If you’ve ever shopped for perfume or cologne, you’ve probably heard of top, middle, and bottom notes. They’re a crucial part of every fragrance–but what, exactly, are top, middle, and bottom notes? Find out as we share everything you need to know about fragrance notes, including how you can use them to find fragrances you love.
What Are Fragrance Notes?
Before we get into specific types of notes, let’s go over fragrance notes in general. Fragrance notes are the different ingredients in a fragrance, each of which has its own scent. The unique combination of notes in a fragrance is what creates its unique scent blend.
Each fragrance note has a unique scent and a unique duration, which we can also call its lasting power. Some fragrance notes last all day long, while others only last for around 10 minutes.
You can alter lasting power a bit if you use notes in higher or lower concentrations, but the lasting power of a note is mostly tied to its composition. Some notes are naturally strong and stable, so they last a long time. Others are more volatile, so they tend to evaporate quickly.
What Are Top, Middle, and Bottom Notes?
Fragrance notes are classified as top, middle, or bottom notes depending on how long they last.
Think of top, middle, and bottom notes as a fragrance pyramid with three tiers. Top notes last for a short time, so they’re the small peak of the olfactory pyramid. Then, middle notes that last a bit longer make up the medium-sized middle tier, while long-lasting bottom notes make up the large base of the pyramid.
Here’s how long the notes in each tier will typically last:
- Top Notes: 5 to 15 minutes
- Middle Notes: 20 to 60 minutes
- Bottom Notes: 6 hours or more
Most fragrances have at least one note from each tier of the olfactory pyramid, which creates a complex experience. You experience the top notes right after your first spritz, then the heart notes after your fragrance settles, and finally the base notes later in the day or evening.
So, if bottom notes last the longest, are they the most important part of a fragrance? Should you choose a perfume based mostly on its base notes? You might want to, but you may find you care more about top and middle notes. We’ll talk about why as we take a closer look at the three tiers of the fragrance pyramid.
All About Top Notes
Top notes, also called head notes or opening notes, are the notes you smell right after you apply your fragrance. They create your first impression of a fragrance, then fade away after around 5 to 15 minutes.
Top notes are commonly fresh, bright, or citrusy. Examples include lemon, bergamot, berries, lavender, and basil. Many spices, like nutmeg and saffron, also fall into the top note class.
If top notes fade quickly, are they still important? It depends on what you value in a fragrance. Many people find that top notes are extremely important to them because they’re the primary way they experience a fragrance. Your nose typically gets used to a fragrance throughout the day or night, so your strongest impression of a fragrance is often those first top notes. Additionally, top notes are a part of a fragrance’s full experience and story, which many people value.
Top Notes in the Top 5 Perfame Fragrances:
- Perfame Elixir No. 10: pineapple, tart apple, bergamot, black currant
- Perfame Elixir No. 29: saffron, jasmine
- Perfame Elixir No. 49: tobacco leaf, spices
- Perfame Elixir No. 18: iris, violet
- Perfame Elixir No. 23: litchi, rhubarb, bergamot, nutmeg
All About Middle Notes
Middle notes, also called mid notes or heart notes, are the core of a fragrance. Middle notes typically make up 70% of the notes in a fragrance, so most of a perfume’s fragrance blend is mid notes.
Middle note compounds start to give way to bottom notes after around 20 to 60 minutes, but can often remain noticeable for the full duration of the fragrance. They intermix with the top and bottom notes, so heart notes are quite an important part of a fragrance.
Floral notes, such as jasmine and rose, are some of the most popular middle notes. Certain spices, like cinnamon and pepper, are also common, as are longer-lasting fresh notes like lemongrass. Some stronger notes that are typically base notes, like vanilla, can also be heart notes when used in lower concentrations.
Middle Notes in the Top 5 Perfame Fragrances:
- Perfame Elixir No. 10: birch wood, Moroccan jasmine, patchouli, rose
- Perfame Elixir No. 29: amberwood, ambergris
- Perfame Elixir No. 49: vanilla, cacao, tonka bean, tobacco blossom
- Perfame Elixir No. 18: leather, musk, spice
- Perfame Elixir No. 23: turkish rose, peony, musk, petalia, vanilla
All About Bottom Notes
Bottom notes, also called base notes, are the foundation of the olfactive pyramid. Lasting for 6 hours or longer, base notes are the longest-lasting element of a fragrance. They appear around 30 minutes to 60 minutes after application, then continue for the full duration of the fragrance.
Many base notes fall into the woody fragrance family, as wood notes tend to have quite a long duration. Some popular woody base notes include sandalwood, cedarwood, and patchouli. Vanilla, amber, moss, and musky notes are also popular long-lasting base notes.
Since bottom notes last for the full duration of your fragrance, they’re certainly an important part. Notably, base notes tend to be what others smell most strongly. If you care about the way others perceive your fragrance, you may want to pay special attention to base notes.
Bottom Notes in the Top 5 Perfame Fragrances:
- Perfame Elixir No. 10: oakmoss, ambergris, vanilla
- Perfame Elixir No. 29: fir resin, cedar
- Perfame Elixir No. 49: dried fruits, woods
- Perfame Elixir No. 18: sandalwood, cedarwood
- Perfame Elixir No. 23: cashmeran, cedar, incense, haitian vetiver
Considering Top, Middle, and Bottom Notes When Shopping
Top, heart, and base notes are all important, but whether they’re equally important to you is a matter of personal preference.
If you’re not sure how you feel about these different types of notes, try this exercise. Think of a perfume or cologne you already know you like. What do you most remember about it? Is it the bright scent right after application? Or is it perhaps the way you can still smell it on your coat the next day? Are there any specific notes that come to mind? Is it tart berries, lush vanilla, warm wood?
After you’ve considered what you like about the fragrance, determine whether you were thinking of the scent’s top, middle, or base notes. If it’s the initial spritz you love, you’re thinking of the top notes. If it’s the way it smells long after application, you’re thinking of the base notes. Now, look up your fragrance’s top, middle, and base notes. If there was a specific note you remembered, like berries, where is that note on the pyramid? Are the notes you remember in one tier? Or perhaps two or three?
You don’t have to decide to prioritize just one fragrance layer–they’re all important. But if you did that exercise and found you were thinking entirely of top notes, top notes are probably more important to you. The same goes for mid or base notes. And if one type of note is more important to you, you’ll want to pay closer attention to that when shopping for new fragrances.
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