The Perfumist Glossary

The jargon of the field is vitally important to be able to wade through the ocean of perfume literature. Below is a on-going  list of perfume and perfume culture terminology that will serve as an all around resource for beginners and specialists alike.

12/28/2010: I'm starting small, and continually adding to this list as I see fit. Feel free to send me your suggested definitions and terms! Some of these definition have been expanded upon using resources from other perfume websites such as GoGoPerfume.com, where I have predominately sourced the current definitions.  If you would like a very comprehensive perfume encyclopedia try Perfume Intelligence.




  • Absolute:Also known as an essence, this is the material extracted from a plant or flower using one of various solvents. Treatment of the concrete with a second substance, usually alcohol, leaves the waxes undissolved and provides the concentrated flower oil called an absolute.
  • Accord:Perfume accords are a balanced blend of three or four notes which lose their individual identity to create a completely new, unified odor impression.
  • Aerosol:It’s the spraying and/or foaming of liquid or solid materials by propellant agents from pressurized cans.
  • Agar wood:From the Aquilaria tree, and also called Oud or Aloes wood. The tree, when attacked by a common fungus, produces an aromatic resin that has long been used in the Middle East as a source of incense and perfume, now considered endangered in the wild due to over-harvesting.
  • Alcohol:It’s used in the perfume industry as a solvent for the production of lotions. An often used alcohol is ethyl alcohol.
  • Aldehydic:It’s the term for the odor-effect produced by the use of short-chain aliphatic aldehydes. This effect can be described as fatty, watery or even "snuffed candle". When concentrated, aldehydes are extremely powerful and pungent. Aldehydes are used in all perfume types, especially those which feature elegant feminine notes.
  • Amber:In perfumery, this usually refers to plant compounds (such as labdanum) or synthetics which have an ambergris-like scent. In general, it’s a heavy, full bodied, powdery, warm fragrance note
  • Ambrette:Oil obtained from these seeds has a musk-like odor and is frequently used as a substitute for true musk.
  • Animalic:Refers to animal-derived ingredients such as civet, ambergris, musk, and castoreum. These are usually replaced by synthetics in modern perfumery.
  • AniseAn annual herb of the parsley family, grown for its fruits (aniseed), which have a strong, licorice-like flavor.
  • Aqueous: It’s a recent designation for scents that are based more on a concept of a “watery” smell than an actual scent.
  • Aromachology: The science dedicated to the study of the interrelationship between psychology and aroma.
  • Aromatherapy: Therapy with aroma. It’s the art and science of using essential oils to heal common ailments and complaints. It particularly helps with stress or emotionally triggers problems such as insomnia and headaches.
  • Ayurvedic: An ancient Hindu art of medicine involving herbs to prolong life.
  • Baies Rose:Pink peppercorns, from the tree schinus molle, also known as the Peruvian or California pepper tree. These are actually dried berries and not "true" peppercorns.
  • Bergamot:The tangy oil expressed from the nearly ripe, non-edible bergamot orange. The oranges are grown mostly in Italy and are used to flavor Earl Grey tea.
  • Bigarade:The zest of the bitter orange.
  • Back Notes:The back note is the third and last phase of a perfume's life on the skin, or evaporation. It contains the lasting ingredients, such as woods, resins, animal and crystalline substances. In heavy perfumes (chypre and Oriental notes, for instance) the back note is so strongly accented that it is discernible in the top-note, or first impression.
  • Balsamic:Balsams can be described as sweeter, fuzzy, soft, warm.  These are impressions created using plant/tree resins.
  • Balsams:Balsams are secretions of plants that emerge when the plant's outer layers are injured. 
  • Bitter:It is the fragrance impression that corresponds to bitterness in terms of taste. It is produced by a combination of roots (such as vetiver), herbs (such as wormwood), animal notes (such as in leather) and others. 
  • Bouquet:A mixture of flower notes.
  • Bouquetting:The rounding off and harmonizing of a perfume or flavor.
  • Cashmeran:A synthetic compound with a spicy, musky, floral odor. Meant to add a powdery, velvet nuance that invokes the smell or feel of cashmere.
