Glossary of olfactory terms

Absolute

Absolutes are natural scented materials obtained from concretes, which are themselves obtained (from primary materials) by extraction using a solvent. The concrete is leached with alcohol to get rid of insoluble waxes. Absolutes are precious substances of great quality; extremely small yields explain their high prices.

Adaptation

Adaptation is the process by which the sense of smell perceives less and less clearly, over time, the odours which come into the nose. It’s possible that an odour would not be perceived at all after long enough a time. Even so, the nose recovers relatively quickly from this “fatigue.”

Aerosol

An aerosol is the dispersion of solid or liquid substances in the form of powder or mousse, produced with the aid of appropriate containers enclosing a gas propellant.

Agreement

Agreements arise from the bringing together of different simple scents which blend to create new olfactory impressions. The number of ingredients used can range from two to several hundred. Simple and complex agreements are utilised as elements of composition to develop perfumes.

Alcohol

In the perfume industry, alcohol serves as a solvent for the preparation of lotions. Ethanol is the most widely used alcohol at present.

Aldehyde

This is the term employed to define the olfactory sensation provoked by fatty aldehydes. This sensation can be described by using the terms fatty, watery, or “extinguished candle.” In a concentrated form, these aldehydes give off a piquant odor. They are incorporated in all types of perfume, most particularly in refined feminine notes.

Animal

Animal notes are derived, as the name suggests, from the animal kingdom. Perfumiers use extracts from animal secretions, their synthetic equivalents, and certain scented substances, as well as products of the vegetable kingdom with similar scents. The most familiar animal scents are civet oil, musk, beaver oil, and amber. In a concentrated state their odor is often bad and disagreeable. Appropriately diluted, however, they constitute an indispensable element for many perfumes, to which they confer warmth and abundance.

Anosmia

Asnomia (loss of smell) is the incapacity of an individual to smell any odour at all. Certain people have only partial, or even selective anosmia. In the last case, the subject is incapable of smelling a specific odour.

Aromatic

A perfume industry concept now somewhat passé; it used to describe the olfactory sensation of healing balms. These days the term is reserved for olfactory sensations in the domain of aromas.

Association

Association is the ability of the perfumier to associate impressions given by the senses, the feelings, or rational occurrences to perfumes, transposing them into a composition. Aided by olfactory memory, he succeeds in bringing the totality of a lived situation back to memory.

Balms

Balms are viscous plant secretions springing from incisions made in the bark. Unlike resins they are incorporated “as is.”

Balsamic

The olfactory impression balsamic is defined as sugary, sweet, and warm. Balsamic notes are developed when balms and resins are incorporated into a perfume composition. Balsamic constituents are mainly used in oriental perfumes.

Base note

The base note is the third and final phase in the development of a perfume. It contains tenacious constituents such as wood, resin, animal substances, and crystals. In the heaviest perfumes (chypre and oriental) the base note is emphasised so strongly that it appears in the first whiff.

Bitter (amer)

This olfactory impression is linked to the corresponding flavour concept. It is the result of a combination of roots (vetiver), aromatic herbs (vermouth), or animal notes (leather, etc.). Bitter accents are found almost exclusively in masculine notes.

Body

See heart note.

Bouquet

Bouquet is the name for a mixture of different floral notes. The bouquet is often the most significant element of the heart note. “To bouquet” means to gather, harmonise, and round out a composition.

Camphoraceous

Camphoraceous notes give off a fresh, clean, medicinal odour. In nature such notes are found in lavandin, rosemary, and conifer essences. Large quantities of these notes are used for perfuming bath products.

Chypre

Chypre is the generic name of a group of perfumes drawing the character of their common effect from a type of fresh Eau de Cologne note with a background whose dominant elements include tree moss, labdanum, and patchouli. Many warm, erotic, and sensual perfumes belong to the chypre family. Chypre de Coty stands as a classic; it was put onto the market at the beginning of the 20th century.

