Top, Middle, Base Notes & How They Go Together - Plant Therapy Blog

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Essential Oils Blog

Top, Middle, Base Notes & How They Go Together

Woman mixing liquid with essential oil bottles and other natural ingredientsSomewhere in your essential oil journey, you’ve probably come across the term “notes” when checking out some of your favorite oil’s characteristics. “Notes” might bring to mind fancy high-end perfumes, but there’s no reason to feel intimidated by the term. The thing is, each essential oil has a note, and that note helps determine how the oil will play with others. So if you’ve ever wondered how you can use these notes to help create your own blended masterpieces, this blog is perfect for you! We’ll go over the different notes and ways you can use this information to make your own special blends.

So first things first: why bother learning about notes? You’ve blended essential oils together without knowing about them before; will understanding notes really make a difference?

Honestly, it’s pretty easy to haphazardly blend oils without giving it too much thought. Sometimes it turns out great, while other times it’s a very serious series of unfortunate events. While I am all about learning through trial and error, I also think it’s important to have a basic understanding of other blending techniques as well. The more you know, the more confidence you gain when blending. Hopefully, this confidence translates into beautiful, unique blends that you love and want to show off to the world!

So, let’s talk notes.

What is a “top note”?

grapefruit essential oilYour first impression of a fragrance will often be dependent upon the blend’s top note. This aroma springs out above the other notes when you take your first whiff. They tend to be fresh and uplifting, often citrus-type aromas that are highly volatile. They evaporate the quickest but leave a lasting characteristic on the blend as a whole.

Some examples of top notes include:

What is a “middle note”?

Black Pepper Essential Oil by Plant TherapyThe bread and butter of a blend rely on the essential oils with middle notes. It’s what balances the blend by trying to seamlessly meld all the other oils together like a family. Fittingly, middle notes are also often referred to as heart notes. These aromas help give body and fullness to a blend. A middle note will not evaporate as quickly as a top note (taking anywhere from one to four hours), but these notes also aren’t as recognizable as a top note. While a top note may be easy to identify, middle notes are not always evident right away but are often fragrances that are warm and soft.

Some examples of middle notes include:

What is a “base note?”

Vanilla Oleoresin from Plant Therapy on pink backgroundYou can think of the base note as the foundation of a blend. It’s grounding and leaves a lasting impression. That’s because the base note is the slowest to evaporate and sometimes isn’t even discernable for the first few hours as the top and middle notes take center stage. Usually intense and heady aromas, base notes have a relaxing characteristic that is common of “heavier” essential oils.

Some examples of base notes include:

So how do you start blending notes?

First, think about what you want to create. Are you trying to create something that simply smells lovely or is there a specific emotion or place you want to evoke? If there are certain aromas you’re drawn to, think about those as well. Maybe you like zesty, energetic blends or maybe you want something that will help keep you focused and grounded during a yoga practice. Either way, starting with a plan always helps.

What tools will you need?

Using fragrance strips is a great way to learn how the smell of certain oils change over time as they evaporate. They will help you perform organoleptic tests on the oils you’ve chosen. Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as the word “organoleptic” makes it seem like it must be. Really, just think of it as mindfully smelling! Fragrance strips are a great help when you want to try smell combinations without actually mixing the oils together. For instance, you could put a drop of Lemon on one strip, a drop of Rose Absolute on another, and maybe a drop of Vetiver on a third. Then, hold them like a fan in your hand and gently waft them toward you. Doing this will give you a kind of feel for how those oils go together to help you determine if that’s even the direction you’re trying to go or not.

A woman holding the Essential Oil Journal and Organizer from Plant Therapy

Next, don’t forget the pen and paper Our Essential Oil Organizer and Journal would be perfect for this! Take notes on anything that may help you personally make your blend. These could be thoughts or emotions that come from certain combinations. It could also be a list of oils you’ve used in blends, what works or what doesn’t, how many drops you want to use of each—whatever helps you the most in your creative process!

Start blending notes!

A drop of essential oil surrounded by orange peelsOnce you have your intention figured out and have your tools prepared, it’s time to start really thinking about the oils you want to use. Remember, your top note is going to be front and center when the blend is complete, so think about which oil you want to represent your blend. It’s like the first paragraph of a novel—you want it to bring the reader (or in this case…smeller?) in for more!

Next, think about the body of your blend with the middle notes. What is your blend? What are you trying to accomplish? If you’re trying to make an aroma reminiscent of a blooming meadow after a spring rain, what middle notes can you think of that help that idea come to life? Probably something floral, like Palmarosa or Chamomile. Maybe add something coniferous, like Fir Needle, to capture the evergreens that may flank your imaginary meadow. Or Juniper Berry, to give a nice herbaceous, soft smell.

Now what kind of base notes could help hold everything together? Vetiver’s deep, rich, earthy smell could wonderfully represent that smell of soft, dewey ground. Or maybe Cedarwood’s dry, smokey aroma is what you’re looking for.

As I’m sure you can tell by now, blending is a creative process.

Everything you need to know about carrier oilsRemember that it okay to take breaks from you blend if you’re feeling stuck. Take a step outside for some fresh air and come back to it with a clear head. Allowing the oils to “rest” on their fragrance strip will also alert you to how their fragrances change over time and how long your specific oils will last.

So how many top, middle, and base notes should you use? There are no hard and fast rules for this since your oils depend on what you are trying to create. The sky’s the limit! If you come up with something you love, we’d love to hear about it in the comments. Or, head over to our Safe Essential Oil Recipes Facebook group to share it with so many others!

To learn more about blending, head over to these blogs:

By Katrina Scampini, Certified Aromatherapist

85 thoughts on “Top, Middle, Base Notes & How They Go Together”

  1. I am loving this journey of exploring notes for blending. It really is exciting and fun. Thanks, for the helpful article.

