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Essential Oils and Perfume notes

To the Greek civilisation odour vocabulary was a problem and Aristotle explored the close relationship between smelling and emotion, and because the olfactory apparatus could be grounded in emotions like pleasure and pain, it was deemed incapable of transcending its' physical matrix. Further, this emotional grounding was perceived to be responsible for the lack of odour vocabulary. We have come a long way since those times, but odour vocabulary is still a problem to the lay-person, who often has few words to describe smells in a way which will convey an accurate impression from one person to another. Perfumers have had to find words, and ways and means of describing their endeavours, and the system that has endured is based on the evaporative profile.

Classical middle top and bottom notes

Much of the way we consider, describe and even design perfumes over the last several decades has been derived from the concept of top, middle and bottom notes. This concept is derives from the idea that a perfume will have layers of fragrance which can be progressively stripped away by normal evaporative processes. Thus when a perfume is freshly dipped onto a perfumer's strip (or daubed on the skin) the top note is initially perceived which progressively gives way to the top and bottom notes.

Essential oils fall into 3 "note" categories loosely based on the perfume industry's categorisation of aromas - although recently, the effectiveness of this has been called into question.

A good blend of perfume is a well-balanced combination of top, middle, and base notes. In aromatherapy, the top notes are supposed to be the most volatile, quickest to evaporate, and fast acting oils; middle notes are the therapeutic and balancing oils; and base notes are the least volatile, longer-acting oils. Some oils fall between categories such as lavender which is often classed as middle to top. However, this is of little relevance to those who question the power of absorption of the skin as opposed to inhalation directly into the bloodstream via the lungs. Obviously the basis of this hinges on the fact the raw materials differ in their relative volatility: the sharp fresh impression made by ethyl formate for example may flash off from a perfumer's strip within seconds or minutes, but the creamy precious wood notes of sandalwood oil may still be discernible on a dry-out 6 weeks later.

The concept of top, middle and bottom notes is deeply embedded in the philosophy of perfumery, and is unlikely to ever completely die, whatever new theory comes along.

Top
Middle
Base

• Grapefruit
• Hyssop Decumbens
• Lemon, Lime
• Mandarin, Orange
• Peppermint
• Ravensara Aromatica
• Spearmint
•Tangerine

• Cabreuva
• Cassia Bark
• Chamomile (Roman)
• Champaca Flower
• Cinnamon Leaf
• Clary Sage
• Clove Bud
• Cypress
• Eucalyptus Citriodora
• Ambrette Seed
• Amyris
• Cedarwood (Atlas)
• Copaiba
• Patchouli
• Rose
• Sandalwood
• Spikenard
• Vanilla
  • Fennel (Sweet)
• Geranium
• Gingergrass
• Guaiacwood
• Havozo Bark
• Helichrysum
• Juniper Berries
• Lavender
• Litsea Cubeba
• Manuka
• Marjoram
• Myrtle
• Neroli
• Pimento Berry
• Rosemary
• Sage
• Spruce
• Thyme
• Ylang-Ylang
 
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