Dec 13, 2021 | 14 min Read

50 Common Perfume Ingredients: Scents and Origins

This article was updated and republished on December 13, 2021. 

Applying a fragrance is the final touch to make you feel complete and confident. The great thing about picking out a signature scent is that each perfume or cologne smells different, making it a great way to make a personal statement every time you walk into a room.

Since ancient times, people have used scented ingredients derived from nature to make fragrances. Today, some of these natural scents and perfume ingredients are still used in the perfume-making process, but with a modern manufacturing method.

Perfume ingredients include a blend of alcohol, oils, and other aromatic components. Each fragrance has a distinct smell based on how it was made and the various perfume ingredients used in it. Some ingredients in perfume may sound familiar while others appear completely foreign.

If you’ve ever found yourself checking scent notes and asked yourself, “What in the world is ylang-ylang?” then keep reading to find out everything you need to know about these common perfume ingredients and what they smell like.

1. Agrumen

This perfume ingredient is an aldehyde that is described to have a fresh, green and soap-like scent. It contains a slight citrus undertone and makes your fragrance long lasting.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Green, citrusy

2. Aliphatic Aldehydes

Used to give the sparkle to Chanel No. 5, these ingredients in perfume are organic compounds found in natural materials that can be synthesized artificially. Aldehydes vary in fragrance, but usually contain very pleasant floral or fruity scents.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Floral, fruity

3. Amber

Amber oil has a very rich and warm fragrance, used in many oriental perfumes. Amber oil is produced from a fossilized sap of the Pinus Succubefera tree.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Rich, sweet

4. Ambergris

This perfume ingredient is a waxy secretion that is produced in the intestine of sperm whales that ages into a sweet earthy scent. Ambergris is oftentimes produced synthetically as it’s illegal to sell in many countries.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Sweet, earthy

5. Ambrette

ambrette flower

This ingredient in perfume is derived from ambrette seeds found in a type of hibiscus plant. Ambrette is commonly used as a substitute for true musk, due to its very similar musk-like fragrance.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Musky, earthy

6. Amyris

Amyris is a genus flowering plant found in Haiti or South America that has a sweet and woody fragrance. It is commonly used as a cheaper alternative to sandalwood in perfumery since its has a very similar aroma.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Sweet, woody

7. Benzoin

This perfume ingredient is a balsamic-smelling resin from the Styrax tree found in Japan. Benzoin gives body to a perfume and usually has a rich fragrance that can smell like vanilla or balsamic making it sweetly seductive.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Rich, balsamic

8. Bergamot

This citrusy perfume ingredient is obtained from the bergamot orange, primarily grown in Italy. Bergamot is a popular essential oil and perfume ingredient that has a very tangy and bright scent that is known to be very uplifting and refreshing.

For more about this popular scent note, read on in our What Does Bergamot Smell Like guide?

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Citrusy, tangy

9. Black Pepper

Black pepper contains a luxurious and sensual scent that adds a bit of edge and complexity to a perfume that is both spicy and slightly woody. It is derived from the almost ripe peppercorns of the Piper nigrum vine.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Spicy, woody

10. Calone

Calone is a synthetic chemical that adds a fresh water-like note to a fragrance. It has an intense “sea breeze” note with slight floral undertones. It is a very common perfume ingredient in water perfumes like Cool Water by Davidoff.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Watery, fresh

11. Cashmeran

Cashmeran is used to invoke the smell or feel of cashmere which has a cozy and comforting scent. It’s a synthetic aldehyde that achieves a floral oriental fragrance by combining spicy, ambery and floral notes like in Replica By The Fireplace Eau de Toilette.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Oriental, floral

12. Castoreum

This strange perfume ingredient comes from the Castor beaver which is used to create a sweet and leathery aroma like in Etat Libre d’Orange’s Fils de Dieu. Naturally, this ingredient is from beaver secretion, but is often reproduced synthetically.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Vanilla, leathery