  2. A lot of great information here. I have yet to start trying to create my own blends but definitely feel like I have a better understanding on how to get started.

  3. I’m so happy you shared this and broke down the top, middle and base scents! I have been wanting to make my own perfume but was stumped on what oils to use. This helped me narrow it down!

  4. Thank you for taking the fear and guess work out of trying to blend oils. I’m wanting to try to make a pain blend that doesn’t smell too bad, so I love how you explained the whats and whys of blending.

  5. Wow! I am so happy I stumbled across this article. I have been blending with no intention all along! This information was so helpful and I can’t wait to try it out!

  6. Love this article as I have been ready your blogs on blending oils. Is there a place to find all the oils and which are top, middle or base notes. It would be great if this info was on the product details sheet or another printable sheet.

    1. Hi Dawn, we don’t have a comprehensive list at the moment. But it is an excellent idea that I’ll pass along!

  7. Wow! Who would have thought that blending took so much creativity. I am less than 2 months into using essential oils and found this blog post to be very informative.

  8. Thanks for this information! An explanation of the various notes and how to use them is really helpful. And thank you for the additional resources you posted!

  9. Very informative. I love all those top notes becuase I love all the citrus oils especially orange and bergamot.

  10. Awesome post! This and the blogs suggested are going to be very helpful. I have a number of synergies/blends from PT already, but I also have a bunch of singles that I haven’t quite figured how to blend together. We’ve been going off scent mostly, but sometime once they are blended, it’s not great, so I’ll be talking notes for sure!

  11. This is something I struggle with when creating blends especially for lotions. I wonder if the heating of the base ingredients causes a change, or if I’m not choosing different notes…. More experimenting I suppose.

    1. Lisa, the amount/ proportions of oils you use is entirely up to you as this is a very creative process 🙂

  12. Is Jasmine a base note? I think I must gravitate to those as I use a LOT of the ones on that list . Very interesting, I will be experimenting with this info in mind!

    1. Jasmine is actually considered a middle note! It is full-bodied and help comprise the theme of a blend, but isn’t really considered to be a blend’s foundation 🙂

  13. This is really helpful. I can’t really afford to be a bunch of diffferent synergies so I’m excited to try making my own blends that work for a purpose but also smell good together!f

    1. Leila, instead of using a carrier oil, blend your oils with Everclear and use Polysorbate 20 as the emulsifier. This will help the aroma last longer 🙂

  14. Great info! It definitely is a creative process. I’m super new to all of this but, luckily, I’ve had more hits than misses on my on-the-fly blends!

  15. This has been so helpful! I had been wondering how to make great oil mixtures for my own products and now I know how. Always look forward to these educational blogs.

  16. This was very helpful! Normally, I stick with my “tries and true” blends that I’ve made and haven’t done much branching out to be more creative. Looking forward to having fun creating new blends! Thanks!

  17. I love PT blogs. They are so informative, excellent information for both newcomers to essential oils and veterans. I always come away feeling I have learned some valuable information along with great ideas.

  18. I really like this post! The information regarding using the scent strips will help me to find the blending balance I am looking for without mixing the oils together first. I wasn’t sure how to use the scent strips in this way. Thanks!

  19. Looking forward to doing some of my own experimenting with all the oils I have. Next though I am going to read your three other blogs about blending that you listed. Thanks for all this information.

  20. After reading this, I don’t feel nearly as intimidated about blending oils. Understanding the top, middle and base notes makes sense. It opens up a whole new world to play with my essential oils!

  21. Thanks for the info. I like the idea of using the test strips before making a bigger batch and having to waste if it doesn’t work.

  22. This simplifies blending and makes a fun way to experiment . I’ve been blending spearmint, lime, and frankincense for the past few weeks and it hits all of these notes for me .

  23. This is great information. This is what I meant by saying I guess at dilution rates. I have basic recipes and then just substitute as needed. It does make sense to be more careful, though, instead of just winging it.

  24. This is great info! I have so many singles and I am like a deer in headlights when it comes to trying to figure out how to make my own blends. This is an awesome starting point!

  25. Very Helpful practical suggestions. This is inspiring me to create blends for perfumes, which I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

  26. This is a fantastic educational post. I’ve been blending for about a year now, and have certainly had the good, the bad, and the ugly! I’m so grateful for the information that Plant Therapy provides, thank you!

  27. thanks so much for this blog! Blends are my absolute favorite not just for scent but also the synergistic effects of several oils working together! So where do I find the fragrance strips? Is that something that plant therapy offers?

  28. Thank you, as always , for your informative blog info !!! I am currently making perfume blends as we speak . Feeling kinda witchy with the potion creations 🙂

  29. Very interesting and helpful. I enjoy making blends for personal inhalers and roller balls, so this information will be quite helpful with my future experiments/blends.

  30. This is great information! I’ve been wanting to learn more about blending oils and this is just the info I needed.

  31. This is just what I needed and I love the links to the other blogs for further blending info!! I will be attempting perfume this weekend!

  32. Such helpful information in an easy-to-understand format! I think I might be brave enough to start creating my own blends now 😀

  33. I have been looking into this type of mixture lately and this is the best info I have seen so far! Thank you 🙂

  34. I am so happy to have this blog post available! I had been think about this topic, then to come on here to just look around and see it as the second blog, is just too funny to me. Thank you for providing this information- very helpful!

  35. There is so much to learn with essential oils. I sometimes feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, Plant Therapy is great about educating their customers. Thank you!

  36. I am new to oils, so this was really helpful in understanding how blends work. I look forward to continuing to learn more! Thank you!

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