What are perfume notes?
Most perfumes aren’t just one constant smell, but more of a ‘journey’. What you perceive when you first spray on a fragrance is not what you’ll get hours later; instead, the prevailing scent evolves and changes through the day. Some people compare it to the complexity of a fine wine.
A perfume’s composition can be divided into three different stages, or ‘notes’; you can also think of them as layers that reveal themselves over time. So, on the first whiff, you will smell mostly top notes, with some middle or ‘heart’ notes, and at least a hint of the base notes to come. As time progresses, the balance will shift to feature the heart and then the base notes more intensely.
This happens because, when we smell perfume on the skin, we’re actually inhaling molecules that are dispersed from the surface. Lighter molecules are quicker to reach the nose, as well as to evaporate – so they are the first thing you smell, but also the first to disappear from the overall composition as it dries. The longer-lasting ingredients have more tenacity on your body simply because they don’t evaporate as quickly.
This phenomenon is important to understand, because the first thing you smell out of the bottle is almost never the part of the fragrance that’s still around hours later.
Let’s look at the qualities typical to each part of the perfume journey, or ‘dry-down’:
The freshest, most fleeting notes are the ones you’ll notice strongest right out off the bat. This ‘first impression’ stage commonly features citruses, herbs, aquatics and light fruits, like berries.
Some perfumers will throw in unusual scents here, to get your attention straight out of the bottle. None of these are likely to last very long, as their molecules are lightest and evaporate the most quickly.
Also known as the ‘heart notes, these are more pronounced as the top notes fade away. They, too, will gradually disappear, though they might cling a bit longer to mingle with, and soften, the base notes as those emerge.
Rose, lavender, jasmine, and many other floral, herbal and fruity ingredients can be found here.
Many of the ingredients used here are considered the ‘glues’ – or, in perfumer’s jargon, ‘fixatives’ – that help the whole perfume last longer on your skin, by slowing the evaporation process.
These tend to be deeper, earthier aromas like vanilla, musk, amber and wood, and can stay around for hours after the lighter notes have dissipated.
Figuring out which types of middle and base notes you like best, and which category they fall into, will help narrow down your search for a long-lasting scent that you love as much after ten hours as when you first applied it.