Citrus essences

Citrus essence is the generic name for the essential oils of bergamot, lemon, lime, grapefruit, mandarin, bitter orange, etc.

Citrus note

Citrus notes have a fresh, light character. They belong to the family of citrus essences (bergamot, lemon, lime, mandarin, orange, bitter orange, etc.) There is also a series of synthetic elements which express the fresh character of citrus notes.

Composition

Every perfume is a composition of a fairly extensive selection of harmoniously chosen elements. The properties of each element confer a completely new image of the whole: the characteristics of each individual ingredient thus move into the background without, however, disappearing.

Concentrated juice

The juices – or simply concentrates – are concentrated mixtures of scented materials used in an alcohol-based solution for scenting a most diverse range of products.

Concrete essence

Concrete essence is extracted from diverse parts of a plant by means of solvents. It is composed of the essential oil and waxes that are insoluble in alcohol. Concrete essences are primarily used for perfuming soaps because of their components and their quality. For scenting alcohol-based lotions absolutes are used, that is, products obtained from a base of concretes after having eliminated the waxy constituents.

Coniferaceous

The odour of conifer is reminiscent of pine, fir, juniper, etc. Conifer essences are principally used in bath products and masculine perfumes.

Creation

Creation describes the construction of a perfume composition. The work of creation is an artistic activity, yet one undertaken with economic constraints in mind. It is in some ways the workshop of art.

Crude (âpre)

The olfactory sensation engendered by ingredients such as wood, moss, herbs, etc., is called crude. Such notes are essentially found in masculine perfumes; they play an important role in daily refreshment perfumes.

Crystalline

A certain percentage of crystalline elements can be dissolved without difficulty within the liquid constituents of the essences. In general, they posses good fixative qualities but at overly elevated concentrations and above all at low temperatures, they can instigate the formation of crystals.

Curing

A perfume should cure for a period of four to eight weeks before being released onto the market, so that the diverse constituents can blend and that the perfume is fully extended.

Cut hay note

Cut hay notes are primarily used to reproduce natural scents in a certain number of domestic applications (such as a medicinal bath). Several masculine perfumes contain hay notes (Fougère). Coumarin is the most important synthetic component with cut hay notes.

Diffusion

A perfume’s diffusion should fulfill three requirements:
a) it should spread out as soon as the container is opened
b) it should develop on the skin during all the phases of its diffusion
c) it should create a palpable impression in the room where its user is located

Distillation

Distillation by water steam is the usual procedure for separating essential oils. Steam, injected into the mass to be distilled, brings the essential oil with it. After cooling, the oil is separated from the distilled water by way of a florentine vase.

Earthy

Earthy accents evoke the odour of earth, of humus, of mud, of powder, etc. Vetiver and patchouli are the most widely known of the essential oils to give off an earthy scent. These accents are always undercurrents in perfumes.

Eau de Cologne

The name for an alcoholic solution of scented essences at a concentration of 3% to 5%. The “Eau de Cologne” note is a composition of fresh, very volatile, essential oils (mostly citrus essences) containing little or no fixative agents. It is almost exclusively used for refreshment as its perfuming effect is limited.

Eau de Parfum

Eau de Parfum is an alcohol-based solution of scented essences at a concentration of 8% to 15%.

Eau de Toilette

Eau de Toilette is an alcohol-based solution of scented essences at a concentration of 4% to 8%.

Elements of composition

The ingredients used to make up a perfume composition are called the elements of composition. They might include discrete scented materials, natural products, or simple or complex blends known as bases, specialisations, or agreements.

Encapsulation

Concentrated essence can be enclosed in tiny gelatin capsules which are placed onto the skin at the same time as the classic alcohol-based perfume solution. These capsules, crushed by friction, release their essence, prolonging the perfume’s effect. Trials have been made for textile perfumery.

Enfleurage

Enfleurage is a specific procedure used to obtain precious floral essences. The twin faces of a glass plate mounted in a wood frame are smeared with animal fat and then covered with flowers. New flowers are exchanged for the old ones until the fatty material is saturated with scented material. Next the floral essences are separated from the fat by means of a solvent. This onerous procedure is hardly used any more.

