When you think of what a perfume is? It seems surprising that combination of invisible molecules can work on your skin and your body’s natural oils to create unusual olfactory sensations. But that is what it is. Perfumes are a complex combination of molecules that not only tease our sense of smell but create an imprint in the brain that evoke powerful memories.

Defining the characteristics of a perfume, author, and fragrance chemist Luca Turin writes in her book Secret of Scent: Adventures in Perfume and Science of Smell, “Perfumes are a complex mixture of what the people in the industry call ‘raw materials’. The raw materials can either be extracts from natural sources (mixture of molecules) or synthetic raw materials (usually single molecules). Mixtures both natural and synthetic are often beautiful, whether they be designed by evolution to attract bees, or by us to attract each other...The study of smell requires one to exit the realm of beautiful to descend into what German philosophers used to call the Sublime, and come face to face with the enduring strangeness of raw sensation.”

The Notes of Fragrance

A perfume basically has three notes that define its character. It is the potency of these three notes that decides the staying power of the fragrance. It has the head-note, heart-note and the base-note. Head-note is the strongest. It is the first whiff of scent that you get once you spritz on your perfume. Then as the perfume settles on your skin, it changes and evolves to the heart-note, which creates the aura around you after mixing with your own pheromones or your scent hormones. Finally what remains and mingles with your own scent long after your first spritz is the base-note. Base-notes are also known as fixatives that help bind the various scents together. They make the scent last longer as they have a slower rate of evaporation.

The Different Notes

Base or Woody: Base-notes generally include earthy animal smells, spices, woods, and resins. Key ingredients - musk, amber, vanilla, sandalwood, benzoin, oakmoss and patchouli.

Fresh: Refreshing light scents that include smells like citrus, green, fruity and aquatic. Key ingredients - bergamot, orange, lemon, lime, petitgrain, mandarin, fresh grass and leaves, peppermint and sea foam.   

Floral: Flowery aroma from combination of natural extracts of one or more flowers. Floral aldehydes are rich synthetic smells simulating a natural fragrance. Key Ingredients - rose, jasmine, tuberose, lily of the valley, ylang ylang, orange blossom, lavender, marigold, geranium etc.

Oriental: Rich and sensual reminiscent of the exotic east. Semi oriental or floriental is a lighter fragrance with a blend of floral. Key ingredients - sandalwood, musk, jasmine, cypress, frankincense, rose etc.

Chypre: Rich, long lasting, earthy aroma based on a woody, mossy and flowery complex. It also has some aspects of leather or fruits. Key ingredients - oakmoss, woods of the forest, mature leather, ripe fruits, jasmine, myrrh etc.