Fragrance structure: Why doesn’t my perfume always smell the same?

February 9, 2021

Have you ever noticed your perfume doesn’t always smell the same? The scents you perceive immediately after application are often quite different from those after wearing the perfume for a longer period, when the scent has already unfolded.

Perfume (Photo: Pexels)

This is because you can’t smell all of a fragrance’s notes at once. The different compounds used to devise the notes have different levels of volatility, which are sometimes referred to as coefficients.

This is caused by the skin’s heat and the way a fragrance dries and evaporates off it. The compounds in a fragrance evaporate at different speeds rather than all at the same time. As this happens, the fragrance reveals its different notes to the wearer.

The legendary perfumer Jean Carles used the term »fragrance pyramid« to educate the public and the »industry outsider« about how perfumes are constructed. The »fragrance pyramid« concept embodies the classic three-tiered French perfume structure, where the denouement reveals distinct phases resembling a 3-D presentation. With it, you get to understand all the different perfume angles while the perfume dries down on the skin and it can help you visualize the basics of a fragrance’s life-cycle. It is crucial to remember, however, that not every fragrance is built on the pyramid structure, nor is it a complete or wholesome guide of deciphering a perfume’s message.

Each fragrance usualy consists of different notes, which are arranged into three groups, based on their volatility:

Fragnance pyramid (Photo: NINU personal archive)
  1. Head notes:

These notes make up the first impression when you apply a fragrance and it also reveals the theme or the story the scent is going to tell. They consist of small, volatile molecules that evaporate quickly, which means they hit your nostrils first. Most top notes are bright and airy, like citruses and other aromatic fruits, and consist of green, watery or woody notes.

Lime (Photo: Pixabay)

2. Heart notes:

As the head notes fade, the heart notes tend to emerge. These are transitory notes that linger as the base comes noticeable. They give the fragrance its character and intensity. They begin to arrive and fully develop within ten minutes and will remain on the skin for up to three hours. The main, usually warm, scent notes are floral (rose, jasmine and gardenia), fruity (peach, apple and strawberry) and spice (pepper, clove and cinnamon).

Strawberry (Photo: Pixabay)

3. Base notes:

The base note lasts the longest, from several hours to days and they form the foundation of a fragrance. Its scent molecules will develop a different nuance in every person, making the base note the most individual part of a fragrance. The base note is usually made of heavy and intense nuances like sandalwood, vanilla, musk, or cocoa.

Cocoa (Photo: Pixabay)