The A-Z of DIY Perfumery: Mastering the Essential Vocabulary

Perfumers have been practicing the art of blending scents for millennia, and over that period of time have developed their own language and vocabulary to describe the nuance or essence of the topic at hand. Use the list on this page a guide to common perfumers terms you may encounter on your path exploring different perfume recipes. 
  1. Absolute: In DIY perfumery, 'Absolute' refers to a concentrated perfume material. Obtained through solvent extraction, this technique is particularly useful for delicate flowers that cannot withstand steam distillation. Absolutes are pivotal in capturing the essence of these fragile botanicals.
  2. Aldehyde: A term that evokes the golden era of perfumery in the early 20th century. Aldehydes impart a distinctive waxy or fatty impression, often described as the quintessential "perfumey" characteristic. 
  3. Accord: This is the harmonious blend of three or four notes in a perfume, where individual identities are lost to create a novel sensory impression. Accords are the cornerstone of complex fragrances.
  4. Base Notes: The foundation of any perfume, base notes are long-lasting and linger on the skin. They play a crucial role in extending the life of the more volatile middle and top notes.
  5. Carrier: In DIY perfumery, carriers are blending mediums like jojoba oil or perfumers alcohol. They dilute and buffer concentrated perfumery components, making them skin-friendly.
  6. Chord: Similar to a musical chord, this term refers to a series of notes (perfumery components) that come together to create base, middle, and top chords in a fragrance.
  7. Diluent - A diluent is a neutral liquid used in perfume-making to dilute fragrance oils and absolutes.  Ethanol is a common diluent, as are carrier oils. 
    Expression - Expression is a method of extracting essential oils, particularly from citrus peels, using mechanical pressing.  Pressing is an older method of extraction, relying on physical pressure to extract oils.
  8. Essential Oil: Derived from natural materials through steam distillation, essential oils are integral to natural perfumery.
  9. Fragrance Oil: These are blends of aroma-chemicals and sometimes natural ingredients to mimic specific scents, like rose fragrance oil, a combination of geraniol, phenylethyl alcohol, and Rose absolute.
  10. Fragrance Testing Strips: Essential tools for evaluating scents, these absorbent paper strips are dipped into perfumery components or finished fragrances.
  11. Fixatives: Ingredients like musks, woods, and resins, used as base notes to prolong a perfume's longevity.
  12. Middle Notes: Providing the central theme of a perfume, middle notes are typically floral and form the body of the fragrance.
  13. Perfumer's Bases: These are pre-made blends of aroma-chemicals serving as foundational elements in fragrance creation.
  14. Tincture - Tinctures are a method in perfumery where materials like flowers or spices are soaked in alcohol to extract their fragrance.  Tinctures are used for ingredients that don’t readily yield essential oils, a common ingredient in homemade perfumes.
  15. Top (Head) Notes: The initial, fleeting scents of a perfume, often comprising citrus notes, they create the first impression but dissipate quickly.

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