The Difference Between Ingredients, Ingredient Lists, and Notes

I’ve had a number of people ask me about the differences between what’s actually in the bottle (ingredients), what is listed on the box (ingredients list), and what is listed in the notes for a fragrance. I’ll give a brief explanation of how these things differ.

The notes given for a fragrance are a description of what the scent is supposed to smell like rather than an exact list of what is in it. The fragrance might have an oakmoss note, but you won’t know from the notes list if it has real oakmoss in it or not. The fragrance might list jasmine or rose, and you won’t know if these are partly synthetic and partly natural, all natural, or all synthetic. With the exception of all-natural perfumes, most floral accords these days are combinations of naturals and synthetics. Some companies let you know that the product includes natural ingredients by listing the phrase “essential oil” or “absolute” after the item, as in patchouli essential oil or jasmine sambac absolute.

A list of ingredients is required, but the USA and EU (European Union) requirements are different. In both cases most of the fragrance ingredients are kept secret by lumping them into the word “fragrance” or “parfum” in the ingredients list. The list also contains the non-fragrant ingredients, usually water (or aqua) and specially denatured alcohol such as SD39C. Some fragrances may list colorants or sunscreen additives.

In addition, the EU requires that certain fragrant ingredients be listed rather than lumped into the secret “fragrance” term. The EU created a list of 26 fragrance materials they deem to be potential allergens and these items must be disclosed in the ingredients list if they occur at a level higher than 10 ppm (parts per million) in a leave-on product like perfume. Oakmoss/treemoss is one such item, so if you see Evernia prunastri or Evernia furfuracea on the ingredients label you know the product has natural oakmoss or treemoss in it. Some perfume lovers who want natural oakmoss look for this listing on the label. Some synthetic ingredients must also be listed, like linalool and eugenol, but it’s worth noting that many of these ingredients are also found in natural essential oils and thus can be of natural or synthetic origin. Remember that even if this ingredients list looks long, it is not a full listing of what’s in the perfume formula because many more things are hidden in the “fragrance” or “parfum” term.

I’ve not made my labels conform yet to the EU listing requirements since I don’t sell in the EU, but it is something I’ll probably do later this year. I do indicate the prescence of natural oakmoss in scents by listing “oakmoss absolute” in the list of notes, and over the next few months I’ll be substituting the new natural low allergen moss into all my formulas.

I hope that’s the last post of this nature for a while (I’m guessing people want to hear about other things too, but you’re always welcome to write with suggestions or requests for post topics); I hope some of the info has been helpful.

Similar Posts


  1. Hi Paula! Glad the posts helped! I thought it might be a good time to post a little bit about these topics since so much discussion is going on right now about these issues. Thanks for your feedback! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *