woman outside holding schmidt's ylang-ylang and calendula deodorant

Feeling bold and energetic? There’s a scent for that. Romantic or mysterious? There’s a scent for that. Our sense of smell speaks volumes to how we’re feeling — it’s personal.

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What goes into a scent?

Fragrance sits closer to the skin than anything else — clothing included — so we’re of the opinion that it should feel comfortable, safe, and well, fun. It can be hard to know where to start when choosing an aroma that fits your unique taste. When navigating the sometimes mind-boggling descriptive space between fruity florals or something woody and warm, understanding the basics behind scent chemistry can help. 

woman holding schmidt's jasmine tea sensitive skin next to her face

Photos courtesy of Schmidt’s Naturals

Take Notes

Scents are generally made up of three distinct notes (fancy jargon for individual smell): base, middle, and top. These three elements combine to create a completely unique aroma, especially when intermixed with your individual body chemistry. 

Each note can typically grow stronger and more noticeable at different points in time as your brain processes the scent. Notes can be differentiated based on volatility, which measures how quickly the compounds from the scent evaporate from your skin. The more volatile a note, the more quickly you’ll smell it, but the faster it will evade your skin. On the flipside, less volatile scents take more time to come through, but they tend to linger on you for awhile longer. 

Top notes tend to have higher volatility measurements. Their impact is immediate, but they have less staying power. Think of top notes as a brief first impression. They are typically described as fresh or sharp and can smell like citrus (think, orange zest), light fruits (grapefruit), or herbs (sage).

The middle note follows and is often referred to as the heart” of the scent. It fully develops once the top note has evaporated and tends to be slightly stronger. Since base notes can sometimes be overwhelming at first (more on this in a minute), mid notes are also there to mask that initial strength of the smell. Think of rose and jasmine as common middle notes, as you’ll notice their scent tends to stay with you, and pairs beautifully with a deeper base note, like vanilla. 

Once the middle note begins to drift away, the base note begins to play a more prominent role in the scent. It’s the strongest and longest lasting due to its low volatility. The base note adds depth to a scent. Rich and heavy scents like vetiver, vanilla, and cedarwood are common base notes. Base notes should not only last longer than the first two in the overall scent profile, but they should help fully round out the scent — combining all the notes pleasantly and complementary. The key to a pleasing blend of base, mid, and top notes is balance.

woman on bed holding schmidt's bergamot and lime deodorant looking out window

Familiarize Yourself

Fragrances are just like us — they have families too. And as with any family, there are many different members within each one, with all different types of personalities. Let’s break it down. (Note: these are not the be all, end all of fragrance families. There are many different ways to describe fragrances; this is just our beginner-friendly version.) 

Aromatic: Think lavender, rosemary, sage. Intensely herbal, mildly spicy, and lightly sweet. Often combined with citrus. 

Bright + Fresh: Pleasant and tart, citrus scents are typically top notes like bergamot, lime, orange zest and lemon.

Exotic: Warm, rich and a little spicy. Ylang ylang is a classic exotic floral — slightly sweet, slightly floral, and pleasantly strong.

Delicate Floral: Exactly what it sounds like. Roses, geraniums, jasmine — all soft florals. This family is fresh, it’s effervescent, and it smells like a bed of flower petals with a dusting of powder.

Sweet: Also known as gourmande. Decadent and deliciously sweet scents that smell as good as they would taste. Typically contain an edible element.

Earthy + Woody: Warm, mysterious, sharp, resinous. Think deep base notes like vetiver, cedarwood, and sandalwood.