Fragrance Notes 101

When it comes to buying scented candles or fragrances in general, we tend to buy based on three things: how it smells, how it looks and how it’s described. The description can be artful and only meant to capture an essence, or it can describe scent notes. Discussing fragrance notes sounds alluring and elegant, much like describing a fine glass of wine, but what do the notes even mean?

You don’t need to be an olfaction hobbyist or perfume fanatic to benefit from knowing. After all, when you’re buying something online, you can only get a feel for two of the things described above. Your actual nose is left in the dark, requiring a bit of know-how and imagination. Have no fear. Here is a primer.

Top Notes

Top notes jump out at you immediately. These notes draw your nose in and set the stage for the entire sensory experience. Despite how prominent they seem out the gate, they also quickly fade into the background. In a wearable perfume, this occurs after it is applied to the skin. The top note is formulated to evaporate the quickest, usually as your body temperature warms the scent. In scented candles, this can vary. Depending on your own olfactory skills, you may only smell top notes when you hover your nose over the raw, unlit wax, while others will catch glimpses of top notes wafting in the air.

Mid Notes

Mid notes, also known as the heart notes of the fragrance, make up most of what you smell. Anywhere from 40% to 80% of the scent is the heart. They add the weight. Mid notes tend to be balancing and complex. They may even create a perfume accord, which means they create a singular new scent, becoming difficult to distinguish as separate notes by the nose. It is important that you like the heart notes. Don’t be seduced by the top note bouquet as they merely give the scent its unique, inviting character. A really good appetizer can start a meal off right, but the entree is what feeds you. In other words, the mid notes are so much of what you’ll ended up smelling, so choose wisely.

Base Notes

Base notes are the lingering notes of a fragrance. In perfume, they really shine after an hour or two of being on your skin. Think about what your perfume smells like at the end of the night versus when you first apply it. In wearable fragrance, that’s when the base soars. In a scented candle, the base notes anchor it all together. They are the last to evaporate, the sensory finish, the aromatics that hold up the top and mid notes. They linger in the air the longest, even though they aren’t necessarily the most prominent aromas.

When put together, these three layers make each fragrance unique. It is easy to see that it isn’t just about which notes we use in something, but what layer they appear. Still unsure? When all else fails, there’s always fragrance roulette. Pick the one with the cool name that sounds like you or the person for whom you’re buying.

There is nothing official about that method, of course. That said, any brand worth its salt knows that when it comes to fragrance, the name matters. It should reflect the essence. Shoutout to everyone who already buys based on the name alone! There’s no shame in fragrance roulette. Honestly, it’s a great way to discover something new.

Sources & Further Reading