A-Z of Common Fragrance Descriptions
Fragrances do much more than smell pretty, they evoke memories, create experiences, and can illicit strong emotions. They do this by combining different scent compounds (notes) to create a developing scentual experience. And the reason why fragrances are so personal to us is because of our relationship to these different notes. Perhaps it’s the smell of lilacs from your grandmother’s garden that makes you feel loved or the smell of lilies used in your wedding bouquet that brings back wonderful memories.
But there are many unique and sometimes strange notes that are used within a scent, and some notes you may not be able to detect but combine with others to create a special mood or feeling. By becoming aware of the different scent notes used, you not only can begin to understand why you are drawn to certain fragrances, but you can also begin to tailor your scent journey to fragrances that enhance your life and mean something special. Below are listed some of the most common notes used in fragrances.
Absinthe– Medicinal. Licorice-like. Dry. Bitter.
Algae– Green. Aquatic. Smells like Salt-Water. Vegetal.
Almond– Nutty. Slightly Bitter. Hints of Vanilla. Gourmand. Cozy. Cuddly. Soft.
Amber– Sweet. Smells a bit like resin. Cozy and warm. Can smell powdery. Sensuous.
Angelica– Sweetly herbal. Dry. Earthy. Green.
Animalic– Seductive. Addictive. Erotic. Sultry. Primal. Sexy.
Apple– Sweet. Fresh. Crisp. Tart. Green. Can be slightly spiced.
Apple Blossom– Soft petals. Light. Delicate. Mix of floral and fruit. Slight Apple scent.
Apricot– Soft & sweet. Like a Peach but less juicy. Young. Innocent. Playful. Delicate. Dainty.
Apricot Blossom– Soft floral. Peachy accord. Similar to Orange Blossom. Delicate. Dainty.
Aqua/Water Notes– Dewy. Fresh. Clean. Can smell like salt water. Ocean smelling. Rain. Forest stream. Sporty. Outdoorsy.
Aromatic– Strong. Sharp. Herbal. Green.
Balsamic– Resin like. Sweet. Warm. Can be slightly smoky or leathery. Used in Orientals.
Basil– Herb. Green. Aromatic. Can be peppery. Slightly sweet.
Beeswax– Animalic. Honeyed. Sticky. Warm. Waxy. Hints of pollen.
Benzoin– A resin. Vanilla-like. Slightly chocolately. Warm. Glowing. Comforting. Cozy.
Bergamot– Citrusy but aromatic. Slightly herbal. Crisp. Refreshing. Scent found in Earl Grey tea. Confident.
Blackberry– Like Black Currant. Dark berries. Sweet. Tart. Ripe. Slightly wine-like. Tannins.
Black Currant– Ripe dark berries. Rich. Tangy. Sweet. Mysterious. Slight wine-like. Forest-like.
Black Pepper– Sharp. Piercing. Hot. Nose-tickling. Spicy.
Black Tea– Deep. Rich. Slightly smoky, almost burnt smell.
BlueBells– Similar to Lilacs or Lily-of-the-Valley. A Bluebell’s scent can not be harvested so perfumers often use Lily-of-the-valley in place of Bluebells.
Candy– Sweet. Girly. Innocent. Bubble-Gum. Cotton-Candy.
Carnation– Spicy floral. Bright. Vibrant. Slight Clove nuance.
Cocoa– Bitter. Sweet. Like Chocolate. Gourmand. Milky. Full. Rich. Can be slightly spicy.
Caramel– Sweet candy. Gourmand. Smooth. Creamy. Slightly nutty. Buttery. Lactonic.
Cardamom– Sweet resin. Spicy. Slightly earthy. Can be slightly minty.
Cedar– Forest-like. Sweet wood. Aromatic. Slightly like pine-needles. Fresh. Green. Resin-like. Serious.
Cherry– Red Berries. Sour. Sweet. Tart. Ripe. Can be candy-like or rich and dark.
Chili– Spicy. Hot. Heat. Exotic. Picante. Bold. Deep. Can be smokey.
Chocolate– Gourmound. Deep. Rich. Slightly bitter. Sweet. Slightly smokey.
Chypre– Citrus combined with Oakmoss. Citrus and woods. Fresh. Crisp. Aromatic. Serious.
Cinnamon– Warm. Spicy. Hot. Sweet. Can be either sensuous or comforting and Home-like.
Citrus– Sunny. Bright. Perky. Nose-tickling. Sharp. Zingy. Lemon and/or grapefruit. Effervescent. Sparkling. Sporty. Cheerful.
Civet– Animalic. Sweet. Warm. Slightly musky. Sultry.
Clove– Spicy. Oriental. Exotic. Slightly sweet. Rich. Warming.
Clover– Sweet Grass. Smells slightly like Coumarin. Smells like fresh-cut-grass.
