What are Fragrance Notes? Top, Middle, Heart, and Base Note Explained.

Written By: Ahmed Farah
Reviewed By:
Updated On:

Read Our Review Guidelines

When you wear a fragrance, have you ever wondered why it changes over time, revealing different scents?

That’s because perfumes are carefully crafted using a blend of various fragrance notes.

From my experiences in the fragrance industry, I have learned that many people do often get confused about what fragrance notes actually are, how they work together, as well the different types. So I spent a little time and research to put together this piece, to take away any confusion you might have had.

What Are Fragrance Notes?

Fragrance notes are the individual scent layers that make up a perfume.

Similar to how musical notes in a symphony, each playing its part to create a harmonious composition, fragrance notes also work in unison to create the art that is a great fragrance.

A well-crafted, fragrance consists of three main note categories: top notes, middle or heart notes, and base notes.

Each category serves a distinct purpose in the fragrance’s overall aroma.

Let us get into it now!

To learn a little more on the differences between colognes and perfumes, check out our article here!

Top Note

Think of top notes as your very first impression of a fragrance. They are the scents that you immediately smell when you apply the perfume.

These notes are usually light, fresh, citrusy, or sometimes herbal.

The purpose of top notes is to grab your attention and keep you hooked to the fragrance. However, due to their thin molecular structure, they also evaporate relatively quickly, usually within 10 to 15 minutes.

Some common top notes include lemon, bergamot, mint, and grapefruit. Perfumers often choose more light and refreshing scents as top notes, in order to give you that initial little buzz and keep you wanting more.

Middle and Heart Notes

I am often asked by clients what the difference between a heart and a middle note is, and the answer is… nothing. They are different phrases for the exact same thing!

Once the top notes fade away, the middle, or heart notes, step into the spotlight.

These notes are the heart and soul of the fragrance, forming the main body of the scent. Heart notes are more mellow and balanced, providing a transition from the initial burst of top notes to the long-lasting base notes.

Common middle notes include aromatic sandalwood, romantic rose, soothing jasmine, and warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. They play a crucial role in defining the perfume or cologne’s overall character and personality.

Base Notes

The base notes are the foundation of the fragrance, providing depth and longevity to the overall scent, and are for me, the most important note.

These notes are the last to come out, emerging after the middle notes have settled, and are the longest-lasting note, lingering on the skin for hours, and sometimes days!

Since they are so important to the foundation of the fragrance, Base notes are usually rich, woody, and sometimes sweet or balsamic. 

Familiar base notes include sensual amber, earthy patchouli, warm vanilla, and velvety sandalwood. They create a lasting impression and are responsible for the memorable essence of perfume.

Types Of Fragrance Notes

Since we have established the different levels that make up your typical cologne or perfume, what are the different notes, or accords, that make up each of these levels?



Usage: Base Note

Characteristics: Woody notes provide a warm and earthy foundation to fragrances. They add depth, sophistication, and a sense of stability to the overall scent.

Examples:Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille

Cedarwood: A classic woody note with a dry, aromatic, and slightly resinous scent.

Sandalwood: Known for its creamy, milky, and slightly sweet aroma, adding a touch of luxury.

Vetiver: Possesses an earthy, smoky, and slightly grassy fragrance that adds a unique character to perfumes.


Usage: Middle/Heart Note

Characteristics: Floral notes infuse fragrances with delicate, elegant, and romantic characteristics. They are often the centerpiece of the perfume.

Examples:Jean Paul Gaultier Le Beau Paradise Garden

Rose: The “queen” of flowers, it offers a sweet, fresh, and rosy scent that symbolizes love and passion.

Jasmine: Exudes a rich, white floral fragrance that is both intoxicating and sensuous.

Lily of the Valley: Offers a sweet, green, and refreshing aroma with a hint of innocence.


Usage: Base Note

Characteristics: Musk notes provide sensuality, warmth, and depth to perfumes. They are often used to enhance and fix the fragrance’s overall composition.

Examples: Burberry Hero

White Musk: A clean, soft, and powdery musk that adds a gentle allure to the scent.

Ambrette Musk: A natural plant-based musk with a slightly floral and musky aroma.

Animalic Musk: A more potent and animal-like musk with an intense and sensual presence.


Usage: Middle/Heart or Base Note

Characteristics: Spice notes bring warmth, richness, and complexity to fragrances. They evoke feelings of comfort and exoticism.

Examples:Montblanc Legend Spirit

Cinnamon: A popular spice note with a warm, sweet, and slightly spicy scent.

Cardamom: Offers an aromatic, sweet, and slightly herbal fragrance that adds depth to perfumes.

Clove: Known for its warm, spicy, and aromatic aroma, adding a touch of richness.


Usage: Top Note

Characteristics: Citrus notes provide a fresh, zesty, and invigorating opening to perfumes. They are uplifting and energizing.

Examples: Bleu de CHANEL

Bergamot: A classic citrus note with a bright, slightly floral, and fruity scent.

Lemon: Offers a zesty, tangy, and juicy fragrance that is refreshing and uplifting.

Mandarin: A sweeter, softer citrus note with a distinct fruity aroma.


Usage: Top Note

Characteristics: Fruit notes add a juicy, sweet, and playful element to fragrances. They are often used to create a lively and youthful impression.

Bowl of Berries

Examples: Burberry Touch

Apple: Offers a crisp, fresh, and slightly sweet scent that brings a touch of fruity delight.

Peach: Known for its juicy, sweet, and summery aroma, evoking feelings of warmth and happiness.

Blackcurrant: Provides a tart, slightly sweet, and berry-like fragrance, adding a dash of vibrancy.

How To Find The Right Fragrance Notes

An age-old question, and an answer that took me a long time to find.

The reality is, the best way to find your best notes and scents, is to go out and try a whole load of notes and scents. Try and error or whatever it is called.

Take a trip to your local perfume store, smell a range of fragrances, note down what you like about each one, and slowly but surely you are getting closer to finding your dream scent.

This process can however be quite long for some, and for others note possible at all. So here are some tips I can give to help you find your right notes;

Notice your preferences

Pay attention to the scents you naturally gravitate towards in daily life. It could be a room diffuser, your favorite plant, or even someone else’s cologne. Keep a note of it, each time!

Consider the Occasion

Different scents are most definitely better suited for different events, like casual days or formal evenings.

Seek Recommendations

Don’t hesitate to ask friends, family, or fragrance experts for their suggestions.

Sample Sets

Many brands offer sample sets, allowing you to try multiple scents before committing to a full bottle.

My Personal Faviourires

I have spent so long now, talking about notes and all their different kinds, that it is only fair to finish this article sharing some of my own personal faves.

Now, it’s important to never completely copy some else signature scent, since what is perfect for one person, will probably not be perfect for you.

But taking inspiration from other people can be a surefire way of helping you find your best cologne or perfume.

So here are some of my favorite notes;


Ylang ylang


White musk




Photo of author

About The Author

A cologne lover and reviewer, Ahmed has reviewed over 45 colognes on the site. Finding the best perfumes and colognes for our audience, review and ranking them as well as looking at all types of data, from price, longevity, silage to uniqueness.

Leave a Comment