Essential Oil Aroma Characteristics and Aroma Notes 

What is meant by a “characteristic”, of a smell (aka. aroma)?

Aroma “Characteristics”, are the words that describe the different “vibes” or sensations that we experience when we come into contact with different types of aromas, let off by essential oils.

Keep in mind that no person experiences smells in exactly the same way, and genes and stress may play a part in this.

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But, for most people, the general sensations that different aroma characteristics elicit, are quite similar.

Here is a list of different scent characteristics that people generally experience, particularly when smelling essential oils:


Balanced — None of the components overwhelm the others in the aroma.

Diffusive — When exposed to the air, this aroma permeates the surroundings. Examples: Ylang Ylang, Geranium

Dry — Powdery. Example: Patchouli

Fresh — Stimulating and enlivening. Example: Citrus oils

Harsh — Crude and imbalanced. Example: Thyme thymol

Heavy — Permeates the air with a heavy aroma often considered oppressive. Examples: Ylang Ylang and Jasmine

Light — Delicate, high volatility. Examples: Neroli and high-quality Lavender

Musty — Dry smell of old books and paper. Examples: Patchouli and Vetiver

Rich — Floods the mind with sensation beyond endurance. The concentration of aroma. Examples: Rose, Ylang Ylang, and Clove

Sharp — Penetrating. Example: Lemon

Sweet — Pleasurable, soft, delicate, fragrant. Example: Neroli

Smooth — Soft, sweet, balsamic. Example: Wood oils, such as Sandalwood

Warm — Produces the impression of warmth. Surrounded by aroma in an obvious way. Example: Ginger

Aroma “Notes” (Top, Middle, and Base):

Prior to learning about blending (aka. mixing more than one oil together), it’s important that we learn a bit about how to balance the scent of a therapeutic blend, so that we can deliver it to the olfactory system, in a way that allows the brain to process each of the scents in the blend.

The when blending different essential oils together, the “notes” of the essential oils used in the blend determine which scents are delivered to the brain first, and the strength (or intensity) of the scents themselves.

For example, top notes, are light and tend to be picked up by the olfactory bulb, first, and they disappear quickly, whereas essential oils that are base notes are very heavy and potent. They are generally picked up by the olfactory bulb last. Usually, it would take more drops of top notes in a blend to balance out a simple drop of a base note in a blend.

Middle notes also come into play when blending, and they tend to linger in the air. They are the bridge between the top notes and base notes in your blend. They bring body and flow to the aromatic experience. Finding this overall balance is important because when we create an aromatic blend that we would like to have emotional benefit, we don’t want one single scent to overpower the others.

Here are the general guidelines for determining which oils carry which type of Aromatic Note: 


Top Notes: Oils that carry a sharp and shortly experienced fragrance. They are the first to be noticed and the first to disappear into the air, then opening the limbic system up to the middle notes.

Examples of top note oils: 

  • Peppermint
  • Wild Orange
  • Lemon



Middle Notes: Dominant fragrances that add body and balance to the top and bottom notes. These notes tend to linger in the air, the longest

Examples of middle note oils: 

  • Cinnamon
  • Clary Sage
  • Lavender

Base Notes: Oils that carry a deep, earthy or woody fragrance that ground the blend and tend to stay the longest of the skin

Examples of base note oils: 

  • Ylang Ylang
  • Cedarwood
  • Myrrh

Here is an example of a complete essential oil diffuser blend, with top, middle and base notes: 


  1. Orange
  2. Cinnamon
  3. Cedarwood


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