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Scent as it applies to shaving products: The basics of shaving scents

Shaving scent is a fairly common topic in the shaving community, especially with the abundance of artisan soaps we are enjoying.  Scent also comes into play in your post shave routine with aftershave, balms and lotions.  During the last few months I have taken a bit of an interest in the scent aspect of our hobby.  This was brought to the fore by the Treat your skin right: Your post shave ritual article but has been kicking around in my head for quite awhile.  I had done a little research on scenting for a few homemade batches of shaving soap and recently tried a mint aftershave and was surprised at how much I liked it.  Realizing that this was a large hole in my knowledge base I decided to do a little research and become a little better informed.  This is a summary of what I learned and some good references for others looking to be a little more enlightened.

**NOTE:  After trying to express what I have gleaned I have decided to directly quote (and link to the pertinent resource) a large part of what I have learned.  This is a very very old art and I don’t feel I would do it justice by trying paraphrase it any more than it already is.**


Lets start with the basics.  When we sample the scents in our products we are not smelling one scent, but rather a combination of scents that has been formulated to fit a certain scent profile.  These profiles can be very straight forward and recognizable or much more subtle and open to interpretation.  For example everybody can smell an “orange” scent and agree it smells like some form of citrus.  On the other hand what exactly does a “barbershop” scent smell like?  Is it the same on the East coast as the West coast?  Does it differ by neighborhood, age range, income level?

Like any other specialized profession, the scent industry has its own set of specialized terminology used to describe aspects of their trade.  In the perfumers trade all scents are referred to as perfume… go figure.  Another specific term that is used is “Notes”.  A scent is described in terms of a Top Note, Middle (Heart) Note, and Base Note.  Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia with the best definition I found concerning notes.

Wikipedia: (Note) Perfumery

Top notes

Perceived immediately upon application of a perfume, top notes consist of small, light molecules that evaporate quickly. They form a person’s initial impression of a perfume and thus are very important in the selling of the product. The scents of this note class are usually described as “fresh,” “assertive” or “sharp.” The compounds that contribute to top notes are strong in scent, very volatile, and evaporate quickly. Citrus and ginger scents are common top notes, otherwise called the head notes.

Although not as saliently perceived, the heart and base-notes contribute much to the scent in the top notes.

Middle notes

The scent of a perfume that emerges just prior to when the top notes dissipate. The middle note compounds form the “heart” or main body of a perfume and emerge in the middle of the perfume’s dispersion process. They serve to mask the often unpleasant initial impression of base notes, which become more pleasant with time. Not surprisingly, the scent of middle note compounds is usually more mellow and “rounded.” Scents from this note class appear anywhere from two minutes to one hour after the application of a perfume. Lavender and rose scents are typical middle notes. They are also called the “heart notes”.

Base notes

The scent of a perfume that appears close to the departure of the middle notes. The base and middle notes together are the main theme of a perfume. Base notes bring depth and solidity to a perfume. Compounds of this class are often the fixatives used to hold and boost the strength of the lighter top and middle notes. Consisting of large, heavy molecules that evaporate slowly, compounds of this class of scents are typically rich and “deep” and are usually not perceived until 30 minutes after the application of the perfume or during the period of perfume dry-down. Some base notes can still be detectable in excess of twenty-four hours after application, particularly the animalic and musk notes.

Based off of the Note definitions we can see that when we crack open that new tub of soap or put on a post shave product we will immediately be hit by the top notes of a scent.  This will fade a bit and you will be able to smell the supporting notes as the day goes on or you start lathering up for your shave.

Factors that affect scent

Concentration of scent

Chemistry labPerfume types reflect the concentration of scent compounds in a solvent.  The intensity and longevity of a perfume is based on the concentration, intensity and longevity of the scent compounds being used.   As the percentage of scent compounds increases, so does the intensity and longevity of the profile.

There are specific terms are used to describe the concentration by percent/volume of perfume oil.  These seem to be only loosely agreed upon values as I saw quite a few ranges of values given.

