The Nose Knows – Terminology of Scents


Walking into our store, you’ll notice that we are stocked with different essential oils. The scent of whatever essential oil or essential oil blend diffuses into the air, creating a unique atmosphere. Every essential oil has different properties that create the unique scents and benefits offered by these oils. Utilizing these scents for therapeutic reasons is called aromatherapy. However, it is sometimes difficult to know what kind of essential oil you are looking for. Having the skill to describe different scents of essential oils is key in finding what you are looking for.

The scent components of essential oils are divided into three pieces: the predominating note, the subsidiary note, and the back note. The predominating note is the most apparent scent. It dominates the scent profile and is noticed easily. The subsidiary note is what is often noticed second, and is more subtle than the base note. Finally, the scent profile is nuanced by the back note. This component is harder to notice, and it may take some time to be able to notice it fully. All together, these three notes create a complex and unique smell.

But how do all these pieces come together? How can you describe these scents? It’s rather simple, actually. There are seven different basic scent profiles. As you get more skilled at describing scent profiles, the categories become more specific. However, the basic categories are citrus, herbaceous/camphorous, woody, spicy, floral, earthy, fruity, and green/vegetative. Let’s take a look at what each scent descriptors are like.


  • Slightly sweet, sour. Refreshing, energizing.
  • As name suggests, smells like oranges, lemons, limes, other citrus fruits, etc
  • Bergamot, lemon, lime, grapefruit







Of course, the more advanced you get with understanding the odor profiles, the more descriptors you will find. Past the basic seven descriptors you can go deeper to more complex descriptors such as honey, moss, leather, and balsamic. Scent terminology doesn’t have to be so constrained – you can describe scents with anything you associate with the fragrance. For example, the spicier scents such as clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg always remind of fall.

Now that you know the vocabulary, how do you put all of this information to use? It can be hard to distinguish all three notes, so let’s take a look at some examples. Bergamot essential oil has wood as a predominating note, with a subsidiary note of citrus, and an herbaceous/camphorous back note. Lavandin Grosso essential oil is predominately floral, with an herbaceous subsidiary note, and finally a green back note. Distinguishing between these notes and descriptors can be hard, but you can train your nose to pick up more subtle scents with practice.

Those who are interested in aromatherapy: I urge you to look into the vocabulary of odor and practice picking up different scents. Knowing what components are in an essential oil will allow you to decide and understand what kind of an an essential oil is needed to create a specific atmosphere.

By Katie Loughney


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

related articles

Do you love Essentique’s essential oil blends so much that you wish you could always have them on you? Our new perfume, Déjà ,…