  • Castoreum:A secretion from the Castor beaver, or a synthetic substitute, used to impart a leathery aroma to a fragrance.
  • Champaca:A flowering tree of the magnolia family, originally found in India, also called the "Joy Perfume tree" as it was one of the main floral ingredients in that perfume. Traditionally used in Indian incense as well.
  • Chypre: Pronounced "sheepra", French for "Cyprus" and first used by Fran├žois Coty to describe the aromas he found on the island of Cyprus. He created a woodsy, mossy, citrus perfume named Chypre; the word is still used for fragrances made in that style. Chypre fragrances generally owe their soft, sweet, earthy natures to ingredients like bergamot, oak-moss, citruses, and patchouli.
  • Civet: The African civet cat looks like a fox, and is related to the mongoose. Civet musk is produced by a gland at the base of the cat's tail. Pure civet is said to have a strong, disagreeable odor, but in small quantities to add depth and warmth to a fragrance. In addition, civet acts as an excellent fixative. Most modern fragrances use synthetic substitutes.
  • Coumarin:A compound that smells like vanilla. Usually derived from the Tonka bean, but also found in lavender, sweet grass and other plants. Coumarin is banned as a food additive in the United States due to toxicity issues, but is used to produce anti-coagulant medicines, rat poison, and as a valuable component of incense and perfumes.
  • Cologne:A city in Germany where the precursor of modern perfumes was first produced - Eau De Cologne (Kolnisch Wasser) almost 300 years ago. It’s a blend of primarily Citrus Oils. Popular makes are Farina Gegenuber and 4711 which are both brands over 200 years old!
  • Cologne (Women's):A light form of a specific fragrance with about 3% concentration of perfume compound in an alcohol water base.
  • Cologne (Men's):More concentrated than women's colognes (5-8%), similar to the strength of toilet water (Eau de Toilette). A Men’s After-Shave by comparison usually only have 3 - 5%.
  • Compound:The name used in the industry for the concentrated perfume or flavor mixture before it is diluted or used in products.
  • Concrete:The mixture of volatile oil, waxes and color that is obtained after an aromatic raw material such as flower petals are extracted with a highly volatile solvent e.g. Hexane. The term refers to the fact that after the solvent is removed the mass is solid and waxy.
  • Distillation:Distillation by steam is the most commonly-used process for the production of essential oils. In this procedure, steam flows through the distillation material and sweeps the essential oils along with it. After cooling, the distillation water is separated from the essential oil in so-called Florentine flasks.
  • Eau De Cologne (EDC):Originally the name applied to light refreshing Citrus scented fragrance, also see Cologne. Now, more widely used to relate to a solution of about 3% Perfume compound in an alcohol/water base and is much lighter than a concentrated perfume.
  • Eau de Parfum (EDP):An alcoholic perfume solution containing 10 to 15% perfume compound.
  • Eau de Toilette (EDT):An alcohol/water based perfume solution containing 3 to 8 % perfume compound.
  • Earthy:It’s the adjective used to describe the fragrance impression of earth, forest-soil, mold, dust, etc.
  • Encapsulation:To encapsulate, in the perfume industry sense of the word, means to enclose perfume oils in tiny gelatin capsules. These capsules can be applied to the skin together with an alcoholic perfume. When the skin is rubbed, the capsules are broken and the scent of the oil is released, "renewing" the perfume. Tests involving this method of perfuming have been made with textiles.
  • Enfleurage:It’s a process for the extraction of valuable plant extracts. Plates of glass, covered on both sides with animal fat into which blossoms have been pressed, are placed on wooden frames. Spent blossoms are constantly replaced until saturated with fragrance substance. Then, the blossom oil is separated from the fat through extraction. This procedure is rarely used today, because it is so costly.
  • Essences:These are alcoholic or aqueous plant extracts. They are hardly ever used in the perfume industry today, but they are widely employed in the cosmetic and flavor industries.
  • Essential Oils:(Ethereal) Oils are extracted from various plant parts through pressing or steam distillation. They are natural mixtures of various chemical substances. Unlike fatty oils, they evaporate without leaving a residue.
