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Top, Middle and Base Notes, What Does That Mean?

custom perfume notes Q&A science of scent

Perfumes are all about timing and chemistry; the ebb and flow of how they lay on your skin and evaporate into the air as time goes on. In most fragrances, you’ll find that your signature scent offers three levels that you can sense as you smell it on your skin. With each passing hour, notes will rise to the surface and say hello! A well-crafted, nonlinear, fragrance should ebb and flow on your skin. It should smell differently at different times but still remain cohesive. Perfumery mimics that of a song, using “notes” to represent each layer of the perfume as they all come together to form accords and in the end, a symphony.  

Custom Perfume Studio at NOTE Fragrances

In technical terms, these levels are called the “note classifications” and there are 3 of them: top, middle and base notes. Let’s break them down:

Top notes, sometimes called the “head” notes  are the aromas you pick up first when you apply (either on your skin or on a testing blotter). They have the smallest molecules and are quite volatile. Because of this, they evaporate the fastest on the skin. So you smell them first, but they will evaporate off within the first ½ hour or so of wear on your skin.

Applying Perfume to the Wrist to Sense the Notes

Middle notes, often called the “heart” of the fragrance are the aromas that appear as your perfume evolves on your skin. The middle notes help transition the fragrance from the top to the bottom in a nice and smooth transition. They also help hold the fragrance together so it doesn’t seem so choppy or incomplete. Imagine it is like neutral in a car; you need something to transition from drive to reverse!  

Lastly are the base notes; the largest and most tenacious molecules that provide the depth and longevity of your fragrance. Base notes are the aromas that stay with you for hours after you’ve made your initial application. Depending how base note heavy the fragrance is, will determine how long it lasts on your skin. We call this the “dry down” phase. A fun way to determine the base notes of your fragrance is to spray some of your fragrance on a piece of clothing and then put it in your closet. Go back to it the next day and smell it. What you smell are the base notes, those large molecules just love staying around!

NOTE Fragrances Custom Perfume Studio Experience


Insider Tip: When you are designing your own fragrance in our Custom Perfume Studio or sniffing through our collection of fragrances, a good thing to remember is that the middle and base notes are the core of your perfume or cologne and will be what interacts with your body’s natural chemistry the most, particularly in regards to your body temperature. So take your time when you are sniffing and designing, it will make a difference.



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