Everything You've Secretly Wanted to Know About Fragrance

Because holiday season is quickly approaching.

Caitlin M.
ByCaitlin M.

If fragrance seems like unchartered territory when it comes to your adventures in the beauty world, we get it. It's not as easy as knowing what shade looks good on you and calling it a day. There are base notes, floral accents, accords, eau de parfums—and that's just the tip of the iceberg. If you've found yourself getting dizzy trying to decode the world of fragrance, consider this your perfume counter spirit guide. Scroll on to see the total basics of fragrance just in time for the the holiday season!!

Basic terms:

Notes—This is the most basic term to know in the world of fragrance. Think of it as the ingredient of the scent. 

Top note—This is the note you first smell in a fragrance. It's the lightest molecularly and evaporates quickly, so the initial scent doesn't last as long as other notes in the composition.

Base note—This is the heaviest note in the fragrance, hence the name "base." It's technically the heaviest molecularly, and it is usually the scent that lingers the longest after the initial scents are detected.

Middle note—This is, you guessed it, the note in between the top and base note. Sometimes referred to as the heart note, the middle note is true body of the blend. Because it can take some time to develop on skin after sprayed (anywhere from a few minutes to an hour), it's not always initially detected, however, it's still essential to masking and leading up to the more-long lasting base note. 

Accord—This is simply the blending of more than one fragrance notes to make a brand new fragrance.


Fragrance concentration types: 

Parfum—Otherwise known as perfume, this is highest concentration form of fragrance. Although it can range from 15 to 40 percent, you're likely to see it sticking to 20 to 30 percent. In addition, perfumes tend to last longer on the body, clocking in at about six hours. This also means they'll usually be more expensive!

Eau de Parfum—Not as potent as perfume, an eau de parfum is about 15 to 20 percent fragrance with a slightly higher concentration of alcohol. It lasts about five hours and is one of the most common types of fragrances on the counter.

Eau de Toilette—Where as eau de parfum is considered nighttime scent (because it's a bit heaver), eau de toilette is more commonly touted as daytime fragrance. This contains between five and 15 percent fragrance and tends to last about three hours.

Eau de Cologne—With the lowest concentration of fragrance (two to four percent), this is the shortest-lasting of the fragrance types.



Common fragrance types:

Citrus—This is characterized by tart, fruit scents. Examples include: lemon, orange, bergamot, grapefruit, or mandarin.

TryTOM FORD Mandarino Di Amalfi Acqua, $152 at Sephora

Floral—This is characterized by more traditional flower-based scents. Examples include: lily, rose, jasmine, etc.

TryMarc Jacobs Daisy Eau de Toilette, $100 at Sephora

Woody—This is characterized by a more natural, earthy scent. Examples include: oakmoss, patchouli, sandalwood, cedar, etc.


Other weird terms you might see:

Chypre—This is an example of a classic accord. It's characterized as having a citrus top note with a mossy-like base note i.e. oakmoss.

Try: L'Atelier de Givenchy Chypre Caresse Fragrance, $235 at Sephora

Cuir—Cuir is simply the French word for leather. This accord can include notes of birch tar, styrax, castoreum, myrtle, or cade. As you can imagine, it's heavy and tobacco-y.

Gourmand—This characterizes sweet notes: honey, chocolate, vanilla, etc. blended with heavier base notes like patchouli and musk.

Neroli—This is actually an essential oil from orange flowers. It's more commonly found in men's fragrances as it's more woody than other orange-based citrus scents.

TryJo Malone London Basil & Neroli Cologne, $65 at Sephora

Oriental—This fragrance type is characterized by warmer notes such as amber, vanilla, tonka, benzoin, and even frankincense.

Oud—This note is most typically synthetic due to its high price tag—it's harvested from the resin of the Aquilaria tree. It's characterized by an earthy, woody, more animalistic scent.

TryCLEAN Reserve Sueded Oud, $25 at Sephora

What's your favorite fragrance? Share it with us in the comments section!


About the Author
Caitlin M.
Caitlin M.
Runner. Music lover. All things nachos. Follow me on Instagram: @caitlinsmiller