Perfume Terminology


Part of creating natural perfumes is making tinctures, infusions or/and enfleurage. I did not know what these were when I first started out making soaps and perfumes. Much of the terminology was foreign to me in the beginning.  Here are some meanings and descriptions. I don’t think I’ll cover every single term out there but I’ll add more during the next few months.

Tinctures are created by placing dried plant material in high proof alcohol and shaking several times over the days then replacing the old plant matter with new plant matter until you have the scent or strength you need.

Infusions are created by putting dried flora into oil (jojoba, fractionated coconut oil or other) slightly heating the oil and shaking several times over the days or weeks then replacing the flora with new dried flora until you have the strength you want.

Enfleurage –  Traditional enfleurage is taking fresh flowers, placing on flat trays of hard oil (coconut oil, mango or shea butter etc) until the hard oil absorbs the scent, then replace the flora again, and again,  until you have the desired scent in the hard oil to be used for solid perfume or skin lotions. It can also be diluted to extract the oil from the harder fat.

Absolute –  plant parts in its purest, most concentrated form. Created from concrete by extraction with alcohol.

Base note –  in perfumery, this is the bottom note or the last notes you will smell in a perfume before it disappears on your skin. Sandalwood, oakmoss, patchouli, vanilla, valerian are just a few.

Chypre – This very basic formula of perfume includes oak moss,  labdanum and bergamot. The original, from the perfumer, Chypre,  was composed of labdanum, Turkish storax and calamus. Now, the basic formula has been much built upon with oils such as clary sage, patchouli, florals…..what one wants typically, is warm, earthy, mossy, resinous, green bouquet.

Concretes –  In perfumery, a concrete is obtained through extraction of essential oils by volatile solvents.  It is the waxy substance and the essential oil, being semi-solid.

Coniferous –  This is a note of tree such as pine, cedar and spruce. Coniferous tree odor.

Damask Water – Popular in 16th century England. Damask Rose water contained many ingredients. Herbs like rosemary, thyme, lavender, with spices, ambergris, spikenard, among other ingredients, were distilled in rose water mixed with wine.

Distillation – This is how essential oils are extracted from plants. Plant material is boiled, the steam extracts from the plants and settles on the top of the water, holding the essential oils of the plant which can be separated from the water.

Earthy Note – The scent of earth basically which can be loamy, mouldy, earthy, and can be created using different essential oils in a blend or can be “noted” in certain essential oils alone. Think patchouli, vetiver, and for blends, think Mitti which is actual baked earth distilled in essential oil- typically sandalwood.

Essence – The true meaning being,  an alcoholic or aqueous plant extract but is also used to describe a scent or  scent ingredient.

Fixative –  A perfume ingredient which prolongs the scent of perfume on the skin or helps fix the scent of other ingredients within the perfume. Generally a base note….think oakmoss, sandalwood, vanilla.

Floral – a perfume of which the main notes are flower notes.

Fougere –  One of my favorite types of perfume to experiment with. The term is French for, fern. This can be what you imagine a fern to smell like so it doesn’t have a formula set in stone but, it does have a base formula which a perfumer has to build from. The basic blend has lavender, patchouli, coumarin, and oak moss in it.

More to come over the weeks ahead….


Gourmand – a foodie quality such as fruits, vanilla, cocoa.

Green Perfume – a perfume that has green notes and is not heavy in warm notes so you might have oakmoss base, green floral heart (Daffodil) accents of herbal notes such as lavender or sage and top notes that are clear like citron.

Heavy – a perfume that is weighty and forceful. It may have a lot of base notes that are warm and sweet.

Incense – fragrant resins such as frankincense or myrrh, often gum or resin form.

Maceration or enfleurage – fresh flower petals steeped in semi solid oil such as mango, fco or other semi solid, then the petals, after steeping in the oil, are removed and the semi solid retains their scent. Perfect for making solid perfumes, lotions or perfumed bars.

Middle Note –   these are the actual middle notes in a perfume. Generally but not limited to a floral note such as rose, lavender or an herb such as rosemary, or wood such as pine.

Musk – in natural perfumery this can be ambrette or an accord of several oils to create a musk note.

Note –  the scent of a particular oil.

Olfactory fatigue – when you smell so many things in a short period of time that your nose can no longer properly distinguish notes. A tired nose!

Oriental perfume – basically amber notes are dominant with spice notes like cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and vanilla.

Powdery perfume – sweet, dry, a little musky perhaps and always that powder note.

Resins – extracts of gums, resins, roots, balsams and are semi solid unless processed. A very good fixative.

Tenacity – is the power of the perfume to last. A very good tenacity for a natural would be 4 hours versus some commercial synthetics which can stick on your skin for 2 days no matter how many times you wash.

Top notes – these are the first scents when you smell a perfume. They give lift to the opening and don’t last long. Top notes can be citrus, like lemon, orange etc.

Woody – wood notes like cedar or sandalwood. The fresh cut or damp notes of wood.