‘Notes’ is a term used in perfumery to describe the category a scent falls into, based on its scent and staying power. Essential oil was perfume for centuries before the invention of artificial fragrance so they are assigned notes that describe where they fall on the perfumer’s scale. The three types of fragrance notes are as follows: top notes, also known as head notes; middle notes, also known as heart notes; and base notes. Understanding these notes is essential to creating the perfect blend of oils – especially when it comes to perfume and fragrance.
TOP NOTES are first impression scents, the one that you smell first when you breathe in a blend. Top notes have tiny, light molecules that evaporate quickly. These top note scents are often described as cheerful, bright, light, refreshing. Citrus oils fall into the category of top notes.
MIDDLE NOTES are scents that emerge from a blend right after the top notes have evaporated away and give perfumes their main body, their “heart,” which is why the middle note is sometimes called the ‘heart note.’ Middle notes do not evaporate as quickly as top notes and linger on the skin longer. Lavender is an example of a middle note.
BASE NOTES describe the oils that stay with you the longest. They have heavy molecules that take much longer to evaporate. Base notes add depth and richness to a blend as well as acting as an anchor for the entire perfume. Sandalwood and Patchouli are both examples of base notes. In perfume, you smell these scents after the tops and middles have faded away and the entire blend has settled in on the skin. This is why one should always wait thirty minutes or more before they make a final decision about choosing a new perfume. The scent you spray on in the first few minutes will not be the same one you smell a half hour later.
Let’s go through a practical example. Lay out three cotton balls on the kitchen counter. On the first, place a drop of sweet orange oil (a top note); on the second, a single drop of lavender oil (middle note); on the third, a single drop of sandalwood oil (base note). Immediately you smell all three very clearly because they are fresh out of the bottle, but oxygen and the evaporation process are about to change that. Leave the house to do some errands and when you come back after a couple of hours, you notice that you can barely smell the orange oil (the top note and its tiny molecules are quickly floating away). But, the lavender and the sandalwood cotton balls are still nice. Fast forward to that evening at bedtime – you can still smell the lavender but it is no longer as strong (the middle note’s slightly larger molecules are fighting to hang around). Sandalwood still smells good. By the next morning the orange has completely disappeared, the lavender is barely hanging on, and the sandalwood is still going strong (the base oil’s heavy molecules are thick and lazy, hanging onto the cotton ball and yawning – you might not get rid of them for a few days). This, in a nutshell, is how ‘notes’ work.
The notes listed in the following chart are the 55 essential oils this book focuses on. It is not a complete list of all essential oils and their notes.