If you look up "fragrance notes," you can find a list of things that a particular fragrance is supposed to smell like...but they're mostly wrong.

If you look up "fragrance notes," you can find a list of things that a particular fragrance is supposed to smell like...but they're mostly wrong.

Why is that? Is seems pretty straightforward saying that a fragrance smells like violets and oranges and sandalwood, right? Well...it's not really.

Most of the ingredients in fragrances are things that people have never smelled on their own. Some of the most common fragrance ingredients now (in everything from drugstore cheapies to $300/bottle niche fragrances) are aromachemicals. If it doesn't smell like it was made in the 1920s, chances are it's 60-90% synthetic...and if it does, it's still probably 50% synthetic. Here are some of the common ones:

Iso E Super

Hedione

Coumarin (90%+ of all fragrances made in the last 100 years have this one)

Linalool

Galaxolide

Ambroxan

Hydroxycitronellal

Calone

Even if they are using naturals, many of the commonly used ones in perfumery are uncommon outside of it, such as

vetiver

oakmoss

clary sage (not the same as the sage in your kitchen)

benzoin

labdanum

Since very few people outside of the fragrance industry have heard of these (much less smelled them on their own), they can't say that Cool Water smells like "Calone, dihydromyrcenol, Evernyl, coumarin, etc" instead they have to find things that the fragrance kind of smells like to list in the notes.

Hedione becomes jasmine. Coumarin becomes tonka bean (which most people still haven't smelled). Calone becomes "aquatic notes."

Remember how I mentioned violets and sandalwood? Natural violet flower absolute oil (kind of like an essential oil...but extracted in a different way) hasn't been produced in large volumes in more than a century because it takes about a million flowers to get 1 kg of it...and then it doesn't even smell much like violets. Instead, just about every violet flower scented thing you've ever smelled (and your grandma has ever smelled) came from a mixture of synthetic ionones. This is not a new thing The violet formula I use is from the 1940s.

Sandalwood was heavily overharvested and is very expensive now, so most sandalwood scents come from synthetic aromachemicals like javanol and ebanol and sandalore.

Really, most of what makes a fragrance smell the way is smells are ingredients that almost no one has ever smelled by themselves and are only a little bit similar to things that people have actually smelled.

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