Perfume ingredients: A to Z list
How well do you know your perfume ingredients? It's OK if the answer is "not very well." Therefore, we have made a list with the explanation of commonly used ingredients in perfume. Think of this post as your go-to ingredient guide.
If you were to hold an aldehyde under your nose, identifying the smell might still be hard. After all, you might not have any frames of reference. There are many different aldehydes with a variety of profiles. Most have a strong smell with a slightly oily waxy character, with a thin metallic twist. Other aldehydes may also have a citrusy scent or a pinkish flavour.
Amber is a heavy, full-bodied, powdery, warm fragrance note. Amber oil comes from the Baltic amber. Amber is (most commonly) found in the base notes of fragrances.
Ambergris is a sperm whale secretion with a sweet, woody odour. Usually produced synthetically, as the sale of ambergris is illegal in many countries.
The oil obtained from ambrette seeds - which come from hibiscus - has a musky odour. Ambrette is utilised as a substitute for real musk.
Amyris is a white flowering shrub or tree found in Haiti and South America. It is often used as a cheaper alternative to sandalwood.
Balsamic is a smell with characteristics that evoke associations of frankincense, benzoin, pine, resin, juniper, turpentine, etc.
Benzoin is the balsamic resin from the Styrax tree. It is warm, sweet and smells a little like vanilla. It also has powdery, milky and spicy notes. In perfumery, the word balsamic is used to describe the same thing.
Bergamot is a spicy oil from the (non-edible) bergamot orange, which is mainly grown in Italy.
Clone is an aromatic chemical that adds a "sea breeze" or maritime note to fragrances.
A synthetic aldehyde with a spicy, amber, musky, floral odour. Used to evoke the velvety scent or "feel" of cashmere.
Castoreum is an animal excretion of the beaver used to impart a leathery odour to a perfume. This is now often reproduced synthetically.`
Lemon peel is used to create citrus fragrance notes.
Musk is produced by a gland from the tail of the African civet cat. Pure civet is said to have a strong, unpleasant odour, but in small quantities is often used to add depth and warmth to fragrances.
Coumarin is a common perfume composition that smells like vanilla. Usually derived from the tonka bean (see below), but also found in lavender, sweetgrass and other plants.
A fragrant tropical flower, also known as "West Indian jasmine."
Fruity notes are very popular in the floral-fruity category of the new millennium. While peach and plum were dominating components as a base for classical perfumers in the 20th century.
A gum resin that emits a green, plant-like odour. It smells spicy, green with an undertone of celery and pine.
The term "green notes" refers to notes of leaves and freshly cut grasses, which exude a piquant quality. In this classification, we find several classic pungent essences, such as galbanum. Galbanum is a resin from tall grass with an invigoratingly green scent profile.
Wood from a resinous South American tree. The oil is put to use in perfumery.
Hedione is an aroma compound with a soft, radiant jasmine aroma.
Flowers from the heliotropism family have a strong, sweet and vanilla-like scent with almond undertones.
Perfumers have a fantastic palette of woody elements to weave into their creations: Warm, mysterious sandalwood, drier and sharper cedarwood, agarwood (also known as Oud), Guaiacwood (pock wood) as well as vetiver and patchouli. The latter two are not woods, they are roots and leaves, but you would not think so because of their intensely earthy, woody character. The addition of spices, fruity notes or herbs gives a twist to woody scents. Resinous and sultry exotics notes are usually accompanied by aromatic and citrusy ones to balance a fragrance. So if you like woody perfumes, explore the other members of this family. All types of perfumes belong to this family.
Indole is a chemical compound that smells floral at low concentrations but faecal at high concentrations.
Iso-E-Super is a chemical aroma described as a soft, woody, amber-ish with a velvety sensation. Iso-E-Super is used in the popular fragrance Molecule 01 by Escentric Molecules, among others.
Jasmine is a flower widely used in perfumery. Jasmine is one of the most expensive perfume ingredients in the world.
The scent of coconut allows you to return to your summer memories every day of the year. The exotic fragrance of coconut creates a good mood and a feeling of relaxation. Delicate and captivating sweet notes also quickly capture the attention of those around you.
Labdanum is an aromatic gum from the rockrose bush. Its sweet woody scent is said to mimic ambergris (see above) and can also be used to impart a leathery note.
Leather can be tough and sexy or soft and supple: a leather accord in a perfume always adds a special touch.
