The A to Z of Fragrance

While some fragrance notes such as white flowers or vanilla are instantly recognisable, certain subtle ingredients and compositions can distinctively influence the style and scent of a fragrance.

Certain ingredients are used not only for their own signature scent, but also for the impact they will impart on the other ingredients. Fragrance expert and author of the annual Fragrances Of The World guidebooks, Michael Edwards explains that the intricate mix of ingredients, including both natural and synthetic, are combined in infinite ways to make each fragrance unique.

€œModern perfumery is based on the synergy of natural and man-made ingredients, says Michael.

€œBoth are of equal importance to the perfumer. Technically, a perfumer differentiates between natural oils which are extracted from blossoms, woods, leaves, spices and resins; and semi-synthetic oils which are separated from natural sources; and completely synthetic oils or aroma notes. The synthetic oils or aroma notes are created to enhance natural essences, to make them vibrate with notes quite unlike anything you have ever smelt before,€ Michael continues.

The notes in a fragrance also represent the different phases through which a fragrance develops when it is worn on the skin. At each stage the notes in the fragrance have a different degree of volatility so it’s important not to judge a fragrance on the first encounter. The first scent from an open bottle has only the sharp bite of alcohol and the unstable top notes. A scent will bloom as it reacts with the warmth of the body to create a fragrance that is unique to each person.

The most popular ingredients in fragrances can often be confusing in terms of the scent they emit as well as the impact they will have on other ingredients. The following table is a comprehensive A to Z listing of some popular fragrance ingredients and how they impact on the scent.

 Ingredient Natural / Synthetic Characteristic Note
Aldehydes Synthetic Adds powdery, soft floral notes for a clean fresh effect. Top
Basil Oil Natural Gives naturalness and liveliness. It is botanical while still adding sweetness. Top
Carrot Seed Oil Natural Provides an unusual oily fruity-apricot nuance. Middle
Damascone Alpha Natural / Nature Identical Gives rich depth to rosy heart notes and adds naturalness to fruity fragrances. Damascone Alpha occurs naturally in rose, tobacco, and tea. Middle
Elemi Oil Natural Adds fresh, citrus, green, spicy, herbal or balsamic notes. Base
Fennel Oil Sweet Natural Adds a sweet, smooth, liquorice effect. Middle/Base
Geranium Oil Natural A fresh, floral, herbal, sweet note. Blends well with rose notes to give a full-bodied floral heart. Used in masculine fragrances that need a floral heart but need to avoid being overly feminine. Middle
Indole Natural / Nature Identical Naturally occurring in jasmine and frangipani flowers, Indole adds an essential heady, narcotic depth to floral accords. Middle
Jasmine Absolute Natural Used in fine fragrances to give luxurious, rich naturalness to floral hearts. Middle
Lavender Oil Natural Fresh, herbaceous, floral, sweet and calming used in a masculine or feminine fragrances. Top/Middle
Lemongrass Oil Natural Gives an element of zesty freshness and is uplifting. Top
Maltol Natural / Nature Identical Naturally occurring in coffee, cocoa, raspberries and strawberries – this ingredient has a caramel-fruity smell and is used in gourmand accords. Top
Orange Oil Natural Fruity-fresh sparkle can be juicy or zesty. Top
Patchouli Oil Natural Classic woody note used in many modern classics. Base
Pepper Oil Natural Tones down sweet notes and adds an uplifting spicy nuance. Top
Rose Absolute Natural The heart of perfumery! Rich, rosy, woody, and earthy. Middle
Sandalwood Oil Natural  Precious, expensive oil giving a creamy woody effect. Base
Allyl-Tiglate Synthetic Gives jammy, green, berry notes to fruity accords. Can make an apricot or peach accord more “ripe”. Middle
Vanillin Natural / Nature Identical Provides a creamy, sweet, vanilla warmth. Used to build various gourmand accords such as marshmallow, praline, chocolate, fairy floss, toffee, caramel and honeycomb. Base
Watermelon Ketone Synthetic Gives a melon, marine, fresh, watery, clean note. Can be used to enhance a floral fragrance or to add characteristic notes to fruity melon accords. Middle
Musk Xylol Synthetic Dry sweet musk with great longevity. Base
Ylang Ylang Oil Natural Used in the heart of several narcotic floral bouquets – not just Ylang Ylang but also tuberose, orange flower, frangipani, or jasmine. It adds an exotic floral nuance. Middle
Zingiberone Natural / Nature Identical Characteristic note of ginger – occurs naturally in ginger and raspberries. Toner of citrus and herbaceous notes. Currently added to exotic woody, oriental, or floral fragrances. Top


This article and table are provided by the Fragrance Foundation Australia