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What are Fragrance Top Notes, Heart Notes, and Basenotes?

What is a Fragrance Journey?

One of the most intriguing parts of learning about fragrance is known as the scent journey. Traditionally perfume makers were unable to sustain the same scents over a long duration, so to compensate for the volatility of the oils, they layered them so as one oil wore off, the next would become notable.

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That is called a non-linear fragrance as it changes and evolves as you wear it. Now with synthetics and improved technology, perfume makers are able to create scents that are linear — meaning they will smell the same from the morning to night.

However many people enjoy the artistry involved in skillfully blending scents together and allowing them to develop over time. These layers of scent are commonly referred to as fragrance notes.

Understanding Fragrance Notes

Top notes are your first impression of the fragrance. Exact times vary but as a rule of thumb, they last for 20 minutes to an hour before making way for the heart notes which after 3-4 hours finally turn into base notes. The basenotes are often where you can see the real quality of a fragrance come through. Imitation and copycat brands usually can create a decent initial impression with the top notes but the development of the fragrance suffers.


Like the opening notes in your favorite song, the top notes are designed to draw you in. This is the first impression that you get from a fragrance, so perfumers must work especially hard to get the blend right. After all, if the scent doesn’t draw you in then you will probably walk away before the heart and base notes can set it.

Since the top note fades away after a few hours, this note is usually comprised of lighter oils. The most common compounds used in top notes are citrus (lemon, orange zest, and bergamot), light fruits (grapefruit and berries) and herbs (clary sage and lavender).

What are Fragrance Top Notes, Heart Notes, and Basenotes?

Fragrance Fact: Aldehydes are a synthetic fragrance that was first introduced in 1921 with the release of Chanel #5. It is said to have a soapy, floral, citrusy type of aroma.

The top note is your introduction to the fragrance and is the selling point. You’ll notice that the top notes will be listed first in the list of ingredients. For example, the most recognizable perfume in the world- Chanel #5 has top notes of ylang-ylang, neroli, and aldehydes. This is one of the best-selling perfumes in the world.

When the top notes start to fade, that’s when the heart notes take center stage.


Most the scent in the bottle will be the heart notes. The last the longest and are the smell that you will be living with the longest, this means that the middle notes need to capture your attention. They are incredibly important because, without the heart, the perfume would fall flat and be utterly unappealing.

The heart notes live up to their name in that they are the core of the fragrance. They are the part that holds everything together. They support the top notes and act as a buffer for the base notes which wouldn’t very fragrant on their own.

What are Fragrance Top Notes, Heart Notes, and Basenotes?

The heart is usually warm and well rounded. They are frequently comprised of floral scents even if the perfume isn’t necessarily classed as floral. Lemongrass, neroli, and jasmine are the most common heart notes. The heart notes tend to be a little more complex than the top notes since they have the bulk of the work.

CK One by Calvin Klein is a prime example of this. CK One came out in the nineties and was revolutionary because it was a unisex perfume. People rushed out to buy it, clamoring to be classed as edgy and rebellious.

It worked. People couldn’t get enough of it. CK One had to do something that had almost never been done before, and their secret lay in the heart notes. Hedione high cis (a jasmine derivative) rose, violet, nutmeg, and green tree accord drew people in and kept them hooked for a very long time.

And finally, when the heart notes exit the stage, the base notes make their appearance for the finale.


What are Fragrance Top Notes, Heart Notes, and Basenotes?

The base notes stick around the longest. Sometimes they can linger on for a few days. They also tend to have a little less variety since there aren’t many essential oils that are strong enough to stick around for that long.

The base notes usually makeup about 20% of the fragrance in the bottle and work together with the heart notes to carry the bulk of the fragrance.

Common base notes for mens colognes are sandalwood, amber, musk, and moss. If any of these oils were used as top notes, the scent would be off balance and off-putting.

You will probably start smelling the base after about 30 minutes after application. These will only be hints though, and the base notes only truly take the stage after the dry down period (when the top and heart notes have disappeared) the base will then linger o for a long time and will be the final and most lasting impression that you get from the fragrance.


Sometimes a ‘bridge note’ is added to assist the other notes in blending more smoothly. Common bridge notes include lavender, vanilla, vitamin E or jojoba oil. These are mild scents that don’t evaporate from the skin.

What are Fragrance Top Notes, Heart Notes, and Basenotes?


At first it might feel imperceptible but as you train your nose to pick up on subtleties, you'll find that it's enjoyable to track your fragrances and how their scents shift over time. Much like a fine whiskey, there's a lot of layers and depth to colognes which require time and patience to experience.


Born and raised in Austin, David is a dedicated writer and avid fragrance lover. When he's not trying out perfumes, he enjoys traveling and exploring new restaurants.