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A Glossary of Perfume Terms and Definitions Ė Making Sense out of Scents

The perfume industry has adopted a language of its own. And when youíre buying fragrances, you need to understand what the salesperson is saying when the perfumeís being described to you. So weíve taken some of the more commonly-used words and put them into this glossary of perfume terms and definitions, to help you make a wise and informed choice. Soak it up!

  • Absolute
    An absolute is the most potent aromatic product made from a base product. It differs from an essential oil in that itís 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.

  • Accord
    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 donít see the yellow or blue Ė just green. And when you smell an accord, you only smell one distinct fragrance, not either of the original fragrances that were combined.

  • Aftershave
    Aftershave is a menís 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 isnít strong enough to interfere with the manís primary cologne. In fact, there are some designer fragrances whoíve introduced aftershave that complements their fragrances.

  • Alcohol
    Alcohol is used in the process of making perfume. Itís job is to carry the perfume extracts, and release them when the perfume is dispensed.

  • Aldehyde
    An aldehyde is a highly-reactive chemical compound made by oxidizing different alcohols to make resins and organic acids.

  • Aldehydic
    Aldehydic comes from the Greek phrase ďanointing oilĒ. In perfumery, it refers to a certain fatty fragrance, and can be found in perfumes such as Chanel No 5.

  • Amber
    Amber is a term used to describe a heavy, full-bodied, warm fragrance.

  • Animalic
    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
    Anosmia is the inability to smell. You can have either full or partial Anosmia. If you have full Anosmia, you canít smell anything. If you have partial Anosmia, there are only certain things you canít 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
    Aromachology is a fairly new science Ė one of the new alternative therapies. Itís 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 Shiseidoís Relaxing, introduced in 1997.

  • Aromatic
    Aromatic, in perfumery, refers to the rich scents of Balsamic notes.

  • Aromatherapy
    Aromatherapy is a term created by R.M. Gattefosse, a French chemist. Itís the art and science, although not a medically-approved one, of using aromatic substances, usually essential oils, to cure common ailments. Itís also popular as a stress reliever.

  • Attar
    Attar, or Otto, as it is sometimes referred, comes from an old Persian word meaning ďto smell sweetĒ. Itís an extremely expensive essential oil made from the Bulgarian rose.

  • Balsam
    Balsam is a sticky resin that leaks out of trees when theyíre cut. Itís used in perfume to create a woody scent.

  • Balsamic
    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
    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 thatís well-rounded or full.

  • Bouquet
    Not surprisingly, bouquet is a term used to describe a mixture of floral notes.

  • Camphoraceous
    Camphoraceous refers to a Eucalyptus-like fragrance thatís found in the scent of certain herbs, like rosemary and lavandin.

  • Carrier oil
    Carrier oil is just what it sounds like Ė an oil base that carries essential oils. Basically, theyíre mixed together to make massage oils and skin care products. Some examples are apricot kernel, grape seed, jojoba and sweet almond.

  • Chypre
    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 menís fragrances.

  • Citrus
    Citrus notes are fresh scents, similar to the smell of fresh oranges, lemons, grapefruit, bergamot and pomello.

  • Classic
    Classic fragrances are Ė well, theyíre classic. They survive the years, remaining popular. They have depth, with a 3-10% floral absolute, much stronger than most modern fragrances.

  • Cloying
    Cloying is a term used to describe a fragrance thatís sickly sweet and unpleasantly clinging.

  • Cologne
    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 Ė a perfume made basically from citrus oils. If you want a classic brand of Eau de Cologne thatís about 200 years old, try Farina Gegenuber or 4711. Today, cologne is a word usually used to describe menís fragrances.

  • Compound
    Compound is the term used in perfumery to describe the concentrated fragrance mixture before itís diluted to make the finished perfume.

  • Concrete
    Concrete is the term used in perfumery to refer to the hard, waxy substance thatís left after the solvent has been applied to the raw material, and has evaporated.

  • Depth
    Depth refers to whether a scent is complex, sophisticated, rich or full-bodied.

  • Diffuser
    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. Itís sometimes referred to as the bottom line or bottom note Ė 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. Itís 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
    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
    Evanescent is a word used to describe a fragrance that disappears quickly.

  • Expression
    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
    Extraction is the process of removing essential oils from plant material using solvents, which are then evaporated, leaving just the oil.

  • Extract
    An extract is a perfume that has 15-45% compound in an alcohol base.

  • Fixative
    A fixative is an ingredient added to perfume to make it last longer, similar to a preservative.

  • Flat
    A flat fragrance is like a flat beer Ė no body, no lift, uninteresting.

  • Floral
    Floral is a fragrance scent that resembles flowers, and is usually described as smooth or natural.

  • Flowery
    Flowery is a fragrance with flower or flower petal notes.

