies the fragrance family or accord. It usually takes from ten to twenty minutes for the middle notes to fully develop on the skin.

MODERN:
In perfumery the modern era began at the beginning of the 20th century when synthetic aroma chemicals such as aldehydes, were first used. A modern fragrance is a harmonious conception of the perfumer based on new notes or harmonies often unknown in nature.

MOSSY:
The odor suggestive of the aromatic lichens, and mosses, primarily oak miss and tree moss; reminiscent of forest depths.

MUSK:
For many centuries, musk (the secretion of the musk deer) has been prized for its value in perfumery. The pouch contains pod-like grains that are soft and light colored. From these the perfumer prepares a tincture that is used as a fixative. Today, synthetic musks are widely used.

N

NOTE:
Borrowed from the language of music to indicate an olfactory impression of a single smell, or to indicate the three parts of a perfume –top note, middle note, base note.

O

ODOR or ODOUR:
Airborne chemicals emanating from water, objects, one’s body, flowers or fragrance that stimulate the olfactory system. The characteristic smell of something.

ODOR MEMORY:
The ability of a perfumer to hold, and bring to recall, hundreds of single perfume odors and odor blends.

OLFACTION/OLFACTORY:
Relating to the sense of smell.

ORIENTAL:
Heavy, sweet, animal blend with woody undertones. Typically quite diffusive and tenacious. A very important accord in perfumery, used historically in “Shalimar” and today’s “Obsession.”

P

PALETTE:
The range of perfume ingredients from which a perfumer selects to use in the formulation of a perfume.

PERFUME:
Most highly concentrated form of fragrance, the strongest and the most lasting. Perfume may contain hundreds of ingredients within a single formulation.

PERFUME BLOTTERS:
Strips of odorless white blotting paper, which the perfumer uses to evaluate a scent as it develops.

PHEROMONE:
Chemical substances secreted by animals (including perhaps humans) to produce a response by other members of the same species. Sexual attractants are the most widely studied and described.

POMADES:
Combination of purified fats and flower oils produced by the enfleurage and maceration processes.

POWDERY:
A term used to describe fragrances having considerable sweet and musk-like odors in the drydown.

PROFILE:
A perfume or perfumed product profile is a description of the fragrance prepared by a marketer, which is given to a perfumer for inspiration and formulation. The profile should contain all pertinent details in relation to marketing the new fragrance plan, type, name, package, color/theme, mood, impression, cost parameters, etc.

PUNGENT:
A word used to describe a physical impression of sharpness.

R

RESINOIDS:
Are extracts of gums, balsams, resins or roots (orris), which consists in whole or in part of resinous materials. They are generally used as fixatives in perfume compositions.

RHIZOMES:
Root like stems with nodes, which grow under or along the ground. Certain perfume raw materials come from rhizome, e.g., Orris absolute and ginger oil.

RICH:
Term used to describe “fullness.” This is comparable to the harmonious effect of a full symphony orchestra. Floral absolutes are classic examples of materials exhibiting a “rich” effect.

ROUNDNESS:
Term used to describe the fullness or richness of a fragrance.

S

SHARP:
A combination of coarse aromatic chemicals that produce a penetrating effect, usually, resulting from the lack of roundness or balance.

SINGLE FLORALS:
This is the most specific category. Generally the name of the fragrance is similar to the name of the floral it has taken inspiration from. Although the major theme of the fragrance is a single floral there are other elements to the perfume. The interpretation by various perfumers of this category makes them differ in their evolution.

SOLVENTS:
Volatile fluids used to extract essential oils from flowers and other natural perfume materials.

SPECIALITIES:
Natural oils, natural isolates or synthetics, either alone or in combination, which are used as building blocks for fragrance compounds. They are less complex than a finished fragrance compound. They may be an end-product of special processing treatments or unique raw materials. A single company under a trade name usually supplies them.

SPICY:
A word descriptive of a pungent or piquant fragrance. Oil of cloves or oil of cinnamon are classic examples of spiciness in single aromatic materials. In the flower group, carnation and oil of lavender may be described as having spicy nuances.

SPICY BOUQUET:
As the name implies, this group relies on spice notes such as clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and bay for its principal notes. Spice notes are universally used in perfumery. Examples are Pierre Cardin, Spellbound and L’Air du Temps.

STABILITY:
A reasonable length of time for a fragrance to remain stable before the product is affected by certain raw materials, heat, light and air.

STRENGTH:
The relative intensity of a fragrance impression.

SWEET:
A fragrance impression that imparts a sensation. Natural examples include vanilla, benzoin and honey.

SWEET (2):
A fragrance effect classically illustrated by the rose. The rose effect is constantly used to sweeten perfume oils during the course of their design. The rose is to the perfumer as sugar is to the chef.

SYNTHETIC:
May be derived or isolated from natural products or manufactured in the laboratory. Some synthetics are superior to the natural in uniformity, stability and availability. Synthetics may be as costly as naturals.

T

TENACITY:
The ability of a perfume to last, or a fragrance note to retain its characteristic odor.

THEME:
The idea thought of by the creative perfumer or given to the perfumer by a profile.

THIN:
A fragrance lacking in the overtones necessary to give it body or richness. Musically, this condition might be illustrated by the sound of a single violin played without accompaniment.

TOBACCO & LEATHER:
These are two distinctive notes possessing great tenacity, used primarily in men’s fragrances. Their use is as important in modern perfumery as it was in the infancy of the art. Some examples in this area are Kourous, Aramis, and Antaeus.

TOP NOTE:
The immediate effect of a fragrance upon the sense of smell. This expression is commonly used in connection with an impact of fragrance upon application to the skin. Careful consideration of this top note is highly important in the design of a fragrance since the initial sales appeal may be totally dependent upon its quality. Chemically, the top note is the most volatile material in the composition of the fragrance oil and often it is deliberately accentuated by the use of a highly volatile chemical; i.e.,in the French practice of using a trace of methyl acetate or propionic aldehydes to emphasize the first “fruity” effect of a cologne top note.

U

UNDERTONES:
Subtle characteristics of the fragrance background creating pleasant nuances that are an important part of the fragrance character.

V

VELVETY:
A soft, smooth, mellow fragrance without harsh chemical notes.

VOLATILE:
The property of being freely diffused in the atmosphere, easily vaporized at a low temperature.

W

WARM:
A word used to describe a fragrance that has a stimulating effect upon the imagination. The effect of warmth is usually conferred by material having an unconventional odor.

WOODY:
A fragrance effect generally linked with the aroma of fresh cut, dry, oriental wood or fibrous root, as illustrated respectively by the essential oil of sandalwood or vetiver. Woody is a term having an entirely different meaning to the layman than it does to the perfumer and should not be confused with “woodsy,” which implies the green effect of a forest.