A Glossary Of Perfume Terms and Definitions – Making Sense Out Of Scents

The aromatherapy and perfume industries have adopted a language of thier own.And sometimes trying to decipher the terms seems a daunting task when you have no idea what they mean by and absolute, or a chypre or a tenatious scent. So when you’re buying fragrances, you need to understand what the salesperson is saying when the perfume’s being described to you. Below you will find some of the more commonly-used words in the aromatherapy and perfuming world… this glossary will help you make wise and informed choices.

· Absolute
An absolute is the most potent aromatic product made from a base product. It differs from an essential oil in that it’s produced through an extraction process that uses volatile solvents. The extracted solid material is then combined with alcohol to produce the absolute. Absolutes are also darker in color than essential oils.

· Accord
An accord is a blend of two fragrances to produce a third unique fragrance, with neither of the original two fragrances being detectable. You can compare it to the combining of basic colors, like yellow and blue to make green. When you look at green, you don’t see the yellow or blue – just green. And when you smell an accord, you only smell one distinct fragrance, not either of the original fragrances that were combined.

· Aftershave
Aftershave is a men’s toiletry product that could be classified as a cosmetic or a fragrance. It comes in the form of a lotion, a gel, or a balm. After shaving, men apply it for one or more of a few reasons: It makes the skin look smoother; it soothes sensitive skin; it closes the pores after shaving; and it serves as a light cologne. The cologne usually isn’t strong enough to interfere with the man’s primary cologne. In fact, there are some designer fragrances who’ve introduced aftershave that complements their fragrances.

· Alcohol
Alcohol is used in the process of making perfume. It’s job is to carry the perfume extracts, and release them when the perfume is dispensed.

· Aldehyde
An aldehyde is a highly-reactive chemical compound made by oxidizing different alcohols to make resins and organic acids.

· Aldehydic
Aldehydic comes from the Greek phrase “anointing oil”. In perfumery, it refers to a certain fatty fragrance, and can be found in perfumes such as Chanel No 5.

· Amber
Amber is a term used to describe a heavy, full-bodied, warm fragrance.

· Animalic
Animalic is a term used to describe what would be a bad odor on its own, like a faecal smell. But perfumers have found that, in very small dilutions, and in clever combinations with other ingredients, animalic scents can be quite pleasant. A perfume that uses animalic notes is Civet Absolute.

· Anosmia
Anosmia is the inability to smell. You can have either full or partial Anosmia. If you have full Anosmia, you can’t smell anything. If you have partial Anosmia, there are only certain things you can’t smell.

· Apocrine sweat glands
Apocrine sweat glands are those that give you your unique sexual and body scent. It can interfere with or influence the fragrance in perfumes you wear.

· Aromachology
Aromachology is a fairly new science – one of the new alternative therapies. It’s associated with fragrances and their psychological benefits and/or effects. It was developed by Annette Green, a member of the Fragrance Foundation, in the late 70s. An example of an aromachology-inspired perfume is Shiseido’s Relaxing, introduced in 1997.

· Aromatic
Aromatic, in perfumery, refers to the rich scents of Balsamic notes.

· Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is a term created by R.M. Gattefosse, a French chemist. It’s the art and science, although not a medically-approved one, of using aromatic substances, usually essential oils, to cure common ailments. It’s also popular as a stress reliever.

· Attar
Attar, or Otto, as it is sometimes referred, comes from an old Persian word meaning “to smell sweet”. It’s an extremely expensive essential oil made from the Bulgarian rose.

· Balsam
Balsam is a sticky resin that leaks out of trees when they’re cut. It’s used in perfume to create a woody scent.

· Balsamic
Balsamic notes are found in some perfumes. They have a warm scent, and are popular in the Oriental group of fragrances, like Shalimar, Opium and Obsession.

· Body
Body is a term used to refer to the main theme or heart of a perfume. It can also be used to refer to a perfume that’s well-rounded or full.

· Bouquet
Not surprisingly, bouquet is a term used to describe a mixture of floral notes.

· Camphoraceous
Camphoraceous refers to a Eucalyptus-like fragrance that’s found in the scent of certain herbs, like rosemary and lavandin.

· Carrier oil
Carrier oil is just what it sounds like – an oil base that carries essential oils. Basically, they’re mixed together to make massage oils and skin care products. Some examples are apricot kernel, grape seed, jojoba and sweet almond.

· Chypre
Chypre is an ancient perfume, originally combining fresh citrus notes with Oakmoss and some animalic notes. About 100 years ago, Coty made a Chypre perfume, which has been currently followed up with similar fragrances, like Miss Dior and Aramis. Today, the most common use of Chypres, because of their leather character, is in men’s fragrances.

