In Part 1 of this series, The Beauty Brains shocked the world by revealing a deep, dark secret of the beauty industry: most companies don’t create their own fragrances. Instead, they hire specialized companies known as Fragrance Houses to do it for them. In Part 2 we talk about the ingredients that these Fragrance Houses use to create all those wonderful scents.
Fragrance notes are used to create a perfume the same way bricks are used to create a building. You start with a foundation, and you add layer after layer until you reach the top. A good fragrance is kind of built like a pyramid with a large, solid bottom layer and a smaller, lighter top.
Ingredients known as “bottom notes” form the base of a fragrance. These account for about 40% or 50% of the fragrance. Because these bottom notes are heavier, longer lasting scents you can still smell them even after you`ve been wearing a fragrance for hours.
The middle of the fragrance is the part you smell the strongest after you`ve been wearing it for 30 minutes or so. This section makes up about 30% to 40% of the fragrance and is usually a complex floral blend.
At the top of the fragrance pyramid, you`ll find the lightest, fastest evaporating scents. These “top notes” make up about 20% of the fragrance and they are described with terms like “sparkling” and “fresh.” You smell them when you first open a bottle of perfume but they evaporate quickly once you apply it to your skin.
Types Of Fragrance Ingredients
There are thousands of fragrance ingredients that can be used as bottom, middle and top notes. Perfumers group them into the following categories :
As the name implies, these are derived from citrus fruits like limes, lemons, oranges and grapefruits. These are typically used as top notes to brighten a fragrance.
Flowers are the most popular of all fragrance scents – rose, tuberose, jasmin, freesia, and lily are just a few of the many possible floral notes. In general, floral notes are diffusive and natural smelling. But they are also quite diverse – floral aldehydes tend to have a fatty odor; green florals are almost vegetable-like; and fruity florals are bright and sweet.
Fougere is the term used to describe a group of fragrance notes that include certain
citrus fruits, geranium and lavender. These notes are very crisp and clean smelling and are said to smell like fresh air or the outdoors. This type of scent is frequently used in men`s colognes.
In addition to citrus fruits, apple, peach, berry, and melon notes are also used as fragrance ingredients. The original Herbal Essences fragrance, for example, was built on a strong green apple note. These scents are very well liked and do a good job of covering up the odor of other chemicals in the formula. They are described as being sweet, fresh, and natural.
Herbal and green notes can be made from rosemary, sage, basil, and other similar plants. These also make good top notes because they diffuse very quickly. They are often described as fresh, clean and natural.
Oriental notes typically include amber, frankincense, myrrh, incense notes, sandalwood, vanilla and fir balsam. These are heavy, long-lasting scents so they make good bottom notes. (Note : Oriental is a technical term, not to be confused with “Asian “which is the more politically correct term to describe ethnicity.)
Woodsy notes smell like cedar or pine. They tend to be heavy and long lasting so they make good bottom notes too.
We`ve barely scratched the surface with this short list of ingredients, but hopefully you’ll be able to decipher at least some of the fragrance descriptions the next time you`re shopping at Sephora. And now that you understand these basic building blocks of fragrance chemistry, you`re ready for Part 3 where we`ll talk about how perfumers combine these chemicals to make us all smell so sexy!