13. Citron

This citrusy perfume ingredient is obtained from the zest of the citron fruit — similar to a lemon. Citron adds a dry citrus edge to the top notes of perfumes and colognes such as Christian Dior Eau Sauvage Parfum.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Citrusy, crisp

14. Civet

This ingredient in perfume is produced by a gland in the African civet cat’s tail. Civet in its purest form has an unpleasant and strong odor, but in small quantities can add depth and warmth to a musky fragrance.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Musky, warm

15. Clary sage

clary sage

The oil found in clary sage has a herby and sweet smell that is used in unisex perfumes and colognes like Banana Republic Slate. This earthy aroma also contains notes of amber and tobacco.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Earthy, floral

16. Coumarin

Coumarin is a perfume compound that has a similar scent as vanilla and freshly cut hay. It naturally occurs in tonka beans and cinnamon, but it also has trace amounts in other plants such as sweet grass and lavender.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Vanilla, hay

17. Frangipani

Frangipani, also known as the West Indian Jasmine, is a fragrant tropical flower with a very rich and sophisticated fragrance. These flowers have been described to have various scent notes from roses and gardenias to pineapple and coconuts.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Floral, fruity

18. Frankincense

Frankincense, also called Olibanum, is a gum resin found in Arabia and Eastern Africa. It has an earthy, spicy and slightly sweet fragrance giving perfumes such as Diptyque Tempo a boost of natural confidence.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Earthy, spicy

19. Galbanum

This perfume ingredient is another gum resin that comes from plants in the Apiaceae family which includes carrots, parsley and celery. It’s described to have a green, plant-like aroma that is very fresh and clean — perfect for a casual everyday fragrance.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Green, fresh

20. Guaiac Wood

This ingredient in perfume is derived from the resin of the guayacan which is a small tree in South America. It has a woody scent that is often used in tobacco and leather scents found mostly in colognes and unisex fragrances.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Woody, leathery

21. Hedione

This aromatic compound is a synthetic perfume ingredient that has a fresh and floral scent. Hedione is often compared to the soft and fresh scent of jasmine and is oftentimes used as a cheaper alternative since jasmine is very expensive.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Fresh, floral

22. Heliotrope

Heliotrope is a flower with a strong vanilla aroma with almondy undertones. Its scent pairs nicely with other floral notes such as jasmine and rose. These species of flowers are native to Bolivia, Colombia and Peru.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Vanilla, sweet

23. Indole

Indole is a widely used perfume ingredient that is used to strengthen a floral aroma. It’s a chemical compound that gives off floral notes when used in small concentrations, but can smell rancid at high concentrations.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Strong, floral

24. Iso E Super

Iso E Super is a synthetic chemical that is used to create fullness to a fragrance. It has a woody and velvety aroma with amber notes which is both smooth and warm. It’s the perfect ingredient to accomplish a cozy and inviting oriental perfume.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Woody, amber

25. Jasmine

jasmine flowers

Jasmine is a flower with a very refreshing and light floral fragrance found widely in perfumery. It’s also one of the most expensive perfumes ingredients in the world so is sometimes replaced with cheaper alternatives like hedione.

For more information about jasmine perfume, read on in our Best Jasmine Perfumes of All Time guide.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Floral, fresh

26. Labdanum

This perfume ingredient is found in the gum of the rockrose bush and is said to mimic the smell of ambergris with it’s sweet, earthy and woody fragrance. Labdanum is used to create leather notes in perfumes.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Sweet, earthy

27. Lavender

Lavender is commonly used in aromatherapy, as it has a relaxing aroma that promotes calmness and reduces stress. In perfumery, lavender gives a fragrance a floral and fresh note that is distinctive, but not overpowering.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Floral, fresh

28. Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley, also known as muguet,  has a spring-like scent with sweet green notes and hints of citrus. Interestingly enough, lily of the valley does not produce its own oil, so this perfume ingredient is produced synthetically.