  • Forest blends
    Forest blend perfumes have earthy, woodsy, natural notes.

  • Fresh
    Fresh is a term often used to describe citrus or green notes, found in light perfumes.

  • Fruity
    Fruity is a term used to describe a fragrance that has fruit scents, but not citrus fruits. Itís usually a kind of sweet-sour scent, like apples, strawberries, pineapples or bananas.

  • Full-bodied
    Full-bodied refers to a fragrance thatís rich and has depth.

  • Fungal
    Fungal is used to describe a fragrance that has notes of mushrooms, fungus, or mould, like oakmoss.

  • Fragrance
    Fragrance is often used interchangeably with perfume, but theyíre not quite the same thing Ė fragrance is the scent of the perfume; perfume is the product itself.

  • Green
    Green is a fragrance note that resembles freshly cut grass, or leaves, and it gives the perfume a vibrant scent.

  • Gums
    Gums are the resins that are extracted from the bark, branches and leaves of trees.

  • Harmonious
    Harmonious is a word used by perfumers to describe a fragrance thatís well mixed and well balanced.

  • Heady
    Heady fragrances make you feel light-headed, exhilarated or stimulated.

  • Heart
    Heart refers to the main theme, or the middle of the perfume.

  • Heavy
    Heavy refers to a fragrance thatís potent and not vibrant, and is often described as sweet or balsamic.

  • Herbaceous
    Herbaceous refers to a fragrance thatís natural and hay-like, maybe even a little therapeutic. Some examples are chamomile, lavender, rosemary and sage.

  • Honey
    Honey is a term used to describe a fragrance that has a very sweet, almost medicinal scent Ė very heavy and syrupy.

  • Jasmine
    Jasmine is an absolute used in perfume. There are two kinds Ė European, and South Asian.

  • Lift
    Lift is a term used to describe a fragrance that has life and brilliance.

  • Light
    Light refers to a fragrance thatís not heavy Ė 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.

  • Modern
    A modern perfume would be the opposite of a classic perfume Ė usually using new aroma chemicals, rather than natural materials. It usually has a light fragrance.

  • Mossy
    Mossy refers to fragrances that have earthy notes, like the forest floor.

  • Muguet
    Muguet is the French word for Lily of the Valley, one of the most popular florals used in perfumery.

  • Narcotic
    Narcotic is the term used to describe the fragrance of some floral notes, said to be intoxicating.

  • Note
    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
    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
    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
    Perfumer is a multi-use word, used to describe a person who either creates, mixes, or sells perfume.

  • Powdery
    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
    Resinoids are extracts from gums or resins that are used as fixatives in perfumes.

  • Rose
    Rose is used to describe one of the most common notes in perfumery which, of course, comes from rose petals.

  • Spicy
    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
    Stability refers to how long a fragrance lasts, either in the bottle with the other ingredients, or exposed to heat, light or air.

  • Strength
    The strength of a fragrance refers to how intense its scent is.

  • Substantivity
    Substantivity refers to how long a fragrance lasts on a particular surface, and how itís affected by temperature, humidity, and other such conditions.

  • Sweet
    The sweetness of a fragrance can be described in several ways Ė 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
    Synthetic is a term thatís used to refer to a substance thatís man-made, with the specific purpose of duplicating a particular scent. Synthetics are sometimes better than natural materials because their properties can be controlled.

  • Tenacious
    A tenacious fragrance will last a long time, keeping itís main theme or scent.

  • Thin
    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.

  • Velvety
    A velvety fragrance is smooth and mellow, without any harsh notes.

  • Woody
    Woody fragrances are those that have forest notes, like freshly cut dry wood such as cedarwood and sandalwood.

Did you get all that? Itís a lot to ingest at one sitting, but it may take you more than one sitting to decide which perfume suits you best, anyway. So be patient, and youíll eventually find the fragrance thatís just right for you.

And donít forget that, once you know what you like, you can get it on the Internet. There are discount perfumes and cheap perfumes available, as well as a wonderful selection of French perfume, menís fragrances and colognes, Angel perfume, Chanel, Givenchy, Hugo Boss, Christian Dior Ė anything you could possibly need for yourself, or for gifts.

So try a few perfumes. Wear the one that combines with your natural scent and before you know it, youíll be turning heads.

About the Author:

Arden Mellor is a successful home based freelance writer, one of experience and diversity. The knowledge brought to you through Arden's articles has been designed for simplicity. The world is much too complicated, and Ardenís contribution to the world is to bring the complexities of life into a simpler arena, one that anyone and everyone can understand and use. Arden writes many informative articles on such topics as fragrance oils, herbal moisturizers and how to achieve a perfect white smile, and our wishes are that you benefit from the wisdom presented in these articles in making life simple.

This "Glossary of Perfume Terms & Definitions" reprinted with permission.

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