· Citrus
Citrus notes are fresh scents, similar to the smell of fresh oranges, lemons, grapefruit, bergamot and pomello.

· Classic
Classic fragrances are – well, they’re classic. They survive the years, remaining popular. They have depth, with a 3-10% floral absolute, much stronger than most modern fragrances.

· Cloying
Cloying is a term used to describe a fragrance that’s sickly sweet and unpleasantly clinging.

· Cologne
Cologne is a city in Germany where the very first modern perfume, as we now know it, was produced. That was about 300 years ago, and it was called Eau de Cologne – a perfume made basically from citrus oils. If you want a classic brand of Eau de Cologne that’s about 200 years old, try Farina Gegenuber or 4711. Today, cologne is a word usually used to describe men’s fragrances.

· Compound
Compound is the term used in perfumery to describe the concentrated fragrance mixture before it’s diluted to make the finished perfume.

· Concrete
Concrete is the term used in perfumery to refer to the hard, waxy substance that’s left after the solvent has been applied to the raw material, and has evaporated.

· Depth
Depth refers to whether a scent is complex, sophisticated, rich or full-bodied.

· Diffuser
A diffuser is an aromatherapy device that gently dispenses essential oils into the air.

· Dry down
Dry down is what perfumers refer to as the final phase of a fragrance. It’s sometimes referred to as the bottom line or bottom note – the character of the fragrance that remains a few hours after applying the perfume.

· Eau de Cologne (EDC)
Eau de Cologne is the term used today to refer to a perfume solution with around a 3% compound in an oil and water base. It’s the lightest of perfumes and, therefore the least expensive.

· Eau de Parfum (EDP)
Eau de Parfum is a perfume solution with a 10-15% compound.

· Eau de Toilette (EDT)
Eau de Toilette is a perfume solution with a 3-8% compound in an oil and water base.

· Earthy
Earthy is a term used by perfumers to describe notes that resemble earth, dirt, moss, and other such scents.

· Essential oil
Essential oils are the concentrated essences that are the product of the distillation or expression of plants, including flowers, leaves, wood and grass.

· Evanescent
Evanescent is a word used to describe a fragrance that disappears quickly.

· Expression
Expression, or cold press extraction, is the process of removing essential oils from plant material, like citrus peel, consisting of forcing the oil from the plant material.

· Extraction
Extraction is the process of removing essential oils from plant material using solvents, which are then evaporated, leaving just the oil.

· Extract
An extract is a perfume that has 15-45% compound in an alcohol base.

· Fixative
A fixative is an ingredient added to perfume to make it last longer, similar to a preservative.

· Flat
A flat fragrance is like a flat beer – no body, no lift, uninteresting.

· Floral
Floral is a fragrance scent that resembles flowers, and is usually described as smooth or natural.

· Flowery
Flowery is a fragrance with flower or flower petal notes.

· Forest blends
Forest blend perfumes have earthy, woodsy, natural notes.

· Fresh
Fresh is a term often used to describe citrus or green notes, found in light perfumes.

· Fruity
Fruity is a term used to describe a fragrance that has fruit scents, but not citrus fruits. It’s usually a kind of sweet-sour scent, like apples, strawberries, pineapples or bananas.

· Full-bodied
Full-bodied refers to a fragrance that’s rich and has depth.

· Fungal
Fungal is used to describe a fragrance that has notes of mushrooms, fungus, or mould, like oakmoss.

· Fragrance
Fragrance is often used interchangeably with perfume, but they’re not quite the same thing – fragrance is the scent of the perfume; perfume is the product itself.

· Green
Green is a fragrance note that resembles freshly cut grass, or leaves, and it gives the perfume a vibrant scent.

· Gums
Gums are the resins that are extracted from the bark, branches and leaves of trees.

· Harmonious
Harmonious is a word used by perfumers to describe a fragrance that’s well mixed and well balanced.

· Heady
Heady fragrances make you feel light-headed, exhilarated or stimulated.

· Heart
Heart refers to the main theme, or the middle of the perfume.

· Heavy
Heavy refers to a fragrance that’s potent and not vibrant, and is often described as sweet or balsamic.

· Herbaceous
Herbaceous refers to a fragrance that’s natural and hay-like, maybe even a little therapeutic. Some examples are chamomile, lavender, rosemary and sage.

· Honey
Honey is a term used to describe a fragrance that has a very sweet, almost medicinal scent – very heavy and syrupy.

· Jasmine
Jasmine is an absolute used in perfume. There are two kinds – European, and South Asian.