For more citrusy scents, read on in the Best Citrus Perfumes of All Time guide.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Green, sweet

29. Magnolia

Magnolia flowers have a sweet and refreshing floral scent with hints of fruity notes used in summer fragrances like Chanel Cristalle Eau Verte Perfume. It has a refreshing and relaxing scent that makes it another popular fragrance used in aromatherapy.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Floral, fruity

30. Mandarin

Mandarin has an intense and tangy aroma that is fresh, fruity and citrusy. It’s obtained from the mandarin orange that originates from China and can be found in many spring and summer fragrances such as Marc Jacobs Daisy Eau So Fresh Prefume.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Citrusy, sharp

31. Monoi

Monio is an infused perfume oil made by soaking Tahitian gardenia petals in coconut oil. It has a very sweet floral and fruity smell that makes it perfect for spring and summer days like Berdoues Vanille Monoi Perfume.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Floral, sweet

32. Muguet

Muguet is the French word for lily of the valley. It has a sweet and green scent that is synthetically made to resemble the natural scent of the oil-less lily of the valley flower. Find this refreshing perfume ingredient in Molinard Muguet Perfume.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Green, sweet

33. Musk

Natural musk comes from the glands of the musk deer and has an animalistic and slightly sweet smell. Today, most musk perfume ingredients are synthetic since it’s an expensive ingredient with a high demand in men’s fragrance.

For a list of the most popular musk fragrances, read on in the Best Musk Perfumes of All Time guide.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Animalistic, sweet

34. Myrrh

Myrrh is an ancient gum resin found in Arabia and Eastern Africa. It has a rich and dark fruit fragrance and adds a warm, earthy and woody fragrance to perfumes and colognes such as Valentina Myrrh Assoluto Perfume.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Earthy, woody

35. Narcissus

narcissus flowers

Popular in French perfumes like L’Artisan Parfumeur, this white flower has a strong and rich fragrance. It has a variety of smells that are reminiscent of dark green leaves, musk or even vanilla.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Floral, rich

36. Neroli

This extensively used perfume ingredient is derived from a citrus oil distilled from the blossoms of the bitter orange. Its scent is sweet and somewhat metallic with green and spicy notes used mostly in colognes and unisex perfumes like Jo Malone Basil & Neroli Perfume.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Citrusy, green

37. Oakmoss

Oakmoss comes from a lichen that grows on oak trees and is a valued perfume ingredient due to its complex scent profile. At first, its scent is warm and oriental and then dries down into an earthy aroma that is reminiscent of bark and foliage.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Oriental, earthy

38. Opopanax

Opopanax, also known as sweet myrrh, is an herb that grows in the Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa. The resin is used as the ingredient in perfume and has a balsam scent that is floral and herby.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Floral, herby

39. Orris

This rare perfume ingredient is derived from the root of the iris plant. It has a heavy floral and woody scent that is described to be clean and refreshing.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Floral, woody

40. Osmanthus

This perfume ingredient is found from a flowering tree native to China and is valued for its fruity apricot-like fragrance. This ingredient works beautifully in leathery colognes and floral perfumes like Narciso Rodriguez Iridescent perfume.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Fruity, sweet

41. Oud

This expensive fragrant ingredient is from the wood of the Agar tree found mostly in Southeast Asia. Its aromatic resin is treasured by perfumers for its rare woody fragrance that has complex notes ranging from earthy sweet to slightly spicy.

To learn more about oud, read on in the What Does Oud Perfume Smell Like guide.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Woody, earthy

42. Patchouli

Patchouli has a strong, musty-sweet smell that is commonly found in various scented products from fragrances and cosmetics to detergent and paper towels. It comes from a bushy shrub found in Malaysia and India

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Earthy, sweet

43. Rose

One of the most common scent notes found in perfumery, rose is known for its romantic and floral fragrance. Shockingly, rose is also one of the most expensive perfume ingredients in the world as it takes 10,000 pounds of rose petals to distill one pound of rose oil.

