Top, middle, base notes refer to a fragrance’s tenacity, or how long it lasts. These descriptors are related to the size of a fragrance molecule and how volatile it is — basically, how quickly it dissipates. I’ll explain where different notes fit into the tenacity definitions, but just a quick reminder that fragrance is deeply personal. Some fragrance notes may read as a mid or top on different days (for example, notes like lavender range more mid-top). Tenacity is highly subjective person to person, so while the specific notes listed ahead are widely accepted as their category, individuals will bring their own biochemistry to the mix when smelling fragrances — what is a long and lingering scent for one person may be gone in an instant for another.
Middle notes, also referred to as heart notes or mid notes, are the body of the fragrance. Mid notes are what you smell as the top notes start to wear off. In candles or incense, mid notes are the scents that are revealed once the candle is burned. Common mid-notes are lavender, florals, and spices. Examples of mid notes are jasmine, rose, lavender, green fruits, black pepper, violet leaf, clove, cardamom, chamomile, and cinnamon.
In perfumery, whether it’s for fragrance scented candles, you typically won’t find a scent with only one type of note. Even a scent that seems simple, like our Piñon candle, is a complex combination of top, middle, and base notes to form a harmonious blend. Blends of singular notes are known as accords. Having a balance of top, middle, and base notes creates a well-rounded fragrance that is complex and robust instead of linear or bland.
SHOPPING FOR FRAGRANCE
Fragrances that are full of mainly top notes are going to give a bright and piquant energy. These types of scents are great for work, a day at home, or to put on before guests come over. Top notes don’t linger in the air, so these will freshen up your space while you’re cleaning. P.F. scents that are heavy on top notes are Golden Coast, Sweet Grapefruit, and Swell.
Mid notes give a full, blooming and robust feel. Mid notes tend to be floral, herbaceous, or spicy. These types of notes are vivacious and are the first I reach for if I need to restore good energy to a space (or frankly, myself) after returning from a workday or trip. These scents are well rounded and will create good harmony in your space. Examples of P.F. scents that are heavy on mid notes are Ojai Lavender, Los Angeles, Black Fig, and Dusk.
If you’re looking to create a grounding and safe space, look to scents that are heavy on base notes. Notes like sandalwood, cedar, or tonka bean will comfort you. Base notes are also great for a luxe energy — these heavy molecules linger in the air and smell expensive, kinda like visiting a boutique hotel that never misses a beat when it comes to their olfactory presence. Look for resinous notes, like frankincense, or rich woods like oud, to create luxe and layered fragrance in your home. P.F. scents that are base-note heavy are Piñon, Teakwood & Tobacco, Sandalwood Rose, Moonrise, Golden Hour, and Amber & Moss.
Want to learn more? Check out my book “At Home with Fragrance” — in addition to DIY projects and how to use fragrance in your home, Tom and I break down fragrance knowledge in an approachable and fun way.
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