Erogenous

Perfumes containing a noteworthy proportion of warm and animal notes, combined with certain flowery essential oils, can have an erotic effect. The influence of the perfume depends upon its interaction with the individual who brings it to an assignation.

Essences

Essences are aqueous alcoholic extracts from plants. Today they have hardly any importance in the perfume industry. On the other hand, they are widely used in the cosmetics and aroma industries.

Essential oils

Essential oils are obtained from diverse parts of plants by pressing or steam extraction. They are used in cosmetics and alimentary fragrances.

Evaluation

Evaluation consists of discerning from among a given set the scented notes most applicable to the expected application. This process has given birth to a profession, the evaluator. Evaluation work requires solid professional training and a wide awareness of the needs of the market. The evaluator is, in fact, an important intermediary between the creator and the users of perfumes. Women often occupy these positions.

Expression

Expression is a particularly gentle means of extracting essential oils which would be degraded by a steam-extraction method. Expression is primarily employed to produce citrus essences.

Extract

Extract is the generic name for perfume. Thus, an alcohol-based solution of perfume at a concentration of 15% to 30% is so entitled.

Extraction

Extraction is a means of obtaining primary material from vegetables or animals through the use of various solvents. The rarest naturally scented substances are obtained by this process.

Fatty

Fatty refers to the olfactory sensation which brings to mind fish oil, or lard, or wax, etc. In trace doses these notes evoke the odour of human skin. Because of this factor they can emphasise the aphrodisiac effect of a perfume.

Feminine

Feminine is a very subjective category when speaking of perfume: When a perfume emphasises the femininity of the individual wearing it, it can be called feminine. Everything depends on the relationship between the perfume and its user. Generally speaking, very floral perfumes are said to be particularly feminine. It is true also that women use notes considered masculine.

Fixation

Fixation is intended to conserve the fragrance of a perfume for the longest possible period. The least volatile of substances, whose intense odour does not spread out except after a certain time and persists for a long time, are used. To this constituent are added elements which do not themselves possess a strong fragrance but act to extend the unfolding aroma of other ingredients. A well-balanced composition has been well fixed. An overly refined fixation does not guarantee enhanced tenacity; the elements may be mutually inhibiting.

Floral-fruity

Floral-fruity notes present characteristic fruity accents. They particularly define head notes. The center of gravity always remains on the floral elements. An excess of fruity smell brings eating to mind and leads to a rejection of the perfume.

Floral

A good half of all of the brand-name perfumes are florals. Their character is discerned either by defined floral notes (lily in Diorissimo by Dior) or by a bouquet of several floral notes (Quelques Fleurs by Houbigant). All other perfumes contain a more or less strong proportion of floral components.

Formula

The formula of a perfume carries the quantitative and qualitative values for a composition; it serves as the instructions for the blending stage. It is often the result of several months’ research. All companies dealing with primary materials and perfumes keep the formula secret because it contains primary research which can benefit several generations.

Fougère

Fougère is an olfactory fantasia concept; the name is given to a combination of a fresh and herbaceous lavender note on a background note of moss. There are a number of Fougère variants, essentially in the sector of masculine notes.

Fresh

The concept of freshness in a perfume corresponds to a subjective sensation engendered by different smells. In European countries it is closely linked to such elements as lemon, lavender, green notes, and light floral notes. In other countries, for example in North America, sugary or powdery perfumes are known as “fresh.”

Fruity

This olfactory sensation is induced by fruity notes such as raspberry, apple, plum, etc. These notes serve to nuance a perfume. Fruity notes are incorporated in their pure state only to respond to the caprices of fashion in specifically determined domains of application (shampoo, for example). An excess of fruity notes renders a perfume “edible” and destroys whatever erotic effect it might have possessed.

Green

“Green” is the general impression evoked by grass, leaves, stems, etc. Numerous variations of green odours exist. They are very largely used in the perfume industry in order to confer unique accents to head notes.

