Your A-Z List of Fragrance Ingredients
In our last blog post we gave you our top tips on how to choose your next perfume and within that we spoke about the Top, Middle and Base notes within a perfume, but navigating the list of ingredients used in perfumes can often seem daunting, especially if you’ve not heard of the extracts used before. From Vetiver to Ylang-ylang, there a whole host of beautiful scents that go into the fragrances that you love and we have decided to pick our favourites and put together an A-Z of ingredients so that you have an idea of what exactly they are and how they smell . . .
Amber A heavy, full bodied, powdery, warm fragrance note. The amber fragrance used inmany perfumes today is in fact a blend of ingredients that creates its warm, powdery, sweet scent. The ingredients used to create this are a mixture of both natural and synthetic, commonly used are vanilla, patchouli, labdanum, styrax, benzoin and a few more. Amber is often used to create oriental fragrances.
True natural Amber takes millions of years to form. The resin has very little scent unless burned when it then gives off a pine-like aroma.
‘If you’re looking for a more accepted and natural amber, labdanum absolute is a plant-based resin that carries amber-esq notes and is more commonly used in perfumery. Benzoin resin is another ingredient that recreates an amber aroma with yummy smokey balsamic notes’ (EPC)
Bergamot is sometimes called “the finest flower of citrus”, because of its subtle and complex scent. Bergamot is a “top note” so we can find it in floral, chypre, woody, and even oriental fragrances. Perfumers like to use bergamot in the top notes to contrast with ambery or vanilla scents, by doing this it helps lift heavier and rounder scents.
Coumarin is one of the most commonly used ingredients in fragrances, scent of this ingredient depends on the quantity used, it can either be herbal like hay, or sweet and warm like caramelized almonds. While it’s found naturally in many plants (especially the tonka bean), today fragrance makers tend to create coumarin in a lab.
Dahlia interestingly It’s the leaves and the stems which are used in fragrance, rather than the pillowy flower heads themselves, giving a slightly bitter note. It’s not a scent which is heavily used in a perfumery’s fragrance arsenal with other, far more fragranced floral scents leading the way.
Edelweiss is in fact a protected species and nowadays it is most commonly found in Javanese mountain regions. It smells sweet, but not as cloying as hyacinth. A short-lived perennial with beautiful white flowers, edelweiss has long been valued as a medicinal plant – but in fragrance, it’s not actually used very widely.
Freesia is a very sweet-smelling flower, almost reminiscent of strawberries or other summer fruit. But at the same time it is quite a mild scent with subtle high notes of honey and mint.
Gardenia is a sweet and delicate scent, and is in contrast to the powerful and punchy fragrance of tuberose. The gardenia plant, is native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, Africa, Madagascar and the Pacific Islands. The intoxicating scent is famously expensive and hard to produce, with many perfumers pairing the scent with other white floral accords such as tuberose and jasmine. While gardenia perfumes can be worn all-year round, they are perfect for hot summer months.
Honeysuckle is often found as either the main note or supporting note in a range of different fragrances, with honeysuckle becoming more popular over recent years. Honeysuckle adds a fresh, clean scent to perfume notes, making it perfect for long, hot, summer days.
Iris is packed full of irones (Irones are a group of methylionone odorants used in perfumery, derived from iris oil, e.g. orris root. The most commercially important of these are: (-)-cis-γ-irone, and. (-)-cis-α-irone), this means that it can often take on the sweet earthy character of violets. Many iris fragrances did in fact have a violet tone to them, whether that be from the orris itself or the addition of a violet note, which of course merges into the composition very well.
Jasmine has an incredibly sensual, rich and sweet fragrance. While it’s more widely seen as a floral scent, there’s also an animalic element to it which might also explain why it’s long been considered an aphrodisiac. In Hindu and Muslim traditions, it’s considered the perfume of love and in aromatherapy, it’s used to relax the body and lower emotional borders.
Lavender though still a floral fragrance, is strong, charismatic, and intensely botanical—underlying its floral sweetness are green and spicy notes, which combine to give lavender a somewhat woody, herbal quality.
