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.
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.
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 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 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.
An aldehyde is a highly-reactive chemical compound made by oxidizing different alcohols to make resins and organic acids.
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 is a term used to describe a heavy, full-bodied, warm fragrance.
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 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 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, in perfumery, refers to the rich scents of Balsamic notes.
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, 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 is a sticky resin that leaks out of trees when they’re cut. It’s used in perfume to create a woody scent.
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 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.
Not surprisingly, bouquet is a term used to describe a mixture of floral notes.
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 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 notes are fresh scents, similar to the smell of fresh oranges, lemons, grapefruit, bergamot and pomello.
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 is a term used to describe a fragrance that’s sickly sweet and unpleasantly clinging.
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 is the term used in perfumery to describe the concentrated fragrance mixture before it’s diluted to make the finished perfume.
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 refers to whether a scent is complex, sophisticated, rich or full-bodied.
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 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 is a word used to describe a fragrance that disappears quickly.
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 is the process of removing essential oils from plant material using solvents, which are then evaporated, leaving just the oil.
An extract is a perfume that has 15-45% compound in an alcohol base.
A fixative is an ingredient added to perfume to make it last longer, similar to a preservative.
A flat fragrance is like a flat beer – no body, no lift, uninteresting.
Floral is a fragrance scent that resembles flowers, and is usually described as smooth or natural.
Flowery is a fragrance with flower or flower petal notes.
· Forest blends
Forest blend perfumes have earthy, woodsy, natural notes.
Fresh is a term often used to describe citrus or green notes, found in light perfumes.
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 refers to a fragrance that’s rich and has depth.
Fungal is used to describe a fragrance that has notes of mushrooms, fungus, or mould, like oakmoss.
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 is a fragrance note that resembles freshly cut grass, or leaves, and it gives the perfume a vibrant scent.
Gums are the resins that are extracted from the bark, branches and leaves of trees.
Harmonious is a word used by perfumers to describe a fragrance that’s well mixed and well balanced.
Heady fragrances make you feel light-headed, exhilarated or stimulated.
Heart refers to the main theme, or the middle of the perfume.
Heavy refers to a fragrance that’s potent and not vibrant, and is often described as sweet or balsamic.
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 is a term used to describe a fragrance that has a very sweet, almost medicinal scent – very heavy and syrupy.
Jasmine is an absolute used in perfume. There are two kinds – European, and South Asian.
Lift is a term used to describe a fragrance that has life and brilliance.
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.
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 refers to fragrances that have earthy notes, like the forest floor.
Muguet is the French word for Lily of the Valley, one of the most popular florals used in perfumery.
Narcotic is the term used to describe the fragrance of some floral notes, said to be intoxicating.
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 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, 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 is a multi-use word, used to describe a person who either creates, mixes, or sells perfume.
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 are extracts from gums or resins that are used as fixatives in perfumes.
Rose is used to describe one of the most common notes in perfumery which, of course, comes from rose petals.
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 refers to how long a fragrance lasts, either in the bottle with the other ingredients, or exposed to heat, light or air.
The strength of a fragrance refers to how intense its scent is.
Substantivity refers to how long a fragrance lasts on a particular surface, and how it’s affected by temperature, humidity, and other such conditions.
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 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!
A tenacious fragrance will last a long time, keeping it’s main theme or scent.
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.
A velvety fragrance is smooth and mellow, without any harsh notes.
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!