· Lift
Lift is a term used to describe a fragrance that has life and brilliance.

· Light
Light refers to a fragrance that’s not heavy – go figure!

· Middle notes
The middle notes are the fragrances that make up the main theme or the heart of a perfume. They usually appear about 10-20 minutes after the perfume is applied.

· Modern
A modern perfume would be the opposite of a classic perfume – usually using new aroma chemicals, rather than natural materials. It usually has a light fragrance.

· Mossy
Mossy refers to fragrances that have earthy notes, like the forest floor.

· Muguet
Muguet is the French word for Lily of the Valley, one of the most popular florals used in perfumery.

· Narcotic
Narcotic is the term used to describe the fragrance of some floral notes, said to be intoxicating.

· Note
Note can refer to a single scent in a perfume, or it may be used to refer to one of the three stages of evaporation of a perfume, which are the top note, the middle note and the bottom note, the top being the first to evaporate.

· Oriental
Oriental is a term that, in the past, was used to describe fragrances with balsamic, vanilla, oakmoss and animalic notes, but more recently has been used to describe fragrances that are heavy and full-bodied. Some examples of oriental perfumes are Opium, Obsession, Shalimar, and Samsara.

· Perfume
Perfume, or parfum, as it is sometimes called, is the highest concentration of oils, with 20-50% compound, which makes it last longer than others.

· Perfumer
Perfumer is a multi-use word, used to describe a person who either creates, mixes, or sells perfume.

· Powdery
Powdery is a word used to describe a fragrance produced by a combination of a heavy, sweet or woody note with a citrus, fruit or light green note.

· Resinoids
Resinoids are extracts from gums or resins that are used as fixatives in perfumes.

· Rose
Rose is used to describe one of the most common notes in perfumery which, of course, comes from rose petals.

· Spicy
Spicy describes fragrance notes that have a warm or hot character, as opposed to the neutral or cool Herbal notes. Their scent is pungent, similar to those of cinnamon, or clove and thyme oil.

· Stability
Stability refers to how long a fragrance lasts, either in the bottle with the other ingredients, or exposed to heat, light or air.

· Strength
The strength of a fragrance refers to how intense its scent is.

· Substantivity
Substantivity refers to how long a fragrance lasts on a particular surface, and how it’s affected by temperature, humidity, and other such conditions.

· Sweet
The sweetness of a fragrance can be described in several ways – it can be used to refer to a vanilla sweetness, a floral sweetness, or a fruity sweetness. Whichever one is used, it refers to a rich, sweet taste.

· Synthetic
Synthetic is a term that’s used to refer to a substance that’s man-made, with the specific purpose of duplicating a particular scent. Synthetics are sometimes better than natural materials because their properties can be controlled, but for therapeutic use NEVER use a synthetic!

· Tenacious
A tenacious fragrance will last a long time, keeping it’s main theme or scent.

· Thin
A thin fragrance lacks body or depth.

· Top note
The top note of a perfume is the fragrance that you initially smell. Top notes are usually light, citrus notes.

· Velvety
A velvety fragrance is smooth and mellow, without any harsh notes.

· Woody
Woody fragrances are those that have forest notes, like freshly cut dry wood such as cedarwood and sandalwood.

I sincerely hope this list helps describe any perfumery or aromatic questions you may have about their definitions. If there is one not listed here, please email me and I’ll add it to the list…
thanks and happy scenting!


The Reality of Fragrance Oils

The Whole Ingredient List Exposed
I am terribly allergic to fragrance oils so my opinion is admittedly biased against them. But no matter what my opinion is regarding their allergen potential and safety, one simple fact remains undisputed: manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients of fragrances oils. Trade secret laws allow the ingredients to be hidden behind closed doors. An average of 30 to 50 ingredients are used to create one fragrance and this number can climb to as high as 200 per fragrance. Many of the undisclosed ingredients would be completely avoided if only consumers knew they were present in a given product. I seriously doubt that a consumer who reads ingredient lists would knowingly buy, make or sell a product with an ingredient list that read: 4-(4-Hydroxyphenyl)-2-butanone, 3-Hydroxy-2-methly-4-pyrone, 4-Hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde, 3-Ethoxy-4-hydroxybenzldehyde, α-Ionone, Methyl sulfide, 2,5-Dimethyl-N-(2-pyrazinyl) pyrrole. (Source: A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, by Ruth Winters) An ingredient list such as this would be a major red flag to an educated consumer who reads and cross checks them for safety. But if you are using raspberry fragrance oil in your product then these ingredients are likely in your product. The ingredients could vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