Lily of the valley
Lily of the valley is one of the three most used flowers in perfumery. Unlike jasmine and rose, Lily of the valley is predominantly produced synthetically.
Lis root is from the iris plant. It has a floral, heavy and woody aroma. Lis root is also one of the rarer ingredients used in perfume.
Gardenia (Tiare) petals macerated in coconut oil. Sometimes Monoi is called Monoi de Tahiti.
Natural musk comes from the glands of the musk deer. However, the vast majority of musks produced and sold in the world today are synthetic. That is a good thing since musk is in almost every male perfume. Natural musk is also one of the most expensive perfume ingredients.
A gum resin is produced from a shrub found in Arabia and East Africa to make Myrrh. It comes from a shrub called Commiphora and smells warm, ambery, aromatic, resinous, balsamic and sensual. Occasionally, Myrrh has a smoky and syrupy character.
The white flowers which grow under these trees are widely used in French perfume production.
Neroli is made from citrus oil distilled from the blossoms of the sweet or bitter orange tree. The Italian term for neroli is Zagara.
Derived from a lichen that grows on oaks. Prized for its aroma, which is at first heavy and oriental, and then becomes refined and earthy when dried, reminiscent of bark, coast and foliage.
Opopanax is a herb that grows in the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean, also known as Sweet Myrrh. The resin produces a scent similar to that of balsam or lavender.
A flowering tree native to China, prized for its delicate fruity apricot aroma, is the source of Osmanthus.
Oudh is a fascinating type of wood that is from the tropical tree Aquilaria. Because the Aquilaria tree is rare and the process of resin formation, the harvesting is so complex. This complexity makes Oudh one of the most precious perfume materials in the world. The most commonly used name is the Arabic name Oudh or Oud (pronounced as 'ood').
Ozone is a modern synthetic note designed to mimic the smell of 'petrichor' aka the fresh air after a thunderstorm.
A bushy shrub native to Malaysia and India produces the scent we know as 'Patchouli'. Its scent is woody, like wet earth and green leaves. These fragrances give it a dark and strong character. Patchouli reacts very strongly with other ingredients too, meaning it is prime for compositions. If you mix it with vanilla, the fragrance will have an oriental character, warm and creamy like Chai.
This is one of the most important floral notes used in perfumery. Rose -considering every grandma has them - is shockingly one of the more expensive perfume ingredients. Curious about the five most expensive perfume ingredients in the world? Click here.
Rose de Mai
This is the traditional name given to Rose Absolute (essential oil of roses) produced by solvent and then alcohol extraction.
Oil from the Indian sandalwood tree is one of the oldest and best-known perfume ingredients used as a base note. It is as much of a staple as your white T's.
The oil of this spice smells sweet to bittersweet, with nuances of amber, hay and tobacco.
A plant native to Brazil is the source of this bean. It has an aroma of vanilla but with a strong hint of cinnamon, cloves and almonds. Used as a cheaper alternative to vanilla, it has also become popular on its own.
Tuberose is a beautiful flower that smells incredibly strong and specific. You either love it, or you hate it. In nature, white flowers often have a strong smell. They cannot attract bees and butterflies with their colour, so try all the more with their scent! Tuberose smells voluptuously floral, exotic, creamy, honey-like, sometimes green and can have an animal accent (due to the high concentration of indol). It is fragrance drama at its best!
I shouldn't have to explain this one but I will. Vanilla is from the seed pod of the vanilla orchid. It is very fragrant, popular, and expensive to produce. Most vanilla in perfumes and aromas is now synthetic and often consists mostly of vanillin. Most synthetic vanillin is made from the residual streams of wood/paper production. In perfumes, vanilla is found in oriental perfumes because it smells sweet, balmy, slightly spicy and soft.
Vetiver is dried grass and therefore smells like grass, but slightly more woody. It also evokes associations of earth and salt, a kind of salty sea. It is a popular note for its warmth and elegance.
Born from an Asian evergreen tree with fragrant flowers, Ylang-Ylang is an oil used in the most expensive floral perfumes. Ylang-ylang smells flowery, exotic, soft, a bit like jasmine, while also resembling the scent of narcissus, spicy and ethereal. In nature, the flowers spread a stronger, more enchanting scent, especially at night, to attract the right moths. The flower is very good to combine in perfumes with other flowers. It gives elegance, texture and originality to a perfume.