Read on about the most popular rose fragrances in the Best Rose Perfumes of All Time guide.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Floral, fresh

44. Rose de Mai

Rose de mai, also known as rose absolute (rose essential oil), is produced by solvent and then alcohol extraction. It has a sweet, fresh floral fragrance with hints of green notes and honey making it the perfect ingredient for a day-to-day spring perfume.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Floral, green

45. Sandalwood


Sandalwood is a creamy and warm woody fragrance that is commonly found in the base notes of men’s cologne and unisex perfumes. It originates from the East Indian sandalwood tree, which is one of the most valuable trees in the world.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Woody, sweet

46. Tonka Bean

Tonka bean is from a plant native to Brazil that has a vanilla-sweet fragrance with hints of spices like cinnamon and clove. It originally was used as an alternative to vanilla, but has become popular on its own.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Vanilla, spicy

47. Tuberose

Tuberose has an intoxicating floral scent that comes from its highly perfumed white flower petals. It has slight milky and fruity notes, giving a sweet and creamy scent.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Floral, creamy

48. Vanilla

Vanilla is one of the most popular scents in the world with its highly recognizable sweet and creamy fragrance. Vanilla comes from the seed pods of the three main species of vanilla orchid: Vanilla Planifolia, Vanilla Pompona and Vanilla Tahitensis.

For a comprehensive guide about what vanilla perfume smells like, read on in our Best Vanilla Perfumes of All Time guide.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Sweet, creamy

49. Vetiver

This perfume ingredient comes from a grass with heavy, fibrous roots which are used to distill an oil that smells extremely earthy. It contains fragrant undertones that are woody, leather and slightly smoky.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Earthy, woody

50. Ylang-Ylang

Ylang-ylang is a yellow star-shaped flower found on the tropical Cananga tree. It has a sweet and floral scent that blends incredibly with oriental and floral scents and can be found on the ingredient list of many top selling perfumes.

Perfume Ingredient Scent: Sweet, floral

What Are The Chemicals in Perfume?

chemicals in perfume

Today, perfume chemicals are increasingly more synthetic. Oftentimes, scents that occur naturally are reproduced synthetically rather than sourced and extracted. This is because it’s either less expensive to produce or the natural ingredient doesn’t produce its own oil to be extracted. Some of these synthetic perfume ingredients include:

  • Aliphatic Aldehyde
  • Calone
  • Iso E Super
  • Hedione
  • Indole

Some natural scents such as musk and lily of the valley can be synthetically made as well. Lily of the valley doesn’t produce its own oil, so the scent must be synthetically made. Musk comes from animals, so the scent can be expensive and complicated to obtain naturally. Synthetic musks were made to make it less expensive to produce and charge on the market.

Most Expensive Perfume Ingredients

Iris flower

You may have found yourself wondering why your perfume or cologne is so expensive. Some perfume ingredients are very expensive and rare to come by because they are sourced from all over the world. Some of these ingredients are:

  • Ambergris
  • Oud
  • Orris
  • Jasmine
  • Musk
  • Rose

These ingredients can be sourced anywhere from rare flowers to the internal organs of deep sea mammals. The process to obtain these ingredients can be costly and complicated, so they end up being very expensive and in turn increasing the price tag of the perfume you purchase. Learn more about expensive scents in our Most Expensive Perfumes of All Time guide. 

Fragrance Ingredients – In Conclusion

Popular perfume and cologne ingredients are a mix of natural aromatic oils and synthetic chemicals. Each fragrance contains the perfect blend of these various perfume ingredients to make the perfect scent for each individual nose out there. If you would like to explore the different perfume and their unique ingredients, check out our extensive list of discount perfumes and colognes to find your ideal match.

For more resources about perfume and cologne, read on:

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