Coconut– Sweet. Tropical. Lush. Milky. Vanilla.
Cognac– Boozy. Woody. Sweet. Syrupy. Slight Caramel nuance. Slight burnt smell.
Coriander– Fresh. Citrusy. Woodsy. Green.
Coumarin– Gourmand. Almond-like. Smooth. Slightly nutty. Vanilla-like. But sometimes smells like hay or cut grass.
Cream– Milky. Sweet. Smooth. Comforting.
Cucumber– Watery. Fresh. Clean. Slightly metallic. Refreshing.
Cumin– Spicy. Warm. Dark. Indian spice. Can be slightly animalic.
Cyclamen– Light floral. Clean. Fresh. Slightly mysterious.
Cypress– Green. Deep. Woody. Forest-like. Lemon facets. Like Pine or Fir. Slightly Christmas like.
Daffodil– See Narcissus
Dirt– Earthy. Musty. Slightly mineral-like. Deep. Organic.
Driftwood– Dusty. Dry wood. Smells like a combination of dry wood and salt-water.
Elemi– Resinous. Pine-like. Citrusy-green. Masculine. Can smell like dill-pickles.
Fenugreek– Rich. Slightly gourmand. Toasted. Maple-syrup like. Similar to Immortelle.
Fig– Lush. Deep. Sweet. Milky. Slightly woody. Mediterranean feel.
Frankincense– Incense. Smokey. Deep. Resin-like. Slightly sweet woodiness. Balsamic. Church-like. Christmas-like. Serious.
Freesia– Peppery floral. Refreshing. Green and grassy. Can be slightly spicy like lily. Cheeky.
Guaiac Wood– Woody and sweet. Slightly peppery. Slightly smoky.
Galbanum– A bitter green note. Refreshing.
Gardenia– White flower. Sweet. Heady. Slight decay smell. Some greeness. Romantic. Heady.
Gourmand– Sweet. Sugar. Edible. Nuts, candy, baking.
Ginger– Hot. Exotic. Spicy. Peppery. Sharp. Sexy.
Grapefruit– Citrus. Fresh. Clean. Fruity. Combination of lemon & orange. Slightly sour. Zingy. Alive.
Grass– Fresh and a slight sweet smell. Clean. Crisp. Smells like fresh-cut grass. Perhaps a little watery like dew on the grass. Refreshing. Sporty. But can also be dry grass which smells more dusty and woody.
Green Tea– A light fresh and grassy smell. Slightly sweet. Green with a hint of white flowers.
Green Notes– Fresh. Crisp. Clean. Sharp. Sometimes watery/aqua/dewy. Like grass and stems.
Guaiac Wood– Woody. Smokey. Dark. Deep. Strong. Smells a bit like tar.
Hazelnut– Nutty. Rich. Starchy. Slightly woody. Can be a bit toasted.
Hay– Dry, dusty, grass-like.
Heliotrope– Vanilla-like floral. Slightly sweet like almonds. Smooth. Deep. Sophisticated.
Herbal– Green. Aromatic. Fresh. Slightly woody. Rosemary, Mint, Tarragon and/or other herbs.
Hibiscus– Soft. Sunny. Slightly musky. Warm floral.
Hinoki Wood– Like Cypress. Green. Woody. Forest-Like. Slightly Lemony.
Honey– Sweet. Warm. Cozy. Golden. Sunny.
Honeysuckle– Sweet floral. Like Orange Blossoms and Honey. Delicate. Dainty. Spring-like. Slightly like jasmine. Innocent. Girly.
Hyacinth– Deep intoxicating floral. Similar to Lilac. Green. Spring-like. Pretty.
Indolic– Intoxicating. Narcotic. Nectar-like. Smells like decaying flowers. May be slightly off-putting for some people. Makes florals smell sweet. Flowers like Orange Blossom, Lilac, Lilly-of-the-Valley, and Jasmine for example are indolic.
Immortelle– Unique mix of herbal and gourmand notes. Carmelized. Toasted. Slight curry and fenugreek note. Deep. Sexy. Multi-faceted.
Incense– Smoky. Church-like. Slightly sweet. Christmas-like. Oriental. Mysterious. Deep & rich. Can be resinous or balsam.
Iris– Earthy floral. Slightly vegetal. Deep grounded smell. Powdery. Starch smell. Classic. Mature.
Ivy– Cool Green. Slightly Spicy. Refreshing. Aromatic. Slightly Herbal.
Jasmine– White floral. Romantic. Slightly green and stem-like. Indolic. Sweet. Slight decay smell. Can be slightly animalic, smelling like warm flesh.
Juniper Berry– Fresh. Slightly pine-like. Aromatic. Pungent. Smells like gin.
Kiwi– Fruity. Slightly Tropical. Tart. Sour. Soft.
