What are top, middle and base notes in perfume?

Perfume bottles in the Floris shop

What are top, middle and base notes in perfume?

Creating perfume is both an art and a science.

As an artist, the perfumer aims to create a feeling, capture an emotion, or convey their own interpretation of an ingredient or fragrance.

As a scientist, the perfumer must select and then blend their ingredients. They can choose from thousands of synthetic molecules (or scents) and many natural materials. They must use these to generate a formula that behaves as they wish it to when it meets your skin.

The top, middle and base notes of a perfume are what determines the smell as you wear it. They are the perfect illustration of both the science and the art of perfumery.

Breaking it down

Let’s take a classic Floris fragrance and break it down into its fragrance families and different notes.

Floris fragrances are categorised by four families:

  1. Floral

  2. Citrus

  3. Woody

  4. Amber

No 89 Eau de Toilette belongs to the citrus and woody fragrance families. It is comprised of the following notes:

  • Top notes of bergamot, lavender, neroli, nutmeg, orange and petitgrain

  • Heart notes of orris, geranium, rose and ylang ylang

  • Base notes of cedarwood, musk, oakmoss, sandalwood and vetiver.

Now we know what the notes are in No 89, let’s see what role they play in forming the scent of this elegant cologne.

Top notes

Essential oils are used to make perfume. They are composed of many molecules of different sizes. The smaller the molecule, the more volatile it is.

The top notes of a perfume are formed by the smallest, most volatile molecules. As soon as you spray a fragrance, these top notes want to jump off the skin and make their presence felt.

Top notes are usually made with citrus ingredients. These are the dominant notes you can detect at first.

In the case of No 89, this means the first scents you’ll pick up are warm notes of orange and spice.

Heart notes or middle notes

We refer to the middle notes as heart notes because they truly are at the heart, or centre, of the fragrance. Heart notes usually come from florals and aromatic plants such as thyme and rosemary.

Heart notes take a little longer to emerge than the top notes. Once you have sprayed a fragrance onto your skin, you can expect the heart notes to shine through after around 15 to 30 minutes.

Of course, every person’s skin is different. How your body reacts to a fragrance depends on a range of factors including your skin’s pH and hydration levels. So, the middle notes may come through a little faster or take a little longer on your skin compared to someone else’s.

With our No 89 example, the heart notes maintain the initial warmth, but the citrus top notes melt away to reveal gentle floral tones of rose and geranium.

Base notes

The base notes are formed by the least volatile ingredients with the largest molecules. They tend to be woody (e.g. sandalwood, cedarwood, patchouli) and resin notes (e.g. frankincense, myrrh, vanilla, amber).

Base notes tend to emerge on your skin around an hour after application. They then linger for much longer than the other notes.

For No 89, this is when the woody notes come into their own and you can smell the cedarwood and sandalwood.

How to choose a fragrance using top, middle and base notes

When you look at fragrances on the Floris website, you will see that we have listed the top, heart and base notes for each one. This tells you the layers of each fragrance and how it has been designed to evolve over time as you wear it.

By checking the top, heart and base notes, you can understand what a fragrance will smell like when it’s freshly spritzed onto your skin, and then throughout the day or evening.

Think about the scents you like to wear, e.g. lavender, musk, bergamot or patchouli. Focus on fragrances that include those notes.

Test perfumes on skin, not paper

The best way to test a fragrance is always on the skin. Because each formula has been designed to work on the human body, you simply won’t get the same effect by spraying a fragrance onto a test strip.

We always recommend that people spray a sample onto their skin, then leave it for an hour or more. You need to experience how the fragrance evolves as the layers of notes come through.

You can buy a 2ml sample of any Floris fragrance on our website to test at home. If you know the kinds of fragrance you like, you could also experiment with a Discovery Collection.

Alternatively, you can visit our shops at 89 Jermyn Street, London, and the Fairmont Windsor Park Hotel to explore our collection and get advice from our expert team.