Definitions of Top Fragrance Terms

An A to Z Glossary of Perfume Lingo

Woman spraying perfume onto her neck
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Learn the lingo of fragrance fanatics, so you can talk like a perfumista. Here, I run down from A to Z the top perfume and fragrance terms you need to know.


Also known as an essence. The strongest aromatic material that can be extracted from a plant or flower.


A blend of two or more fragrances that combine to produce a new, completely different odor impression.


Organic compounds present in many natural materials, that can also be synthesized artificially. Chanel No. 5 is an aldehydic-floral perfume.


Animal-derived ingredients such as civet, ambergris, musk, and castoreum. Usually reproduced synthetically in modern perfumery. Often strong and unpleasant in their concentrated form, in smaller amounts these notes provide depth to a fragrance.

Apocrine Sweat Glands

The glands on the human body that give you your unique scent, which can interfere with - or enhance - the scent of perfumes you wear.


Refers to scents that are based on a concept of a “watery” smell.<br/>

Any fragrant essential oil distilled from flowers.

Base Notes

The third and last phase (after top and heart notes) of a perfume's evaporation, or life on the skin.


Rich, sweet, resinous and warm notes produced by using plant balsams and resins. The Oriental fragrance category is characterized by these ingredients.


A mixture of flower notes.


The fresh, clean, cooling character displayed by eucalyptus but also descriptive of rosemary and other herbal notes.


Pronounced “sheepra” and French for Cyprus. Refers to woodsy, mossy, earthy scents.


The fresh, slightly sour notes displayed by lemon, orange, grapefruit and bergamot. See my list of the 5 best citrus perfumes.


The concentrated fragrance mixture before it is diluted to make the finished perfume. Also called perfume oil.


A product of distillation. For instance, lavender oil is the distillate of the fresh, blooming lavender plant.

Dry Down

The final phase - or bottom note - of a fragrance, which emerges several hours after application. Perfumers evaluate the base notes and the tenacity of the fragrance during this stage.

Eau De Cologne

A solution of about 3-percent perfume compound in an alcohol/water base. Much lighter than a concentrated perfume.

Eau de Parfum

An alcoholic perfume solution containing 10-15 percent perfume compound.

Eau de Toilette

An alcohol/water based perfume solution containing 3-8 percent perfume compound.


Notes that give the impression of earth, soil, the forest floor, mould and moss.

Essential Oil

The highly concentrated, volatile, aromatic essences of plants obtained by distillation or expression. Get a list of the best ones by skin type.


Fleeting or quickly vanishing note or fragrance.

Extrait (Extract)

An alternative name for alcoholic perfumes. Extraits contain 15-45 percent perfume compound in alcohol.


An ingredient added to your perfume to make it last longer.


Perfumes characterized by the prevalence of well-defined floral notes. Get a list of the top floral perfumes.


Perfumes having notably fruity elements, generally in the top notes, as an accessory to floral heart notes. Get a list of the top fruity perfumes.


From the French for fern. Fougere scents are based on a herbaceous accord and may include notes such as lavender, coumarin, oakmoss, woods, and bergamot.


The general term for the odors of grass, leaves and stems. See top-selling green perfumes.

Heart (Middle) Notes

The second phase of a perfume's evaporation on the skin, which gives the scent its character after the top notes fade.


A note that is natural cool, leafy or hay-like, such as chamomile or clary sage.


A general term for citrus oils.


Highly-valued synthetic chemicals, used in small amounts in many floral, green, woody perfumes. Produce a scent similar to violet or iris.


Pungent animal smokiness characteristic of the ingredients used in tanning leathers. Achieved in perfumery with castoreum, labdanum and synthetic chemicals.


Fragrances with earthy, aromatic forest scents.


A person who mixes fragrance components to make perfume, aka a perfumer.


Oceanic perfumes are a modern invention. These scents use a blend of synthetic compounds to evoke natural aromas such as mountain air, ocean spray, or clean linen. See my list of the best oceanic perfumes.


Fragrance family based on balsamic, exotic aromas such as vanilla, oakmoss and animal notes. These scents are usually suited to evening wear. See a list of the best oriental perfumes.


Aroma chemicals that are meant to mimic the smell of fresh air after a thunderstorm.

Perfume. (Extrait)

The most highly-concentrated and longest-lasting form of fragrance, containing between 20-50 percent perfume compound.


A baby-powderish scent effect, produced when a heavier sweet or woody note is blended with a lighter note such as citrus, fruity or light green note.


Extracts of resinous gums, balsams, resins or roots. Commonly used as fixatives in perfume compositions.


The trail of scent left behind by a perfume. Fragrances with minimal sillage are often said to “stay close to the skin."


A fragrance which focuses on a single flower.<br/>

Piquant or pungent notes that have a warm or hot character, such as clove oil, cinnamon and thyme oil. See the best spicy perfumes.


Refers to how long a scent lasts, either in the bottle, or when exposed to elements such as heat, light and air.

Top Notes

The impression of a fragrance when first smelled or applied to the skin. Usually the most volatile ingredients in a perfume.


A scent that evokes freshly cut, dry wood. See the best woody perfumes.