  1. Parfum or extrait / perfume extract / or simply perfume: 15–40% (typically 20%) aromatic compounds
  2. Eau de Parfum: 10–20% (typical ~15%) aromatic compounds
  3. Eau de Toilette: 5–15% (typical ~10%) aromatic compounds
  4. Eau de Cologne:  3–8% (typical ~5%) aromatic compounds
  5. Splash and aftershave: 1–3% aromatic compounds


If you ever wonder why your wife’s perfume cost more than your cologne (besides marketing), look at the difference in the % of scent materials.  Perfume extract can be as high as 40% scent compounds, were Cologne is at 8% and Aftershave might hit 3% scent compounds.  The higher the percentage of scent compounds the greater the cost will be.

Applying perfume for maximum effect

In general there are a few places on the body that are popular application spots for various reasons.cologne spraying

  • The conventional application of pure perfume (perfume extract) is at the pulse points, such as behind the ears, the nape of the neck, and the insides of wrists, elbows and knees.  These pulse points will warm the perfume and release fragrance continuously.
  • The chest is a more intimate place to apply perfume, it also works well if you have a very strong scent you want to tone down a little or if you want people to come closer to smell what you are wearing.
  • Lastly, hair and clothing are excellent places to apply perfume to if you want the scent to last longer.

Why do fragrances smell differently on different people?

Fragrance lasts longer on some people than on others because of differences in our skin (oily or dry) and in our PH levels.  Body chemistry, diet and age affect fragrances on their skin.  Certain scent compounds have an affinity to our skin, and they may be absorbed while other may not. This creates an imbalance on the skin and accounts for the difference.

People with dry skin usually find their fragrance holding time shorter than those with oily skin because oily skin has more natural moisture to hold in the fragrance.

Scent Classification

Trying to classify scents into distinct groupings seems to be an ongoing and ever evolving process.  Thanks to modern synthetic scent compounds a whole new range of scent are now available.  Ironically, the older and more established/recognized scents classifications (which can be either an essential oil OR a synthetic compound) are referred to as Traditional classification and the newer scent groupings are referred to as Modern classifications.  I will once again pull from Wikipedia to give you a description of these classifications.


Grouping perfumes, like any taxonomy, can never be a completely objective or final process. Many fragrances contain aspects of different families. Even a perfume designated as “single flower”, however subtle, will have undertones of other aromatics. “True” unitary scents can rarely be found in perfumes as it requires the perfume to exist only as a singular aromatic material.

Classification by olfactive family is a starting point for a description of a perfume, but it cannot by itself denote the specific characteristic of that perfume.


The traditional classification which emerged around 1900 comprised the following categories:

  • Single Floral: Fragrances that are dominated by a scent from one particular flower; in French called a soliflore.
  • Floral Bouquet: Is a combination of fragrance of several flowers in a perfume compound.
  • Amber or “Oriental”: A large fragrance class featuring the sweet slightly animalic scents of ambergris or labdanum, often combined with vanilla, tonka bean, flowers and woods. Can be enhanced by camphorous oils and incense resins, which bring to mind Victorian era imagery of the Middle East and Far East.
  • Woody: Fragrances that are dominated by woody scents, typically of agarwood, sandalwood, cedarwood, and vetiver. Patchouli, with its camphoraceous smell, is commonly found in these perfumes.
  • Leather: A family of fragrances which features the scents of honey, tobacco, wood and wood tars in its middle or base notes and a scent that alludes to leather.
  • Chypre Meaning Cyprus in French, this includes fragrances built on a similar accord consisting of bergamot, oakmoss, and labdanum.
  • Fougère Meaning Fern in French, built on a base of lavender, coumarin and oakmoss. Houbigant’s Fougère Royale pioneered the use of this base. Many men’s fragrances belong to this family of fragrances, which is characterized by its sharp herbaceous and woody scent.