  • Expression:It is an especially mild process for the extraction of essential oils, used in cases where steam distillation would modify or damage the end-product. Expression is used mainly for the extraction of citrus oils.
  • Extrait:The most concentrated form of perfume sold over the counter. It is a solution of 15 % -30 % perfume oil in high-grade alcohol.
  • Factice:A perfume bottle made for commercial display only -- the contents are not actually perfume.
  • Fixing:It is a process that promotes the retention of the fragrance on the skin as long as possible. To achieve this, heavy, non-volatile substances are used which develop their full fragrance intensities only very slowly, and maintain them for longer periods. Substances are also used for this purpose which have no strong odors of their own, but have the ability to make other fragrances last longer. Good substantivity is a characteristic of every well-constructed fragrance composition. It should be noted that an excessive amount of fixative in a perfume is no guarantee of good retention, because substances can hinder one another in their fragrance diffusion.
  • Flanker:A fragrance that capitalizes on the success of a master brand. For instance, J Lo Glow was followed by the flanker scents Miami Glow and Love at First Glow. Many flankers are released as limited editions. Some flanker scents are variations on the original fragrance (e.g. they might share certain notes), others share nothing more than the name.
  • Floral:Today, over half of the branded perfumes are characterized by the adjective "floral." They contain well-defined flower notes (lily of the valley, for example, as in DIORISSIMO by Christian Dior), or a whole bouquet of floral effects, as in QUELQUES FLEURS by Houbigant. As a matter of fact, all perfumes contain floral notes in some quantity.
  • Fougere:(pronounced 'foo-jer') These fragrances are one of the most popular men's families. These will often contain Lavender and Oak moss.
  • Fragrance Blotters:Are narrow strips of absorbent paper about 15 centimeters long with which scent samples are taken and smelled. On smelling strips, the evaporation of fragrance materials and perfume oils can be observed in the different phases they go through. Final judgment of a perfume must always be made on the skin, however.
  • Fragrance Components:All the materials which the perfumers put together to form a perfume composition are known as fragrance components. These are uniform chemical substances, natural products and simple or complex mixtures - the so-called bases and specialties.
  • Fragrance Diffusion:Fragrance development is the general behavioral pattern of a perfume in the hands of its user. A good perfume should perform three functions. These are:
  • a) Immediate impact on opening the bottle
  • b) Noticeable emanation from the skin in all phases of fragrance evaporation.
  • c) Noticeable scent in the area that surrounds the user.
  • Fragrance Material Industry:The fragrance material industry is a branch of the chemical industry. This industry includes the producers of natural and synthetic fragrance materials and perfume oils. The fragrance material industry is a supplier to the manufacturers of perfumes, cosmetics and other products of this nature.
  • Fragrance Materials, Natural:These are products of plant and animal origin, extracted by different processes. Some examples are essential oils, absolutes, concretes, resins, balsams and tinctures.
  • Galbanum:A gum resin that imparts a "green" smell.
  • Gourmand:In perfumery, describes fragrances which evoke food smells, such as chocolate, honey, or fruits.
  • Gas Chromatograph:Is an instrument for the analysis of organic chemical mixtures. In a spiral ass or metal column, packed with porous material, the various components are separated according to physical properties such as polarity ad vapor pressure. The signals received are amplified and, with the help of a printer, printed onto a chromatogram.
  • Green:It is the general term for the odors of grass, leaves, stems and so on. Green fragrances exist in many different nuances. They are widely used in perfumery for the purpose of giving special accents to top-notes.
  • Guaiac (or Gaiac) Wood:The oil is steam distilled from a South American tree that produces the hardest, densest wood known.
  • Hay - Like:These notes are used mainly in "Nature" fragrances, in different ranges of application-for instance, in medicinal bath-products. Masculine perfumes also can contain hay-like components (Fougere). The synthetic substance with a hay-like odor that is most important in the industry is coumarin.
