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The language of perfume

Perfume, like many beautiful and exotic things, has its own language to describe the various scents, layers and effects of the different fragrances and perfume types. However, such a rich lexicon can leave consumers feeling confused when faced with hundreds of different phrases and words written in fancy fonts on the perfume bottles in front of them.

Here is a simple guide to some of the most commonly used terms, to help you tell your oud from your eau de cologne; your middle notes from your musk.

Notes and accords

In the context of fragrances, ‘notes’ refer to the types of scents that can be detected upon application of a perfume. They are divided into three classes, based on how quickly they come through as an individual scent – top or head notes, middle or heart notes and base notes. When blended together, the three types of notes from the perfume’s accord, rather like a musical chord.

Top, middle and base notes

Top notes are light and tend to be sharper, ‘cleaner’ scents, such as citrus, bergamot and mandarin. They provide the perfume’s ‘first impression’. Middle notes come somewhere in between top and base notes and are floral in nature, indicating the scent’s overall character. For example, middle notes can include jasmine, rose and lavender. Finally, base notes add body and longevity to the perfume and count earthier scents in their number, such as sandalwood, cedar and patchouli.

Eau de cologne

Perfumes can be sold in different formats. The four most common are eau de cologne, eau de toilette, Eau de parfum and extrait (or extract). The main difference between them is in the concentration of perfume essence used in each. Eau de cologne will typically have around 2 to 5% perfume essence and will be highly diluted with such ingredients as alcohol (ethanol) and water, Eau de cologne is often used for less expensive perfumes that are intended to be applied more liberally or more often during the day. As such, popular scents for an eau de cologne tend to include lighter citrussy and herbal fragrances.

Eau de toilette

Eau de toilette has a slightly higher concentration of perfume essence of around 5 to 20%. Eau de toilette is designed to last longer than eau de cologne but is still pretty diluted. Eau de toilette is often sold in spray bottles as the liquid inside is thinner and less oily, thus easier to apply via a mist or spray.

Eau de parfum and extrait

Eau de parfum might well offer the same fragrance as its eau de toilette and eau de cologne counterparts, but it will have far more of the base perfume essence in it – around 30% – thus making it a far more luxurious product. The higher percentage makes a single application of Eau de parfum last longer (perhaps all day) but comes with a more robust price tag. Its consistency tends to be oilier and it may come in a bottle with a stopper, rather than a spray or pump action dispenser. Finally, extrait (‘extract’) sits at the top end of the range, with a hefty 40 – 50% concentration of perfume essence and a long-lasting, decadent feel.

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