The Fragrance Exception
According to the rules set in place by the FDA all ingredients must be listed in order of predominance on a cosmetic ingredient list EXCEPT ingredients added to give a product an odor. Because of this loop hole the word “fragrance” may represent many of hundreds of ingredients in one product. The term “fragrance” is defined by the FDA as “any natural or synthetic substance or substances used solely to impart an odor to a cosmetic product.” If a “fragrance” is added to mask or cover up the odor of other ingredients it is not required to be added to the label. Therefore, a product that contains fragrance chemicals can be labeled “unscented” or “fragrance free”. This means that if an ingredient in a product gives it an undesired scent then the manufacturer can add fragrance oils to mask the smell and never disclose them at all. I had always wondered why I still had allergic reactions, ranging from eczema to asthma, to products bearing the label “unscented” or “fragrance free.”

More to “Fragrance” than Meets the Eye
Even preservatives can be hidden behind the “fragrance” title. A preservative with the trade name Naticide has been given the coveted INCI (The International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) name of “fragrance”, hence allowing unscrupulous manufacturers to call their product “preservative free”. How do I know this? Because a sales representative called me to sell us what he termed “the greatest new preservative that wouldn’t have to be claimed or disclosed on an ingredient list”. I asked for a full ingredient list and was denied because with the “fragrance” INCI name it is granted the trade secret protection. I asked the sales person to have someone from the lab call me so I could ask technical questions and clarify the safety of the preservative. Believe it or not, no one called me back. Any host of undesirable preservatives could be hidden within this preservative system. They could be good, bad or ugly but with the INCI name of “fragrance” we will never know. One company calls Naticide “manuka oil” in their ingredient list, but I have a bottle of Naticide sitting right here on my desk and it is undoubtedly not manuka oil as it does not remotely smell or feel the same as manuka oil. According to the Naticide manufacturer: the trade name is “Naticide”, the type of ingredient is a “preservative”, the functionality is “preservative, broad spectrum (gram+/-, yeast, fungi), ideal for preservative free formulations”, and its INCI name is parfum a.k.a. fragrance. How can an ingredient be called a preservative, used as a preservative, with the functionality of a preservative and yet be marketed as ideal for preservative free formulations?

Is it a Fragrance Oil Masquerading as an Essential Oil?
Another commonly misrepresented ingredient in the aroma category of the cosmetic industry occurs in the blurred line between essential oils and fragrance oils. All too often manufacturers and consumers of cosmetics are being tricked into believing that they are using pure essential oils, when in fact they are being sold adulterated goods. Contaminated essential oils are widespread in the market place as a result of a blurred line between what is technically allowed and what is actually true. It is a common held belief that if the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and CTFA (Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association) allow the ingredients of any fragrance component to all fall under the heading “parfum” or “fragrance” then there is no reason to inform the consumer. By law, even when a label says “essential oils” or a product is sold as an “essential oil” it is not a guarantee that the product does not contain fragrance oils. The practice is perfectly legal and runs rampant in our industry. In fact you can claim that you use “essential oils” even if you use fragrance oils, reconstitutes, adulterated oils, perfume compounds, aromas, synthetic fragrance ingredients or diluted essential oils. It is legal to claim that a product only uses essential oils, when in fact there are added synthetics in the product. The practice of using fragrance oils and labeling them essential oils is even more common in blends that are being sold as essential oil blends.

An Educated Nose
Truly the only safe guards are an educated nose, asking a lot of questions and knowing exactly what plants do produce essential oils and from what part of the plant. For instance, you can get an essential oil out of the leaves of a strawberry plant, but it won’t smell like strawberry at all. It would smell herbaceous and green and not sweet and fruity. If you are being sold “strawberry essential oil” ask questions, ask for the botanical name of each ingredient and the country of origin. The only fruits that produce an essential oil that smells like the fruit itself are citrus fruits. Some plants produce a variety of essential oils from different parts of the plant. For instance the citrus family produces: neroli (Citrus aurantium) from orange blossoms, sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) from the zest, and petitgrain (Citrus aurantium) from the leaves. Although all of these essential oils come from the same plant family, only one of them smells like an orange. The best way to know the difference, so that even a poorly labeled product will not sneak past you, is to educate your nose by smelling essential oils next to fragrance oils. Once you smell the difference it is unlikely that you will ever be misled again. Nothing man made smells as pure and natural as the essential oil or distillate water that comes from true plant material.

