Making Some Scents - Why Some Fragrances are Misleading

Imagine for a moment, you are walking through the store, and you see the candle aisle. You pop in and scour the shelves for a few moments, observing the various fragrance labels. One of the scents catches your eye. You pick up the candle, pop off the lid and take a big whiff. Your nose recoils, and you quickly recap the jar. Confused you look at the label, thinking you read it wrong. When you confirm that the label is in fact what you thought, you wonder how in the world the creators of this scent could think the fragrance lines up with the label. Sometimes, in fact often times, fragrance perception is a very subjective process. What you think smells good might have your friend recoiling in disgust. But every once in a while, the label on a candle, or perfume is just dead wrong. Who is it that determines what a “picnic at the beach,” smells like, and more importantly, how do they recreate it?

Well, according to an article on NBC News, scientists give our noses credit for having the complex ability to smell trillions of scents. If you are thinking of embarking on the fragrance train, here are a few things to remember when trying to create your own scent profiles.



Before mixing can begin, you’ll have to decide what kind of scent you are trying to create. Is it floral, fruity, or feminine? Maybe you are going for a clean, but masculine scent. Deciding these main categories can help you keep the aromas in the same family, and blended correctly.

After deciding what kind of profile you want, you should next decide which of the scents you like is going to be the base, which will be the middle, and which will be the top note. Before you are able to do that, however, let me explain what each of those terms means.

Base notes are oftentimes considered heavier, than the others, helping anchor the scent. Vanilla, clove, myrrh, and sandalwood are all considered base notes. They are oftentimes heady and intense, and if not tempered with other smells, can overwhelm both the wearer and the smeller.

Middle notes give body and help blend the intense, heady feeling of base notes with lighter top notes. Rosemary, pine, and chamomile are all considered middle notes. They can be overpowered by the base notes, if not blended properly.

Top notes are much lighter than the other two, and are generally naturally crisp and not as long lasting. Unless this is the main focus of the scent, top notes are there to lighten the heavier notes, rather than be highly noticeable. Lemon, peppermint, and sage are all considered top notes.

In some cases, the different scents can play different roles. Cinnamon, for example, can be a top note, or a base note, depending on the intensity and blend.

So now that you know what the different stages are for scents, it becomes easier to pick and choose scents that blend well together. It also becomes evident how labels can mislead you. Abstract ideas such as “picnic at the beach,” like I mentioned before, can be hard “scents,” to nail down. But things like “apple pie,” should have cinnamon, apple, and something like vanilla to round out the tart apple, and spicy cinnamon. Building scents can be tricky if you aren’t sure how the three tiered profile works.



I was watching a TV program once where a guy decided to blend a custom perfume as a Christmas present for his girlfriend. He created a scent based on a number of factors, but the main theme was her physical appearance, and his feelings for her. The result was a perfume that smelled anything but pleasant. It was a mixture of sandalwood (commonly a base note,) cocoa (another headier scent,) and sea salt, (which I would imagine being a top note.) He mixed two base notes with a top note, and nothing to help blend the two scents. While this was a fictional encounter, the problem is nonetheless an issue in real life. Basing smells off of anything but actual scents, and fragrance chemistry can lead to disastrous results.

Blending scents is one of the most important parts of creating a fragrance, and without a proper blend, the scent can easily go from pleasant, to wretched.

Another way scent profiles can be ruined, is by using too many overpowering fragrances. The best way to mix fragrances is a little bit at a time, making note of every added ingredient. Baking and scent creation is very similar in this matter. When baking, the recipe needs to be followed exactly in order to get the desired result. If measurements aren’t carefully taken, you could end up with hard and flat cookies instead of the thick and chewy ones you desire.



As you begin mixing scents start with the smallest measurement possible, and only add small amounts of each fragrance until the desired scent is achieved. Start with your base notes, and build up with your middle and top notes. The more balance you have, the better your scent will turn out. Also, be sure to take careful notes, so you can recreate it again.

When creating a scent profile, there are a few things to remember. First, there should be three main scents, first there should be three key “notes,” a base, a middle, and a top. When these are not factored into fragrance mixing, the result can be overwhelming, unpleasant, or even misleading. In worst case scenarios, the fragrance may end up being all three. Improper fragrance mixing (layering included) can lead to some unfortunate and stinky results. It can also result in misleading labels, or mismatched profiles. Take a page from Elle Magazine who gives us a lesson on blending fragrances using Middle Easterners as an example (you can catch that article here). Layering using a balanced scent profile is definitely the way to go. Try placing different (balanced) fragrances in different corners of a room and delight in how they meld together.

In conclusion, remember that fragrance mixing is a science of sorts, and without precise measurements, and the proper knowledge, your scent profile could end up being anything but your desired result. Take notes next time you encounter a misleading fragrance. Where did they go wrong? Did they give you a sticky sugar scent when you were expecting clean? Is the label a subjective fragrance, or is the balance not right? Any of these things could take a profile from pleasant to putrid.  

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