| Lindsay Becker

Understanding Scent Families and Notes

In the world of aromatherapy, the art of blending scents isn't just about creating fragrances that we love (although it helps!) it's also about harnessing the power of nature to promote wellbeing - from calming Lavender to invigorating Lemongrass, each essential oil carries unique properties that can affect our mood, emotions, and even our physical health. At the heart of this lies an understanding of the different scent families and notes—a language that, when understood, unlocks the potential of aromatherapy to help to heal, rejuvenate, and inspire us…

What are Scent Families?

Scent or fragrance families are categories used in the aromatherapy and perfume industry, placing scents into groups. Each family has its own set of unique identifying factors that can help distinguish what is in a certain scent. Often, we tend to gravitate towards scents from the same family for our perfumes as they have common notes and factors that we are attracted to. 

The categories vary depending on where you look, with many essential oils spanning more than one categorisation but, as a guide, essential oils can be broken down into the following categories…

Fresh: Fresh and uplifting and bursting with sunshine, these scents are bright, uplifting, and energizing. Lemon, Orange, Grapefruit, and Bergamot are popular choices, renowned for their refreshing, mood-boosting effects. These oils are ideal for revitalising the mind, helping to combat fatigue and enhance focus.

Floral: The floral family encompasses delicate scents, reminiscent of blooming flowers. Lavender, Rose, Jasmine, and Ylang-Ylang are prominent members, known for their calming, soothing, and mood-lifting properties. Floral oils are often used to reduce stress and anxiety, promoting relaxation.

Woody: Grounding earthiness, woody scents are rich, warm, and comforting. Cedarwood, Agarwood, Pine, and Vetiver are typical of this family. Woody oils are prized for their ability to promote mental clarity, stability, and a sense of security.

Herbaceous: Think freshly picked herbs and lush gardens, offering a refreshing, invigorating experience. Lavender, Basil, Thyme, and Rosemary sit within this category and are known for their stimulating, clarifying, and respiratory-supportive properties.

Oriental/Ambrée: Warm, exotic, and aromatic, these scents add depth and intrigue to aromatherapy blends. Clove, Cinnamon, Ginger, and Black Pepper bring a touch of warmth and vitality, stimulating circulation, and promoting emotional resilience.

Chypre: French for Cyprus, this category began life in ancient Rome, with a blend of mossy and animal raw materials and botanicals. Classic chypre formulas are based on four single notes: Bergamot, Labdanum, Oakmoss, and Patchouli. These oils form the basic structure with infinite possibilities of blends.

Gourmand: More used in perfumery than aromatherapy, gourmand features ‘edible’ notes such as Chocolate, Coffee, Almond and Vanilla As they span across all the categories, the benefits are varied.

Understanding Notes: Base, Middle, and Top

Beyond scent families, essential oils are classified according to their volatility, which determines their position within a blend. This classification is known as ‘notes’ with each note contributing to the overall aroma and therapeutic effect.

Base Notes: Base notes are the foundation of a fragrance, providing depth, richness, and longevity. These oils have a slow evaporation rate and linger on the skin for hours. Base notes include earthy, resinous, and grounding scents such as Patchouli, Vetiver, and Cedarwood. They anchor the blend, imparting a sense of stability and permanence.

Middle Notes: Also known as heart notes, middle notes form the body of the fragrance, balancing the intensity of the base and top notes. These oils have a moderate evaporation rate and typically last several hours. Floral, herbal, and some woody oils like Lavender, Rose, and Geranium fall into this category. Middle notes contribute to emotional balance and harmony, serving as the focal point of the blend.

Top Notes: Top notes are the initial impression of a fragrance, offering freshness, brightness, and vibrancy. These oils have a high evaporation rate and dissipate quickly, usually within the first hour of application. Citrus, herbal, and some spicy oils like Bergamot, Lemon, and Peppermint are classic top notes. They uplift the spirit, awaken the senses, and set the tone for the blend.

Crafting a well-balanced aromatherapy blend involves careful consideration of both the scent families and notes. By combining oils from different families and balancing the base, middle, and top notes, we can create blends that address specific needs and fragrance preferences.

Take a look at some of our most popular blends here.