Harmony

Harmony is created when all the constituents are balanced; no element dominates in any phase. It is easy to create harmony between constituents with similar smells. Many perfumes contain constituents that are, in terms of fragrance, opposed. This contrast represents their character and originality. The perfumier’s art consists in elaborating the liaisons and harmonies which join discordant elements.

Head note

The head note is the first phase in the development of a perfume. It plays the decisive role for the first impression, upon opening the flacon, and when the perfume is placed on the skin. The head note should incite and attract attention to the perfume itself: a spectacular character is often preferred to a well-worked harmony. The head note is, of course, determined by very volatile constituents. Heart notes and base notes often are also present in the first phase of development.

Heart note

The heart note is the second phase, the central phase, in the development of a perfume, after the first whiff fades. It is essentially characterised by floral, spicy, or woody constituents. As its name indicates, it constitutes the heart of the perfume.

Heavy

Heavy refers to a perfume in which the predominant constituents have little volatility, such as balms, moss, animal notes, etc. These constituents are already perceptible in the head note, which makes them immediately recognisable. This is the case with chypre or oriental perfumes.

Herbaceous

Numerous scented substances contain herbaceaous notes. Their odour is reminiscent of aromatic herbs and medicines. The most widely known are armoise, sage, rosemary, and lavender. Herbaceous notes are found in a number of masculine perfumes (Fougère).

Infusion

Infusion refers to the preparation of floral essences by alcohol extraction at 65 degrees Celsius.

Ingredient

Ingredient is another word for constituent.

Intensity

The intensity of a scented composition depends upon the force of each of its constituents and their alliance.

Jasminey

A perfume is called jasminey when its character is marked by a preponderance of the jasmine flower. Variations can run from the smell of the natural flower to stylised and sophisticated complexes.

Leather note

Along with tobacco notes, leather notes play an important role in the masculine group of perfumes. Both natural interpretations and extensively fantastic versions of this theme are known. Leather notes are sometimes found in feminine perfumes, within the chypre family, for example.

Light

Light notes take their character from fresh, citrus, floral, fruity, and green elements. They contain only traces of sugary, balsamic, or heady constituents. Perfumiers today know how to fix light perfumes.

Maceration

The maceration process, like that of enfleurage, uses hot fats to extract floral essential oils.

Masculine

Masculine is a subjective olfactory category. The term is used ordinarily to describe olfactory notes preferred by men. They contain bitter accents such as leather, tobacco, herbs, spices, mosses, and woods. In general, they are less floral than feminine notes and often contain a large percentage of fresh components. In recent times a very discernible rapprochement has taken place between masculine and feminine notes.

Metallic

Metallic notes in perfumes bring forth a fresh effect and endow the perfume with a clean sensation. They serve to nuance without exerting a strong personality.

Minty

Minty olfactory notes evoke peppermint and spearmint. They are used in the perfume industry for a refreshing effect in the head note.

Mixing station

The mixing station is one step in the fabrication of a perfume: it is there where essential oils are mixed together on a large scale, according to the recipe of a perfumier. Modern mixing stations are largely computer controlled and quasi-automatic.

Modifier

To modify a perfume means to introduce another, successful, perfume with either complimentary or contrasting agreements into its base theme. Thus, for the uninitiated a new perfume is born, while for the perfumier the matter consists of variations on a known theme.

Moss

Moss nuances, extracted from different varieties of tree moss (oak moss in particular), play a large role in practically every type of perfume. They have particular importance in chypre notes. Moss nuances present a very complex olfactory image; aside from the moss constituent itself, touches of algae, leather, wood, etc., can be discerned in it…. They are indispensable as much for their excellent fixative properties as for their capacity to confer an unparalleled depth and expansion to perfumes.

Napthaline notes

Napthaline notes can be characterised by the well-known odour of moth balls. Certain animal products give off such olfactory notes. They have but little importance in the perfume industry.