Labdanum– Smooth leather. Amber. Deep. Powerful. Warm. Masculine.
Lactonic– Milky. Smooth. Creamy. Sweet.
Lavender– A combination of floral and herbal. Slightly medicinal. Slightly licorice-like. Traditional scent. Calming.
Leather– Rich. Deep. Masculine. Warm. Powerful.
Lemon– Citrus. Effervescent. Sparkling. Can be sweet. Can be astringent. Bright. Cheerful.
Lilac– Smells of spring. Delicate. Powdery. Pretty. Slightly like Honey or bee pollen. Can smell a bit stem-like also. Similar to Jasmine and Lily-of-the-valley.
Lily– White flower. Heady. Spicy. Sweet. Sharp. Green. Pollen-like. Peppery. Strong. Powerful. Mature. Sophisticated.
Lily-of-the-Valley– Green floral. Can smell a bit stem-like. Soft. Delicate. Spring-like. Fresh. Dewy. Sweet. Similar to lilac. Pretty. Debutante. Romantic.
Lime– Sour. Zesty. Citrus. Sharper than lemon. Refreshing. Airy.
Lychee– Tropical. Sweet and perfumy. Almost candy-like. Slightly like a turkish delight. Flowers and candy.
Magnolia– Slightly lemony. Waxy. Lush floral. Soft but powerful. Mature.
Mandarin– Deep warm orange scent. Slightly honeyed. Sweet. Lush. Juicy. Can be slightly oriental.
Mandarin Blossom– See Apricot Blossom or Orange Blossom.
Mango– Smooth tropical fruit. Lush. Sweet. Succulent. Slightly peachy. Mouthwatering.
Metalic Notes– Mineral-like. Sharp. Cool. Clean.
Mimose– Child-like. Sweet. Soft. Like a hug. Sugary.
Mineral– Metallic. Sharp. Clean. Fresh. Smells slightly like Dirt.
Mint– Fresh. Refreshing. Cooling. Crisp. Green and peppery. Energizing. Herbal.
Musk– Sensual. Warm. Rich. Deep. Can be powdery. Masculine but soft.
Myrrh– Sweet incense. Woody. Balsamic. Slightly smokey. Warm. Aromatic. Slightly medicinal. Church-like. Christmas-like.
Myrtle– Herbal. Green. Woody. Slightly forest-like. A mediterranean feel to it.
Narcissus (Daffodil)– Sunny floral. Happy. Sweet. Green. Slightly like Hyacinth. Spring-like.
Neroli– Similar to Orange-Blossom. Spring-like. Hint of Oranges and Honey. Fresh floral. Slightly bitter.
Nougat– Gourmand. Sweet. Nutty. Slightly candy-like. Almond and Hazelnut base.
Nuts– Gourmand. Sweet. Smooth. Rich. Nutty. Slightly milk.
Oak Moss– Sharp. Bitter. Earthy. Damp. Dirt-like. Leaves. Smelling like a forest floor.
Olibanum– See Frankincense.
Opoponax– See Myrrh.
Orange– Sweet. Juicy. Citrusy. Slightly astringent. Bright. Cheerful.
Orange Blossom– Spring-like. White flower. Slight floral decay smell. Innocent. Dainty. Slightly peachy. Pretty. Feminine.
Orris Root– Starchy. Powdery. Earthy. Thick. See Iris.
Orchid– Powdery. Refined. Sweet floral. Slight vanilla scent. Can be exotic. Can be used to smell tropical. Classy. Sophisticated. Regal.
Oriental– Exotic. Deep. Mysterious. Spicy. Warm. Scents with incense, spices, and resins.
Osmanthus Blossom– Similar to Apricot or Peach Blossom. Soft. Slightly powdery. Delicate. Spring-like. Sensuous.
Oud (Agarwood)– Woody. Deep & rich. Musty. Slightly dirty smelling. Masculine. Exotic. Can sometimes smell a bit like bug-repellent.
Ozone– Combination of airy lightness and aqua notes. Mineral-like. Sharp. Clean. Crisp.
Papyrus– Dry. Woody. Similar to Hay.
Patchouli– Sweet. Dark. Earthy. Woody. Herbal. Deep green. Chypre. Can be slightly balsamic. Thought to be for Hippies but is actually quite classic. Sophisticated. Serious.
Peach– Sweet. Juicy. Innocent. Fleshy. Soft. Nectar-like. Girly.
Pear– Juicy. Sweet. Lush. Slightly green. Like apple but not as tart.
Peony– Sweet, Fresh, Dainty, Pretty. Slightly rose-like. Pink.
Petit Grain– Bitter orange. Green. Stem-like. Sharp. Picante.
Pine– Green. Woody. Forest-like. Fragrant. Aromatic. Slightly medicinal. Resin-like.