Synthetic fragrances are cheaper and always smell consistent because they are lab created. Nature does not always produce the same exact scent each and every harvest of plant material. Essential oils can vary due to environmental differences from year to year and due to varying countries of origin for plant material. Lab created fragrances or “essential oils” misbranded as pure unadulterated plant essences are often: made from petroleum by-products, contain known carcinogens, phthalates (see Phthalates Explained at Essential U) and are the most common cause of cosmetic related allergic reactions according to many reputable allergy specialist. Fragrance oils are known to contain many of the same toxins and carcinogens that are in cigarette smoke. There are said to be anywhere from 2000 to 5000 raw fragrance components used to formulate fragrance oils. I didn’t count the list but feel free to go to the site yourself to see a full list of fragrance raw ingredients, and decide for yourself what is acceptable to you. You will find a combination of natural and purely synthetic ingredients. http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_risk/committees/sccp/documents/out131_en.pdf

No Such Thing as Phantom Ingredients
When I challenge manufacturers to disclose ingredients I receive comments like this one: “disclosure of each trivial amount of processing aid will confuse consumers as to the actual meaningful ingredients present in the product.” Other suppliers, manufacturers and companies believe that we should not disclose “phantom ingredients” because they would only confuse the consumer. I guess they believe they should protect us from knowledge that might make us ask questions.

Do We Have a Right to Know?
No matter which side of this debate is right or wrong, the issue doesn’t relate to the safety of the ingredients that are used to compose fragrance oils. The issue is that consumers are unable to make informed decisions for themselves about the use of undisclosed ingredients for their product line or personal use. A consumer who desires to not be exposed to secret ingredients has only one choice: to avoid fragrance oils altogether. This, of course, presents the problem that scents are airborne, which means we are exposed all day everyday to them whether we personally use them or not. But that is another issue altogether. Of course, fragrance companies will never disclose their ingredients because by law they are allowed to claim intellectual knowledge which means that their blends will remain trade secrets.

Ask Questions
I am not setting out to change the world, but to inform consumers of what they don’t know and cause people to ask questions. If a company selling a product that they claim is an essential oil cannot product a MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet), C of A (Certificate of Analysis) and tell you the botanical name and country of origin, you should look elsewhere. You cannot rely solely on labels, websites or a claim that something is pure and unadulterated. Train your nose, ask questions and demand answers.

The Right to Know
Absolutely every opinion can be backed up by real facts and “facts”. The simple truth is that there is research out there to back up any stance you want to take on any given subject. It is important as consumers that we research the information that makes the most sense to us. I can find an argument online or in a chat room to back up or discredit any opinion I hold. There is no substance on earth that is non-sensitizing, in all circumstances, to all people. People who are allergic to peanuts cannot honestly petition for peanuts to be banned worldwide. But they do have the right to have it disclosed to them if a product they consume, or use, contains, or has been processed, near peanuts. I am not proposing in any way that we ban all fragrance oils, I simply believe that we have a right to know when we are being sold fragrance oils and what is in them.

Frankincense King of Essential Oils


I love the aroma, history and significance of Frankincense.


Frankincense has been among the most important oils in aromatherapy, ayurvedic medicine, perfumery, and religious ceremony for ages. Literally ages! Its use dates back thousands of years. And frankincense, “Libona” in Hebrew, is mentioned throughout the bible, including the Song of Songs, “Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant”.

In ancient times Frankincense was actually worth more than its weight in gold! And the fragrance of frankincense is glorious. Frankincense is warm and resinous with the most gentle hint of spice and a pure sweetness unlike anything else. This sweetness is neither rosy nor like jasmine or neroli, it’s not citrus-like, nor like cedar. It’s not surprising that frankincense has been set above all other oils in so many cultures. It is unique.

Today there are a number of different species of frankincense gums distilled for use in aromatherapy. Most come from east Africa. These species include Boswellia carterri, Boswellia sacra, and Boswellia frereana. But frankincense oil is usually a distillation of resins of multiple species from more than one country of origin. I have spoken to several distillers who tell me that after harvesting, people bring frankincense tears to the borders between Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya where it is traded. The resin is then sorted by purity and not by species. The finest tears go to the highest bidder and there is a lot of competition for this precious commodity. In those seasons when the harvest is smaller, the cost of frankincense will soar. But it’s worth it!

Sometime you might have the opportunity to buy “Indian Frankincense”. If you decide to, please ignore the description of the aroma of frankincense given above. Indian Frankincense, Boswellia serrata, is very different from the frankincense coming from eastern Africa. True, Indian Frankincense will be a small fraction of the cost, but it will also be an entirely different quality. By comparison to African species, it is heavy and harsh and dull. It just won’t do as a substitute. You will never have to worry about Young Living, Bella Mira or any good company like Essential Wholesale using anything less than frankincense worth its weight in gold.