What are top notes, heart notes and base notes?

Notes, accords, families - an overview of the music of perfume.

Published on
September 10th 2020

Samuel Fillon


A perfume is composed mainly of alcohol, water, and scented molecules, which are either synthetic, or naturally extracted by distillation.  

A rose scent (called a note in perfumery), can therefore be created from a natural rose extraction (using over a hundred molecules), or from synthetic rose (only a few molecules).  

Like in music, when talking about the scents that make up a perfume, we talk about notes and “accords” (chords in French): a jasmine note, a musky accord, etc. A note is therefore the finest level of description to talk about a perfume, from an understanding point of view. This is a practical way to talk about scents, but in no way presumes the presence of the material in a natural way.  

For example, calone, a synthetic molecule designed in the 1960s, has a strong smell of sea salt and is very often used in men’s fragrances. Of course, it is not extracted naturally, even though it is known as a marine or iody note. 

Perfume notes are divided into three types: the top, heart, and base notes. These categories, although they come from marketing, allow a better understanding of a perfume and its evolution over time after application.  

  • Top notes with low longevity (or high ‘volatility’) typically include citrus fruits and certain fruits. These smell strongly after application and up to 30 minutes afterwards. 
  • Heart notes, for example, flowers and some spices, remain fragrant for 2-3 hours after spraying the perfume. 
  • Finally, base notes, such as amber, woods and musks have an even longer life span, as they can be smelt up to 24 hours after spraying.  

The direct consequence of this ‘pyramid’ is the fact that a perfume evolves greatly after spraying. The perfumes that are largely consumed by the general public are developed so that the top notes (from which the uninformed buyers get an idea of the perfume), are as pleasant as possible, yet to the detriment of the evolution of the perfume. Therefore, to get an idea of a perfume, it is necessary to smell it after spraying it, but also a few minutes and a few hours later. In a nutshell, you have to take your time. 

Remember: Notes are the identifiable scents of a perfume, composed of molecules of varying volatility. You have to smell a perfume several times to get a true idea of it.

Le parfum idéal est à votre portée.