Pineapple– Tropical. Exotic. Sweet. Juicy. Slightly citrus.
Pink Pepper– Peppery but sharper. Picante. Not as deep as black pepper. Nose-tickling. Slight rose smell. Slight red berry smell. Confident.
Plum– Lush. Deep. Rich. Juicy. Sweet. Soft.
Pomegranate– Sweet & Sour. Tart. Smells like Red Berries. Juicy. Lush. Deep.
Praline– Gourmound. Soft. Nutty. Smells slightly like chocolate. Cozy. Warm. Inviting.
Quince– Fruity. Juicy. Combination of a Pear and Apple.
Raspberry– Tangy. Juicy. Tart. Sour. Green. Red Berry.
Red Berries– Tart. Sweet. Sour. Juicy. Slightly wine-like. Rasberry/cherry/Cranberry. Cheeky. Fun.
Rhubarb– Tart. Sour. Strawberry-like. Refreshing. Green.
Rice– Grassy. Nutty. Earthy. Cozy. Steamed rice. Slightly milky. Warm. Inviting.
Rose– Romantic. Feminine. Lemony. Heavy floral. Pink. Heady.
Rosemary– Herbal. Sharp. Woody. Minty top note. Aromatic. Forest-like. Serious.
Rum– Boozy. Sweet. Masculine. Warm. Slightly like Amber.
Saffron– Leathery. Intimate. Warm. Rich. Earthy. Bitter-sweet. Slight iris accord. A bit masculine.
Sage– Herbal. Woody. Hazy and soft. Frosty. Slightly peppery.
Sandalwood– Woody. Soft. Warm. Creamy and smooth. Comforting. Inviting. Slightly masculine.
Salt Water– Aqua/watery note. Outdoorsy. Fresh. Crisp. Like an Aqua note but with a hint of salty/sweetness.
Spearmint– Minty but slightly more herbal. Aromatic. Slightly medicinal. A hint of sweetness.
Star Anise– Licorice smelling. Spicy. Sharp. Bitter.
Stone– Mineral. Cold. Dry.
Strawberry– Jam-like. Child-like. Sweet. Girly.
Sulfur– Eggy. Mineral. Pungent.
Sweet Pea– Sweet-floral. Girly. Innocent. Romantic.
Syringa– Smells like Orange Blossom and Jasmine. Spring-like. Romantic. Dainty. Delicate. Pretty.
Tamarind– Exotic and bittersweet. Slightly acidic. Tart. Syrupy. Oriental. East Indian.
Tangerine– Orange-like but sweeter. Juicy. Fruity. Honey. Fun. Bright. Cheerful.
Tannins– Deep. Rich. Might smell leathery or oaky mixed with tart and sour notes. Red wine.
Thyme– Herbal. Spicey. Earthy. Leathery. Sharp. Aromatic. Fresh. Green. Forest-like. Masculine.
Tobacco– Smokey. Rich. Warm. Sweet. Slightly caramel-like. Sometimes with hints of rose.
Tonka Bean– Vanilla-like. Sweet. Slightly nutty. Warm. Soft. Cozy scent. Rich and deep.
Tuberose– Heady. Strong. Romantic. Regal smelling white flower. Rose-like but deeper. Creamy. Can be slightly sour.
Tulips– Sweet. Slightly citrus. Fresh floral. Slightly green. A Tulip’s scent can not be harvested so it is lab-created. Therefore, every brand may have a different representation of the Tulip facet.
Tropical Fruit– Sweet. Lush. Tropical. Mouth-watering. Sun-kissed. Juicy. Pineapple, mango, guava.
Vanilla– Sweet, Warm and cozy. Rich and smooth. Creamy. Classic.
Vetiver– Sharp woods. Dry. Slightly musty. Bitter. Smokey. Masculine. Serious.
Violet– Earthy floral. Powdery. Sweet. Woody. Similar to iris. Sophisticated. Mature.
Violet Leaves– Metallic. Slightly watery. Green. Fresh.
Watermelon– Aqua/Water notes. Fresh. Sweet. Clean. Summer-like.
White Flowers– Flowers of white color. Usually stronger flowers. Heady. Gardenia and Tuberose. Romantic. Regal.
Wisteria– Deep, spicy floral. Like a combination of lilac and cloves. Rich. Refined. Mature.
Wood Wax– Woody but sweet. Sticky. Like wood stain. Slightly like glue.
Woody– Deep scent. Dry. Warm. Earthy. Oak, mahogany, rosewood. Rich. Powerful. Natural.
Ylang-Ylang– Exotic. Sweet. Tropical-like. Sultry. Addictive. Erotic. Slightly jasmine-like. Can smell a bit banana-like.
Yuzu– Combination of Lemon and Lime. A hint of floral. Slightly sweet.
(Fragrance Wheel Image by Michael Edwards)