Narcotic

Narcotic perfumes often contain an elevated percentage of heavy floral notes (jasmine or tuberose, for example) and animal substances. The narcotic effect of flowers comes to its apogee toward the end of the plant’s flowering period. Constituents with a narcotic effect must be carefully measured to avoid rendering the perfume “tiring.”

Natural scented materials

Derived from plant or animal sources, natural scented materials are extracted by using the appropriate process. Essential oils, absolutes, concretes, resins, balms, and tinctures are classic representations of natural scented materials.

Nuancer

Scented substances which do not represent the principle agent of a composition but which support that agent, round it out, or give it specific effects are called nuancers. They contribute to the overall image of a perfume. They can, of course, fulfill the function of primordial elements.

Odour

Odour is the olfactory sensation engendered by scented organic substances which the nose conveys while inhaling. The medium for odour is the air.

Oriental

The characteristic constituents of oriental perfumes recall the scents of Asia. These constituents might be exotic flowery notes, spices, balms, resins, or animal substances. The very character of oriental perfumes predestines them for use in winter or in the evening.

Perfume

From the latin “per fumum,” the word perfume literally translates as “by way of smoke.” In olden days scented resins were burned as part of sacrifices. Today, a perfume or extract is a solution of 10% to 30% in an alcohol base.

Perfumier’s organ

The work station of a perfumier is called “the perfumier’s organ.” Here the scented materials upon which the perfumier must call are gathered. The flacons are methodically organised, and the ensemble resembles an organ.

Perfumier

This is the professional designation for a creator of scented compositions for a wide variety of applications in several domains. A good perfumier should possess a good olfactory memory, the ability to distinguish odours, awareness of the interactions amoung scented materials in a blend, and should develop true creativity. Perfumier training generally takes about five years.

Phased gas chromatography

Phased gas chromatography uses a device to analyse a mixture of organic substances. In a spiral column of glass or metal filled with porous material, simple elements are separated by means of their physical properties, such as polarity or steam pressure. The signals obtained are amplified and, with the aid of a printer, transcribed into a chromatogramme.

Pheromone

Pheromones are chemical substances which act to transmit messages between living beings. They play a role in sexual attraction, primarily among insects.

Piquant

Odours become piquant when there is an excess dosage. The art of the perfumier consists in balancing the different constituents such that one or another of them does not “prickle” the nose.

Pommade

Pommade is the product generated by enfleurage, i.e., animal fat saturated with flower essence. It is either used as is or transformed into an absolute. Miniscule portions of the fat become included in the essence and confer a specific character to the products obtained.

Powdery

The powdery sensation results from the combined action of mossy, woody, sugary, and crystalline elements, generally very fixative. Numerous perfumes, after the first fresh and flowery notes have vanished, leave an overall impression of powderiness on the skin.

Resinified

A perfume can give the impression of having “turned” – to have resinified – if it ages prematurely due to inappropriate storage which provokes irreversible chemical transformations. A perfume whose odour is resinified should be considered spoiled.

Resinoids

Resinoids are extracts from resins or from parts of plants not including the flowers. Within the solvent used, such as wax, resin, etc., they contain soluble constituents, aside from the essential oil. To use resinoids more easily they are often incorporated in odourless solvents with little volatility. Resinoids frequently have a dark color and possess particularly powerful fixative properties.

Resins

Resins are organic vegetal secretions, solid or semi-solid. Before being used in the perfume industry, these secretions must be subjected to a purification process.

Round out

To round out a perfume is to harmonise and complete a composition by adding constituents close to the neighboring accents. These additives, generally used in small doses, give the composition an olfactory image that is “rounder” and more complete.

Sensual

A perfume is called sensual when it conveys an aphrodisiac effect. These types of perfume often show an elevated proportion of animal constituents and exotic floral notes. Numerous perfumes, well employed, are intended on some level to provoke agreeable and stimulating sensations, because the sense of smell is directly related to the part of the brain in which feelings and sexual behaviour have their origin (the limbic system).

