With the sun beating down, and beachgoers flocking to the sand, we bet you’re shuffling some of your fragrance bottles to the front now, switching it up to your favorite summer scents. But have you ever thought about what makes a scent... summery?
Did we stump you? Well, have no fear, because not only are we about to break down some major categories of summery scents, we’re going to pull back the curtain on what actually makes up some of that deliciousness you long for every year. And we’ll also be throwing out some examples along the way, just to give your summer a wee bit more fireworks.
Blow up your floaties, kids, because we’re about to make a dive into the deep end of getting sunshine into a bottle.
Citrus of course, is one of the most beloved and well-known ways to give a scent a summer sparkle. Something about the combination of the tart zing, a juicy sweetness, and a vibrant freshness, all in one place, just really captures the get-up-and-go, free feeling these months can bring for a lot of people.
This olfactory family is generally known as a top note. Which is fancy perfume speak for the first thing you notice upon spraying, and thus, generally the first type of notes to fade quickly away. If you’re a citrus lover, you may have noticed this, and that your favorites tend to disappear faster than you’d like. That’s often the name of the game if you love any top notes, but don’t worry, read ‘til the end here, and we have your back on fixing that. Trust us.
Now, all citrus isn’t created equal. Pay attention next time you spy some citrus lurking in your scent. Is it a sharper, more acidic citrus? Is it juicier and sweeter – more rind notes, or more fruit notes? Some citrus-heavy notes even have herbal qualities to them, one of our favorites including cypress and neroli. We swear, that’s a thing, and yes, it smells as amazing as it sounds. Like in this magical potion...
That signature sparkling, yet pleasantly dry aroma in most all citrus is due to a chemical called a terpene – the most famous of these being limonene. Go ahead, flip over your perfume bottles, and also your cleaning products (yes, it’s a very effective cleaner too) and see if you come across that word. We bet a lot of money you will.
See? Chemistry isn’t so scary...
And for you citrus lovers that wish your favorite smell would stick around, you definitely want to get your hands on Citron Pomelo by Noteology, and Falling into the Sea by Imaginary Authors. Both of these give you all of the summer citrus vibes but are composed in a magical way that you also get longevity on your skin. Do you want all out citrus explosion that isn't too rindy but perfectly bright and shimmering? Try Smile & Shine by the Zoo, it checks all the citrus-loving boxes.
While we’re on the subject of chemistry, aldehydes are pretty cool, and always popping up in perfume. They run the gamut of olfaction, going from soapy to metallic, waxy to starchy and green to citrus. It might be a weird word right now, but you’ve encountered a million of these in your lifetime. In perfume, aldehydes function sort of like a trampoline in scent. They take a fragrance, give it effervescence, and a lot of ‘oomph’. The sparkly qualities, or the way a scent ‘jumps’ and seems to be alive, those are probably aldehydes working.
These little weightlifters are found all over the place – in roses, cinnamon bark ( cinnamaldehyde ), orange rinds, or vanilla ( vanillin ) for examples, and if you can’t tell already, some of them smell very different from one another, even though they’re in the same category of molecule.
Citral is a great example of one (found heavily in coriander leaf), and you can also find it on the back of your perfume bottles too - lending a very clean, sparkly lemon scent.
Ready for the big reveal? Citral is also used as a flavor, and probably in some of your favorite sweet, summer treats. Did someone say snow cones?
And how could we forget that delicious, unmistakable, beachy coconut smell? Well, that’s probably coming from another aldehyde, Aldehyde C-18 (aka Gamma-Nonalactone). It's what gives you that creamy, milky, trpocial, lactonic aroma. It also has something in common with citral as well, because it’s a coconut flavoring too. We couldn’t dare let you have a summer without the piña coladas. Cheers!
Ozonic scents are just another weird word that you’re already familiar with. You might have been able to figure it out by the root word, ozone. These types of scents are meant to approximate things like clean, fresh air, a sea breeze, the air after rain – notice a theme here? Depending on the particular picture a perfumer is trying to paint, the air in that ‘place’ can smell quite different, and this is why this category of scent is so wide and varied.
These work well for summer because they do all tend to be cleaner, crisp, and take on the quality of fresh air, wherever that particular air might be located. Key words that a scent might be ozonic, are words like “sea salt”, “rain”, “breeze”, “mist”, and you get the idea...
How incredible is it that in perfumery, you can capture the quality of air somewhere else, with something you spray into the air, right where you are?
And by the way... that amazing smell of rain in the air...? It actually has a name. It’s called petrichor . Then some amazing scientists figured out the core component of petrichor, that they went and called geosmin . They even figured out how to synthesize it. It didn’t take long before some talented perfumers got their hands on it and have now been working it into their scents.
If you want to see what a nice ozonic perfume smells like, jump on over to here to sniff Beach Rose by Bluehill Fragrances for salty sea air, or here to sniff Voyagers by Abbott NYC for a unisex easy-breezy scent . Want full on petrichor? We love 15 by OSM and 8E917E by Sum for that.
Aquatic scents are a widely popular and gigantic category, as many fragrances use the idea of ‘aquatic’ as the base of a perfume quite often. Ok, you’re right - water doesn’t have a smell per se - but what an aquatic fragrance does is try to convey the idea of water by a clean, fresh, all-encompassing, projective scent – the feeling of being refreshed and awash.
A lot of the feel of aquatics definitely borrow some help from the ozonic category, for instance, an oft-used molecule called calone . Calone is a synthetic molecule that smells like a near-exact replica of faint sea air. It’s pretty spectacular.
Combine an ozonic sea air with a clean, refreshing white musk feel, and you’re now in the aquatic category. Aquatic accords are so beloved and pleasing, they’re combined to infinity with other types of scents. You can have a floral-aquatic, a green-aquatic, a woody-aquatic... there’s almost nothing that doesn’t combine pretty well with this category.
And how about a green-ozonic-aquatic? Sound crazy and delicious? Well, we think you should get your nose on this one then . Amongst Waves by Gallagher Fragrances is filled with sea salty aquatic notes, juicy melons and green apple freshness. We say, YES!, to that!
A little disclaimer that this is by no means an exhaustive list (summer gourmands are totally a thing too, just off the top of our heads), but we think you have a pretty good idea of what makes our summers smell like summer. And now maybe some new, sunny sillage to don?
So, put your SPF-coated noses up toward the sun, and start to notice this season through more than your sunglasses. There’s a whole brightly scented world out there. Go sniff some rays for us.
p.s. Are you daring? Try our Summer Blind Box experience and you can discover 3 or 6 summer fragrances, blindly, and really see what you love to wear without marketing, branding or descriptions. And yes, we do reveal them with a secret link too! Grab it HERE by August 31st!
photo credits: Heather Barnes, NOAA, Austin Neill, Humphrey Muleba, David Lezcano, Angelo Pantazis.
Comments will be approved before showing up.