  • Herbaceous:Many fragrance substances have herbaceous components, and are reminiscent of herbs and drugs. Well-known, and often-used examples are mugwort, sage, rosemary and lavender. Herbaceous accents are widely used in masculine perfumes.
  • "Heart" or Middle Note:The heart is the second, middle phase of a perfume's fragrance evaporation, occurring after the top note fades away. It is mainly produced by floral, spicy or woody components and represents, as its name indicates, the heart of the perfume.
  • Heavy:Fragrances in which the least-volatile ingredients such as mosses and animal notes dominate are called heavy perfumes. Since these ingredients are part of the top note, a heavy perfume can be identified as such at first impact. Heavy substances are used predominantly in chypre notes
  • Hedione:Synthetic said to have a "diffusive jasmine" scent.
  • Heliotrope:Botanically speaking, this refers to more than one type of flower, but in perfumery, it refers to flowers of the family heliotropium, which are said to have a strong, sweet vanilla-like fragrance with undertones of almond.
  • Hesperidia:A general term for citrus oils.
  • Infusion:It is the production of flower oils by extraction at 65 degrees centigrade with the use of alcohol.
  • Labdanum:An aromatic gum that originates from the rockrose bush (genus Cistus). The sweet woody odor is said to mimic ambergris, and can also be used to impart a leather note.
  • Leather Notes:These notes play a significant part in the masculine perfumes. Both natural expressions and fantasy interpretations of this theme exist and are used in the perfume industry. Leather notes also play a part in feminine perfumes; for instance, in the chypre family.
  • Linden:Also called lime-blossom, but this is from the flower of the Linden (Tilia) tree, not the citrus tree that produces limes. French name is Tilleul.
  • Maturity:A perfume must mature for four to eight week, before it can go on sale. This time is necessary to allow the individual ingredients to blend, bringing the fragrance to its full development.
  • Mixing Plant:The stage in the production of perfume in which the concentrated perfume oils are mixed, on a large scale, according to the perfumer's recipe, is known as the mixing or compounding plant.
  • Mossy:Odors of different kinds of tree mosses (especially oak moss) play an important part in nearly all perfume types. They are of special significance in the chypre notes. Mossy nuances are very complex and can have, besides the basic moss element, algae-like, leathery, woody and other characteristics. Their especially good fixing qualities, as well as their ability to give fragrances substance and depth, make them indispensable.
  • Musk:It is a secretion of the musk deer. The material extracted from musk-sacs has a strong animal-smell. They give perfumes a warm, erotic note and have outstanding fixing characteristics. Perfumes that are based on musk notes are especially subject to fashionable trends.
  • Myrrh:A gum resin produced from a bush found in Arabia and Eastern Africa.
  • Nag Champa:The name of perfume oil originally made in the Hindu and Buddhist monasteries of India and Nepal and used to perfume incense. Traditionally made from a sandalwood base, to which are added a variety of flower oils, including that from the flower of the Champaca tree.
  • Neroli:Oil prepared from the blossoms of either the sweet or bitter orange tree. Italian term for neroli is zagara.
  • Nose:A "nose", or nez in French, is a person who mixes fragrance components to make perfume; another commonly used term is perfumer, or in French, parfumeur createur.
  • Oak-moss:derived from lichen (evernia prunastri) that grows on Oak trees.
  • Oriental:It is the term for perfumes containing ingredients that are reminiscent of fragrances from the East. Such ingredients can be exotic blossom notes, spices, balsams, resins, and animalic components. The character of the Oriental perfumes is such that they are mostly used as so-called winter or evening perfumes.
  • Olibanum:see Frankincense.
  • Opoponax:also know as "sweet myrrh" and "bisabol myrrh", has a sweet, balsam-like, lavender-like fragrance when used as incense. King Solomon supposedly regarded opoponax as one of the "noblest" of all incense gums.
  • Orris:derived from the rhizome of the Iris plant.
  • Osmanthus:a flowering tree native to China, valued for its delicate fruity apricot aroma. Also known as the Tea Olive in the southern United States.
  • Oud:The Arabic word for wood, in perfumery usually refers to wood from the Agar tree.