Since 1945, due to great advances in the technology of perfume creation (i.e., compound design and synthesis) as well as the natural development of styles and tastes, new categories have emerged to describe modern scents:

  • Bright Floral: combining the traditional Single Floral & Floral Bouquet categories.
  • Green: a lighter and more modern interpretation of the Chypre type, with pronounced cut grass, crushed green leaf and cucumber-like scents.
  • Aquatic, Oceanic, or Ozonic: the newest category in perfume history, first appearing in 1988 Davidoff Cool Water (1988), Christian Dior’s Dune (1991), and many others. A clean smell reminiscent of the ocean, leading to many of the modern androgynous perfumes. Generally contains calone, a synthetic scent discovered in 1966, or other more recent synthetics. Also used to accent floral, oriental, and woody fragrances.
  • Citrus: An old fragrance family that until recently consisted mainly of “freshening” eau de colognes, due to the low tenacity of citrus scents. Development of newer fragrance compounds has allowed for the creation of primarily citrus fragrances.
  • Fruity: featuring the aromas of fruits other than citrus, such as peach, cassis (black currant), mango, passion fruit, and others.
  • Gourmand: scents with “edible” or “dessert”-like qualities. These often contain notes like vanilla, tonka bean and coumarin, as well as synthetic components designed to resemble food flavors.


fragrance wheelAnother popular way to classify scent characteristics is the Fragrance Wheel.  This is a visual representation of scent classifications, both old and new.  Wikipedia:  Fragrance Wheel


Essential Oils vs Synthetics

Scent compounds were originally derived by extracting properties from plants and animals.  While many of the more popular animal extracts are unavailable due to the animal being hunted to extinction, many of the plant extracts are still available today and are referred to as Essential Oils.  Essential oils are derived from botanical ingredients that are harvested from the earth such as flowers, fruits, sap, seeds or skin of the plant, as well as the bark, leaves, roots, resins or wood of certain trees.

Synthetics scent compounds were introduced in the late 1800s.  The use of synthetic compounds allowed for a greater variety of scents at a much lower cost.  Today it is estimated that 95% of the chemicals in most commercial fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum and natural gas.  While natural derived oils are very expensive and rare vs. synthetics, there are certain notes that you just can’t extract from nature. Man-made fragrances also have stronger staying power than naturals due to the chemical preservatives, which can overpower many.

Scent allergies… or what is happening to my face!

Despite the pleasure many of us get from our products some of us have issues with certain scent compounds.  These reactions are  referred to as “Fragrance Mix Allergies” and are reactions that affect the skin solely because of scent compounds.  These compounds can be from man made or essential oil based scents and are caused either by the scent compound itself or the carrier oil it is in.  There may be intense swelling and redness of the affected area within a few hours or the rash may appear after a day or two of the product being used. Sometimes symptoms may only be redness, dryness and itching.

A few of the more common scents compounds that can cause a reaction are scents that produce a cinnamon, clove, rose floral, jasmine, lily, and oakmoss scent.  This is far from a complete list and there is much more to this issues.  Please take a look at the links below for more information.

Places to learn more and some good articles:


As I stated above, this is a very old art and with a little research could easily turn into a very deep rabbit hole to lose yourself in.  What I have touched on is the just the basics.  Personally, I have only just begun to explore scents.  I am very fond of almond scented soaps and currently Cella is my favorite.  As far as aftershaves go I am currently use Miners Mint by ModCabin and have been pleasantly surprised.  It is actually more of a balm due to being a witch hazel base vise an alcohol base but it has been a nice change from the alum block.  As far as cologne, my defining criteria is if my wife likes it.  My wife loves a very easy to find cologne called Curve.  I received a gift set quite a few years back and when I use some it’s a guaranteed snuggle :).

Anyone else have any favorite scents or horror stories of shaves gone wrong?  I would love to hear them!  Thanks again for stopping in checking out the blog.  If you liked the article then please do me a small favor and like, share or leave a comment to spread the word.

Have a great day and a smooth shave!



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  1. Matt, that’s a great post. I’m a big fun of perfumes. The ranking of scents depending on the aromatic compound gives a great explanation why someone doesn’t apply after shave instead of cologne/perfume when goes out on a date 🙂

  2. Christian Levesque

    Thank you for the collection of information on scents. Scent has become an important factor when purchasing soap and aftershave, once the quality of ingredients has been determined.

    • I’m glad you found them helpful Christian. Everyone has different criteria for the products they want to purchase. Scent is starting to become more important to me as time goes on.

  3. Great article!! I really enjoyed the read and think its a great read for anyone who is getting into fragrances

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