Fragrance Notes Explained: Everything You Need to Know

by Jenna Ross

Perfumes are multidimensional. Like notes in a song, they come together with the intentional layering of synergistic elements into a harmonious final product. If you’ve ever browsed fragrances, you’ve likely seen or heard them described using the term “notes.” Fragrance notes are crucial to making up the full olfactory experience of perfume. So, what are fragrance notes? Keep reading to find out.

Understanding fragrance notes

Fragrance notes are also called perfume notes. These are just fancy ways of describing the different scent layers in a fragrance. Understand that perfumes don’t exist on one plane. Think of them as a three-dimensional structure of scents. The structure is built up of three distinct parts: base notes, heart notes, and top notes. Each note has unique characteristics including evaporation time and smell. Let’s dive into the characteristics of each type of fragrance note.

What are top notes?

Top notes are the hook of a perfume and the first impression makers. They’re also known as head notes or opening notes. Top notes typically constitute 20 to 40% of a complete fragrance. A fragrance can comfortably carry a combination of 1 to 3 top notes.

 These are the aromas you smell first in a perfume, and they don’t stick around for long. Most top notes evaporate within 5 to 15 minutes of application. That’s because their particle sizes are lighter and smaller.

 Top notes usually fall into the fresh, citrusy, fruity, or floral families. The following are popular top notes:


  • Bergamot
  • Orange
  • Basil
  • Lemon
  • Lavender
  • Berries
  • Anise
  • Grapefruit
  • Clary sage
  • Eucalyptus
  • Magnolia

 Just because the top note scents fade away somewhat quickly doesn’t mean they're not important. They introduce you to the full body of the scent, it pioneers the aromatic journey of a perfume. As the top notes evaporate, they seamlessly introduce the heart notes.

What are heart notes?

Heart notes are the core of any perfume. They’re the heart and soul of a perfume, as the name suggests. Heart notes also go by middle notes. They begin to appear as the top notes are evaporating and help to retain some of the top note essences. Heart notes also help build the foundation of a fragrance. Typically, 1 to 4 heart note scents make up 40 to 80% of a total fragrance.

 Heart notes shine for the most significant chunk of time in the perfume’s life cycle. Their evaporation time starts about 10 to 20 minutes after application and ends around 60 minutes after application.

 Heart notes are well-rounded, pleasant, and balanced. Spicy, woody, and floral are descriptors often used for heart notes. Popular heart note fragrances include the following:


  • Rosemary
  • Sandalwood
  • Cinnamon
  • Ylang ylang
  • Lemongrass
  • Neroli
  • Rose
  • Fennel
  • Geranium
  • Jasmine
  • Pepper
  • Cardamom

 Without heart notes, the perfume would lack a seamless buffer between top and base notes and ultimately fall flat. They highlight the truest nature of a perfume that leaves the wearer and others enchanted.

What are base notes?

As you can tell by their name, base notes are the foundation of all fragrances. They provide depth, longevity, and richness to a perfume. Base notes typically make up 10 to 25% of an overall fragrance. 1 to 3 scents usually do the trick at building a sturdy, complex, and pleasant base.

 Once the top notes completely evaporate and heart notes are peaking, base notes start to make an entrance and blend beautifully with the heart notes. You may start to pick up on base notes around 30 minutes after application. Base notes are the slowest-evaporating, longest-lasting notes because of the heaviness and large size of their particles. They can last from 6 hours well into the next day after application.

 Classic base notes are usually warm, rich, and smooth. The following are popular base note fragrances:


  • Cedarwood
  • Patchouli
  • Vanilla
  • Musk
  • Moss
  • Vetiver

 As important as first impressions are, it’s the last impressions that will leave the final impact on a fragrance. That’s why base notes are so important in building a full-bodied and enjoyable perfume.

Fragrance note pro tips

Perfumery is an art. It takes practice and experience to gain the intuition and full understanding of fragrance notes. That doesn’t mean you can’t use your new knowledge to make more intentional fragrance decisions. Here are some practical pointers to help you better understand, identify, and build beautiful fragrances. 


  1. Put on perfume last, that way the full spectrum of your fragrance notes can shine.
  2. Don’t compromise on a heart note. It defines the character of the fragrance and its wearer.
  3. Base notes shouldn’t be top notes, and top notes shouldn’t be base notes. Reversing the roles can lead to an off-putting and overly-heavy fragrance blend. A careful ordering of fragrances should result in a soft, pleasant, and complex olfactory experience from start to finish.
  4. Some scents overlap between notes. For example, sandalwood can be a heart note or a base note. Lavender can be a top note or a heart note. How perfumers combine and layer the scents determines their effects.
  5. It’s all about balance. The notes should play and mingle seamlessly throughout their life cycle. One shouldn’t overpower the other, but rather complement and harmonize with one another. Even if you’re not a perfume expert, you can tell a well-balanced perfume from a poorly-balanced perfume.
  6. You don’t have to be an expert with ScentKulture’s perfume expertise on your side. All of our perfumes are beautifully balanced and inspired by world-renowned designer fragrances.

The bottom line

Every mouthwatering perfume consists of top notes that grab your attention, heart notes that steal your heart, and base notes that round out and ground the experience. Now, you can browse ScentKulture’s wide selection of fragrances with a deeper understanding of fragrance notes. Check our perfume descriptions for a list of top, heart, and base notes. This will give you an idea of what you can expect from the wearing experience. Come for the top notes, stay for the heart notes, and live for the base notes.