  • Perfume (Extract):"per fumum" - comes from the Latin, meaning "through the smoke." In ancient times, fragrant resins were burned as incense offerings that were the origin. Today, we understand perfume to be a solution containing 15% to 30% perfume oils and 85% to 70% alcohol, respectively. Most highly concentrated form of fragrance, containing between 20 - 50% perfume compound, It’s the strongest and the longest lasting.
  • Perfumer:
  • 1)one who mixes perfume
  • 2) perfumer seller
  • 3) perfumer creator.
  • Pheromone:Chemical substance secreted by an animal to produce a response by other members of the same species.
  • Pomades:Fats and flower oils saturated with flower oils such as produced during the effleurage process.
  • Pikaki:It’s a form of jasmine (jasminum sambac) grown in Hawaii and used for making leis. Also known as Arabian jasmine, and widely used to make jasmine tea.
  • Resinoids:These are extracts from resins or plant parts (except for the blossom). In addition to the essential oils, they contain ingredients such as the waxes and resins which are soluble in whatever solvent is being used in the particular process. In order to facilitate the use of resinoids, high-boiling, odorless solvents are often added to them. Resinoids often have a dark color and especially good fixing properties.
  • Resins:They are mainly solid or semi-solid organic plant secretions and must go through a cleaning process.
  • Rounding-Off:It means harmonizing and binding together the principal ingredients of a perfume, either with odorants that are closely related odor-wise, or with other adjuncts that also fit into the picture and can therefore help to produce a balanced, harmonious whole.
  • Rose de Mai:Rose absolute made from the centifolia rose.
  • Sandalwood:Oil extracted from the heartwood of the Sandal tree, originally found in India. One of the oldest known perfumery ingredients, the powdered wood is also used to make incense.
  • Sensory Adaptation:It is the tendency of the human sense of smell to become less and less able to perceive a particular fragrance the longer it is exposed to it. When the sense of smell is "adapted" to a fragrance, it is no longer able to recognize it. Yet it recovers quickly from this fatigue.
  • Sillage:The trail of scent left behind by a perfume. Fragrances with minimal sillage are often said to "stay close to the skin".
  • Smoky:These notes are used mainly in masculine perfumes to create natural leather effects. In modern leather notes the smoky notes are thrust into the background by animalic notes but the old, classical leather perfumes contain noticeable smoky notes which originate from birch tar oil.
  • Solvents:These are liquids, virtually odor- and colorless, used in perfumery for the dilution of perfume oils. The most commonly-used solvent is ethyl alcohol. Some solvents also have fixative properties.
  • Soliflore:A fragrance which focuses on a single flower.
  • Sour:A perfume is said to smell sour when it has aged prematurely owing to inappropriate storage. When this happens, chemical alterations occur which are irreversible, and the perfume must be considered "off."
  • Splash Cologne:It is light, watery alcohol/perfume oil solution of 1%-3% perfume oil in 99%-97% alcohol, respectively. They are used generously, for refreshment for the whole body, after the shower or bath for example. They have a subtle perfuming effect, and the notes are fresh and clean. Some countries especially favor this application, and two prime examples are France and Spain.
  • Stability:Stability refers to how long a fragrance lasts, either in the bottle with the other ingredients, or exposed to heat, light or air.
  • Substantivity:Substantivity refers to how long a fragrance lasts on a particular surface, and how it’s affected by temperature, humidity, and other such conditions.
  • Tonka Bean:A thumb-size pod from a plant native to Brazil, said to smell of vanilla with strong hints of cinnamon, cloves and almonds, it’s cheaper than vanilla pods, and sometimes used as a vanilla substitute outside of the United States.
  • Top Note:The impression of a fragrance when first smelled or applied to the skin usually the most volatile ingredients in a perfume.
  • Vetiver:A grass with heavy, fibrous roots, which are used to distill oil with the scent of moist earth with woody undertones.
  • Yuzu:A citrus fruit grown in Japan. It looks like a small grapefruit; the flavor has been described as a cross between grapefruit and mandarin orange.
  • Ylang Ylang:An Asian evergreen tree, translates to "flower of flowers".