Smoky note

Smoky notes are used almost exclusively in masculine perfumes to reproduce the smells of natural leather. In modern leather smells, the smoky note has been supplanted by animal notes, while in the classic leather notes the smoky nuances, deriving from birch tar essence, are quite distinguishable.

Solvent

In the perfume industry, solvents are used to dilute a pure concentrate. They should not have an intrinsic odour. The most popular solvent these days is ethyl alcohol. Certain solvents also possess fixative properties.

Spicy

Spicy notes derive from the essential oils of almost every known spice and find wide application in the perfume industry. Cinnamon and cloves are highly valued in oriental perfumes, for example. There are also numerous masculine perfumes that contain a significant proportion of spice essences such as marjoram, coriander, and pepper.

Splash-Cologne

Splash-Colognes (tonic body waters) are solutions perfumed at 1% to 3% which are splashed liberally all over the body – after a bath or shower, for example – so as to produce a refreshing and discreetly scented effect. The notes are fresh and clean. This custom is very in vogue in certain countries (France, Spain).

Stability

A perfume should be endowed with good stability so as to resist the negative influence of light and oxygen. Correctly stored (protected from light, at room temperature, in closed bottles), perfumes remain stable, without alteration, for six months on average and often quite a bit longer.

Steam pressure

Steam pressure forces molecules to pass from a liquid to a gaseous state. The more the steam pressure builds, the more volatile the product will be. The pressure is modified relative to temperature.

Sugary

Elements with a sugary effect, in varying concentrations, are present in numerous compositions, but they are more particularly found in oriental perfumes and in heavy chypre perfumes. The most widely known example of a sugary odour among natural products is vanilla extract.

Synthetic scented materials

These are scented materials prepared primarily from chemicals. Semi-synthetic scented materials derive from natural products and are subsequently treated with the appropriate chemical process.

Tenacity

A perfume’s tenacity varies relative to its degree of volatility. A perfume should almost always be tenacious; thus, substances of low volatility are introduced to fix scented compositions.

Testing strip

A testing strip (Fr. mouillette) is a stiff piece of paper about 15 cm long which is used to lift a sample of scented material from its container in order to bring it to the nose. The strips make it possible to follow the different phases of olfactory development of various constituents. The definitive assessment of a perfume should always be made on the skin, because conditions there are different from those on the testing strip.

Tinctures

Tinctures are alcohol-based extracts of natural products derived by a cold process. Formerly substances of choice, their use today is dropping off significantly because of the cost.

Tobacco note

Tobacco notes, both natural and synthetic, are for the most part introduced into masculine perfumes. Aside from the pure tobacco note, smells which develop during the scenting of the tobacco (honey, plum, etc.) play an ever increasing role.

Trainee

The interning perfumier, while undergoing education, is called a trainee, particularly during the second and third year, when he or she is training the nose and building the olfactory memory. The complete educational programme lasts around five years. It takes place in the perfume industry (primary materials and perfumes).

Volatility

The volatility of the scented materials used in the perfume industry is in direct relation to their chemical make-up. In the case of specific substances, it depends upon the size of the molecule. For natural substances, which are mixtures, the volatility depends upon that of the constituents. Very volatile substances determine the head note of a perfume; those with little volatility the base note. Because a perfume is a complex mixture of substances with different volatilities, a change in character during the phases of its development is completely normal. The art of the perfumier consists in conferring to each phase as integrated a character as possible.

Warm

Warm perfumes contain a significant proportion of primary material from animals; their fragrance is reminiscent of bodily odours.

Woody

Woody notes play a more or less important role in almost every perfume. The natural woody essential oils most known and used in the perfume industry are: cedarwood, vetiver, and sandalwood. They have good fixative qualities. Their presence remains unnoticed until after a certain time. They are partly responsible for the powdery odour finally left on the skin by a number of perfumes. Numerous modern masculine notes are marked by synthetic woody elements, a fact which the industry of primary perfume materials has not failed to point out lately.