An Education in Top and Base Notes – How to Interpret the Scents You Adore

Words by: Parfum Muse    |    Estimated reading time: 5mins



Every bottle of perfume, cologne or home scent you buy has been carefully crafted to create those unique, signature fragrances you know and love. Take a look at any of the product pages on the Parfum Muse site, and you’ll find detailed explanations of each component, including top, heart and base notes.

Understanding the tones, accents, and flavours of your favourite perfume is a fantastic opportunity to sample other new perfumes and recognise the distinct notes that appeal the most. You can also use your knowledge of the blend in your ideal scent to find the closest possible replacement if it is hard to find or has become discontinued.

Whether you're looking to expand your perfume collection, explore new premium fragrance brands, or simply understand what it all means, Parfum Muse will clarify how scent patterns work.

What Are the Notes Used in Perfume Production?

Perfumes feature three tiers: the top and base notes and the middle or heart notes. Each layer is blended to create a multifaceted, unique scent that can be as complex and changeable as a fine wine. Rather than having one primary ingredient with a one-dimensional fragrance, perfume is often delicately mixed to include ten or more different accents.

The difference between each note is the longevity of the scent on your skin or the tones you notice immediately when trying a perfume for the first time.

As a very rough guide, the heart notes comprise between 50% and 75% of a fragrance, where top notes can make up 20% to 40% of the blend, with a 5% to 10% balance of base notes.

Perfume Top Notes

Top notes generate the first impression of a scent, perfume, or cologne, and it is these headline accents that determine whether you feel compelled to enjoy the aroma or instantly dislike it. Essential oils and synthetics with lighter, smaller molecule sizes are commonly used as top notes in perfume design.

Rather than being long-lasting scents, top notes disperse from your skin fairly quickly, with sharper, zestier or fresher scents often selected to deliver that immediate flavour. Each top note in a perfume blend is normally expected to last around 10 or 15 minutes, and popular top notes might include citrus, eucalyptus, magnolia or bergamot.

Understanding Heart Notes in Perfume

The middle notes remain active on your skin for anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour. They are typically bolder, full-bodied scents that make up the larger proportion of the perfume blend. As the top notes start to fade, the heart notes take over.

Perfume manufacturers use a wide array of heart notes, often picking floral or herbal notes or those with a well-rounded scent profile. Examples include rose, fennel, cardamom, neroli, jasmine, and cinnamon bark.

Perfume Base Notes Explained

The base notes in your perfume have the most staying power and can last up to six hours, owing to their denser molecular structures. Although base notes are the smallest part of a fragrance blend, they're also the underlying scent that makes a perfume special. While less noticeable initially, they determine the aroma you'll experience as long as you're wearing the same perfume.

Base notes are generally richer, deeper and muskier, depending on the perfume you’re wearing. Woodier, heavier tones like tonka bean, patchouli, oud, sandalwood and vetiver are regularly used as the base notes in popular perfume blends.

Learning How to Identify Notes in Perfume Scent Profiles

For most of us, the science and delicacy of balancing top, heart and base notes in perfume isn't something we really think about – because we know what we love and often have a go-to scent or brand we always purchase.

However, it can be helpful to clarify those notes that appeal since you can see at a glance the other scents or fragrances are likely to be to your taste. You can try alternatives or pick a new perfume that you'll love with a slightly different blend, such as a heavier perfume for an evening out or a fresher, lighter scent that is easy to wear.

It's also a great idea to think about the categories and profiles of perfumes or colognes you absolutely adore since most of us have a signature scent or a specific type of fragrance that seems to suit our personalities – loosely grouped into fresh, floral, spicy, fruity, musk and woody notes.

Matching Your Favourite Fragrance Category to Perfume Notes

As a quick cheat sheet, we’ve summarised each of those categories with a hint about the top, heart or base notes to keep an eye out for:

Fresh notes are usually light and citrusy and used as top notes. Scents like bergamot, orange, and lemon work nicely together to give a slightly sweeter or sharper scent.

Floral notes are widely used in perfume as heart or top notes, with varying intensities. Jasmine is a sweeter floral, whereas a blend with ylang-ylang feels more exotic and tropical.

Fruity notes aren't always sickly sweet but add depth as a heart note. Think strawberry for a summery vibe or blackberry, which feels muskier and richer.

Spicy notes like cinnamon, rosemary, nutmeg, and basil add warmth and texture to a perfume. These notes are normally blended with florals as part of a perfume's heart note profile.

Musk notes are most commonly used as base notes, as they have a rich, dense, and sometimes intense scent. Common musk notes include cashmere musk and black musk.

Woody notes can range from earthy and deep to sweeter scents. Patchouli and sandalwood work well as base notes to strengthen the fragrances, whereas lighter notes like oud and cedarwood are fresher.


Now that you've got a good idea about what top, heart, and base notes mean, how they differ, and why they influence the flavour, scent, and staying power of perfume, you can explore as many scents as you wish—and recognise how the scent profiles explained on our pages help clarify the type of fragrance category each beautiful bottle represents.