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Perfumery Terms

Term Definition
ABSOLUTE: A highly-concentrated fragrance oil similar to essential oil, but produced through an extraction process using volatile solvents. The extracted solid material is then combined with alcohol to produce the absolute.
ACCORD: Several perfume notes or ingredients that are combined to produce a third unique scent that smells like something else entirely.
ANIMAL: Originally used to describe animal-derived ingredients like ambergris or musk that emit a sensual, musky smell. Today’s animal facets are usually replaced by synthetics.
BASE NOTES: The heaviest, longest-lasting notes in a fragrance, base notes act as a foundation to enhance the scent of other ingredients. Once the heart notes have faded, they take on a character of their own, otherwise known as the “dry down.”
CITRUS: Composed of oils from lemon, orange, bergamot, grapefruit or mandarin zest, the citrus family imparts fresh, clean, bright notes when added to the top notes of a fragrance.
CONCRETE: A solid, waxy substance obtained from the extraction of plants using volatile solvents. Concretes are usually further rinsed with alcohol and concentrated to produce an absolute.
CORE NOTES: Often referred to as middle or heart notes, tcore notes usually define the way a scent is described and categorized. They have a strong influence on the base notes that follow and often comprise a smooth floral and/or fruit tone.
CHYPRE: A generic name for a family of fragrances with a mossy, woody base, chypre was originally inspired by the smells of the island of Cyprus: sharp patchouli and oak-moss base notes intertwined with citrus.
DISTILLATION: An extraction method for obtaining aromatic compounds from plants by steam evaporation.
EAU DE COLOGNE: A term used by perfume brands to refer to fragrances whose concentration usually stands between 2% and 5% fragrance oil to alcohol.
EAU DE TOILETTE: A term used by perfume brands to refer to fragrances whose concentration usually stands between 5% and 10% fragrance oil to alcohol.
EAU DE PARFUM: A term used by perfume brands to refer to fragrances whose concentration usually stands between 10% and 15% fragrance oil to alcohol.
ESSENTIAL OILS: A concentrated distillation of a fragrant plant usually extracted via steam distillation.
EXTRACT: The most concentrated form of perfume, an extract usually stands between 15% and 45% fragrance oil to alcohol. This term is also interchangeable with parfum.
FOUGÈRE: Named after the French term for fern, fougère are green and aromatic herbal scents featuring lavender, oakmoss, citrus and woods that are often used in men’s scents.
HEADSPACE: A method pioneered in the 1970s of capturing scent molecules and reconstructing their smell. A bell-jar like apparatus is placed over the scented object to capture the odor compounds in the surrounding air. It’s then analyzed to produce a synthetic version.
HESPERIDIC: A term used to describe the essential oils obtained from citrus fruits.
MOLECULAR DISTILLATION: A technique used to remove colors or contaminants in essential oils and extracts that results in very pure raw materials
MACERATION: The most commonly used method for removing essential oils from flowers. Flowers are soaked in warm fats to remove the oil, then dissolved in alcohol for a number of weeks at a reduced temperature until the extract is ready to be used.
MATURATION: The time required for a perfume concentrate to age or reach its full potential before being put into a base.
NATURAL: Any perfume ingredient derived from natural, non-synthetic sources.
OLFACTORY: Relating to, or connected with, the sense of smell.
OLFACTIVE FAMILIES: A frequently used classification system that categorizes perfumes according to their dominant notes. Families include aromatic, chypre, citrus, floral, fougère, leather, oriental and woody.
PARFUM: The most concentrated form of perfume, parfum usually stands between 15% and 45% fragrance oil to alcohol. This term is also interchangeable with extract.
RESINOID: A viscous substance extracted from plant resin using volatile solvents, which is then used to make absolute.
SILLAGE: A French word, sillage is a trail/wake left by a boat in the water as it splits the waves. Likewise in perfume, it is the trail left in the air when someone leaves the room.
SYNTHETIC: Any perfume ingredient created via chemical synthesis, as opposed to those extracted from natural material. Synthetics are often used as substitutes for natural ingredients that have become too expensive or unsustainable.
TOP NOTES: The molecularly lightest note in a perfume formula and the first notes you smell in a composition.