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Three Main Categories of Essential Oil : Top, Middle, Base Notes

Essential oils have been used for perfumes for centuries before the invention of synthetic fragrances [1]. The aroma of the oil blend can change over time, sometimes even in a short period of time. This is because the compounds inside each essential oils have different degree of volatility, therefore they have varying rates of evaporation [2]. The difference of this evaporation time is used as division of aroma categories and is called “notes”.

Figure 1. Essential Oils

What is notes?

Notes is a term used in essential oil and fragrance to describe the category of scent and its longevity. Notes on essential oils are important because they can explain the position of each oil on the perfumer’s scale and its relationship to other oils. There are three parts of notes which are known as top notes or head notes, middle notes or heart notes, and base notes [1].

1. Top Notes

Figure 2. Bergamot (Source:

These are the first impressions of the smell when a person first inhales an essential oil or fragrance. Top notes tend to be light, fresh, and provide a light boost. Top notes are generally the first to evaporate so they don’t last as long as the middle and base notes [3].

The first impressions are crucial and this also applies to essential oils. They can be a key factor whether someone like the aroma or not. The top notes awaken the sense and set a good mood before fading and they can last about 5 to 15 minutes. One of the most popular top notes is bergamot oil. The smell is strong enough to last when mixed with other fragrances, but light enough to form a pleasant top notes [3].

2. Middle Notes

Figure 3. Lavender

Middle notes unify the Top and Base Notes and are very important scents because they act as the main body of the oil. People call them the heart notes which form the basis of fragrance and make up between 40-80% of the entire fragrance. The aromas of the middle notes help to reduce unpleasant aroma and can soften the piercing scents [2,4]. They can last up to 2 hours [3,5].

One example of middle notes oils is lavender oil. Lavender oil is often used to reduce stress and help with sleeping.

3. Base Notes

Figure 4. Patchouli leaf

Essential oils in this category are the longest lasting fragrance because they are made of heavier molecules, so they take longer to evaporate. The base notes act as an anchor for the perfume, as well as adding depth and richness to the blend. They usually have strong and provocative aromas with earthy or woody nuances that gradually stronger while helping to reduce the evaporation of other oils in blend. Because of that, they help the other aromas to stay longer. Some of the most popular essential oils in this category are frankincense oil and patchouli oil [3].

Why knowing Notes is important ?

This knowledge will be helpful to someone who wants to create essential oil blends that has a good smell and last for a long time. Below are some example of essential oils in each category:


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