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Perfume Ingredients

An A to Z List of Ingredients Found in Your Favorite Fragrances

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Perfume bottles

Perfume bottles

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How well do you know your perfume ingredients? If you've ever found yourself asking, "What the heck is oud?" we hope you'll enjoy this glossary of frequently used fragrance components.

Agrumen

An aldehyde (see below) with a characteristic green, musky odor.

Aldehyde

Organic compounds present in many natural materials, that can be synthesized artificially, such as the aliphatic aldehydes used to give sparkle to Chanel No 5.

Amber

A heavy, full bodied, powdery, warm fragrance note. Amber oil comes from the Baltic amber tree.

Ambergris

A sperm whale secretion with a sweet, woody odor. Usually reproduced synthetically.

Ambrette

The oil obtained from ambrette seeds (from the hibiscus) has a musk-like odor. Commonly used as a substitute for true musk.

Amyris

A white-flowering bush or tree found in Haiti and South America. Often used as a less-expensive substitute for sandalwood.

Benzoin

A balsamic resin from the Styrax tree.

Bergamot

The tangy oil expressed from the non-edible bergamot orange, grown mainly in Italy.

Calone

An aroma chemical that adds a “sea breeze” or marine note to fragrances.

Cashmeran

A synthetic aldehyde with a spicy, ambery, musky, floral odor. Used to invoke the velvety smell or "feel" of cashmere.

Castoreum

An animalistic secretion from the Castor beaver, used to impart a leathery aroma to a fragrance. Often reproduced sythetically.

Citron

The zest of this tree's fruit is used to create citrus fragrance notes.

Civet

Musk produced by a gland at the base of the African civet cat's tail. Pure civet is said to have a strong, disagreeable odor, but in small quantities is often used to add depth and warmth to a fragrance.

Clary sage

The oil of this herb smells sweet to bittersweet, with nuances of amber, hay and tobacco.

Coumarin

A commonly used perfume compound that smells like vanilla. Usually derived from the tonka bean (see below), but also found in lavender, sweetgrass and other plants.

Frangipani

A fragrant tropical flower, also known as West Indian jasmine.

Frankincense

A gum resin from a tree found in Arabia and Eastern Africa. Also called Olibanum.

Galbanum

A gum resin that imparts a green smell.

Guaiac Wood

A resinous South American tree whose oil is used in perfumery.

Hedione

An aroma chemical that has a soft, radiant jasmine aroma.

Heliotrope

Flowers of the family heliotropium, which have a strong, sweet vanilla-like fragrance with undertones of almond.

Indole

A chemical compound which smells floral at low concentrations, fecal at high concentrations. Used widely in perfumery.

Iso E Super

An aroma chemical, described as a smooth, woody, amber note with a velvet-like sensation. Used to impart fullness to fragrances.

Jasmine

A flower employed widely in perfumery.

Labdanum

An aromatic gum from from the rockrose bush. The sweet woody odor is said to mimic ambergris (see above), and can also be used to impart a leather note.

Monoi

Gardenia (tiare) petals macerated in coconut oil. Sometimes called Monoi de Tahiti.

Muguet

French for Lily of the Valley. One of the three most used florals in perfumery. Unlike jasmine and rose, usually synthetically reproduced.

Myrrh

A gum resin produced from a bush found in Arabia and Eastern Africa.

Narciussus

The white flowers of this tree are used extensively in French perfume production.

Neroli

A citrus oil distilled from the blossoms of either the sweet or bitter orange tree. The Italian term for neroli is zagara.

Oakmoss

Derived from a lichen that grows on oak trees. Prized for its aroma, which is heavy and oriental at first, becoming refined and earthy when dried, reminiscent of bark, seashore and foliage.

Opopanax

A herb that grows in the Middle East, North Africa and the Meditarranean, also known as sweet myrrh. The resin produces a scent similar to balsam or lavender.

Orris

Derived from the iris plant. Has a flowery, heavy and woody aroma.

Osmanthus

A flowering tree native to China, valued for its delicate fruity apricot aroma.

Oud (Oudh)

Refers to wood from the Agar tree, found mostly in Southeast Asia. The fragrant resin is treasured by perfumers.

Ozone

A modern, synthetic note meant to mimic the smell of fresh air right after a thunderstorm.

Patchouli

A bushy shrub originally from Malaysia and India. Has a musty-sweet, spicy aroma. Often used as a base note.

Rose

One of the main flower notes used in perfumery.

Rose de Mai

The traditional name given to Rose Absolute (rose essential oil) produced by solvent then alcohol extraction.

Sandalwood

An oil from the Indian sandal tree. One of the oldest known perfumery ingredients, commonly used as a base note.

Tonka Bean

Derived from  a plant native to Brazil. Has an aroma of vanilla with strong hints of cinnamon, cloves and almonds. Used as a less-expensive alternative to vanilla.

Tuberose

A plant with highly-perfumed white flowers, resembling those of a lily.

Vanilla

Derived from the seed pod of the vanilla orchid. Highly fragrant, popular, and expensive to produce.

Vetiver

A grass with heavy, fibrous roots, which are used to distill an oil that smells of moist earth with woody, earthy, leather and smoky undertones. A highly important ingredient in masculine perfumes.

Ylang Ylang

An Asian evergreen tree with fragrant flowers. Used in expensive floral perfumes.

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