Musk has been used in fragrances for centuries, and as with many fragrances it has fallen in and out of fashion, but this ancient and evocative scent has slowly risen to popularity again. Musk is most commonly found in sweet or woodsy, earthy scents, and tends to be a scent that those with advanced fragrance palettes appreciate. Musk is commonly that lasting note that stays behind after the more volatile notes have shifted on, perfumes often use it as a base note or as something you blend with other scents
Neroli has a light sweet-floral fragrance with an element of citrus. It is said to have a refreshing, honeyed floral aroma. It is commonly used as a top note in modern fragrances. Perfumers highly prize neroli oil for its ability to blend well with various citrus oils, floral absolutes, and most of the synthetic components available on the market.
Oud is highly valued by perfumers for its warm sweetness mixed with woody and balsamic notes. When used within perfume, oud is most often a base note It’s an aromatic and complex scent. It is used either in the form of oud oil or a resin.
Patchouli has a strong, sweet scent that falls into the musky-earthy category. Because of its strong fragrance, it’s often used as a base scent within perfumes. While it’s part of the mint family, patchouli doesn’t smell fresh and cool the way typical mint varieties in the grocery store do. Instead, it smells sweet, spicy and musky.
Quince was used by the early Arab perfumers, as well by the Greeks and Romans: they steeped the fruit in oil, and made a perfume from its flowers that was called ‘Melinum’. They look half-way between a pear and an apple (to which it’s related). And the scent is also somewhere in between the two.
Rose is often seen as the Queen of flowers, lemony fresh with various nuances of powder, wood notes or fruit. It is a feminine, clean, intensely romantic fragrance.
Sandalwood comes from the fragrant bark from India’s Santalum trees enchanted the even though it’s a wood, it’s often put in a category all of its own due to its unique characteristics. It smells distinctly exotic, sweet, creamy, smooth, and warm all at once. It’s a precious-wood scent that is instantly recognizable once you know what sandalwood smells like. Sandalwood adds depth, warmth, and complexity and is often paired with woody fragrances like rosewood, or cedar or other essential oils like patchouli, vetiver, and vanilla. It is a key ingredient in the floral-amber fragrance families when combined with white florals like orange blossom, jasmine, ylang-ylang, magnolia, gardenia or tuberose.
Tuberose is an Intoxicating fragrance and also, hugely expensive. It takes over 3600 kilos of flowers to produce just half a kilo of tuberose oil, with its sweet, exotic, complex, velvety floral opulence. Luckily, it’s so concentrated that only a small amount needs be used. However, the tuberose used in perfumery nowadays is often a synthetic copy – not just because of the price, but because through manipulating the aroma particles, it’s possible to bring out tuberose’s creaminess, or its more ‘camphor’-like side. Reminiscent of jasmine, gardenia and orange blossom, tuberose is often blended alongside those other white flowers.
Vetiver essential oil was an ingredient of ancient perfumes and was referred to as “the oil of tranquillity”. It has long been prized for its fixative qualities and is still frequently used to stabilize other, more volatile or delicate perfume ingredients. Today, vetiver is a hugely important perfume ingredient, particularly in fragrances for men. Vetiver is described as smelling warm and dry and conveying earthy, woody, leather, balsamic and smoky notes.
Waterlily as a perfume ingredient, is a little like a lighter version of lily. It has the same sweetness but offers more subtlety. But it’s still sensual, just with a more delicate touch. It’s certainly as elegant as a traditional lily fragrance – but with a more ‘see-through’ and yes, watery quality. Altogether pretty, airy and feminine.
Ylang-ylang is a heady, sweet, slightly exotic fragrance with a dry down that includes fruity and sometimes rubber notes. It’s perhaps most similar to jasmine which also has an intense and exotic scent. Because of its beautiful scent, Ylang-ylang is frequently used in perfumery to enhance citrus notes and sweeten or soften wood notes. Ylang-ylang works especially well with bergamot, geranium, grapefruit, lemon, sandalwood, and vetiver.