Thoughts about incense and perfume

I read Christian’s comments on in the ORS-News post about “incense note” perfumes and laughed. I recently ordered about 15 different samples from Lucky Scent (great selection) of perfumes and such listed as “incense note”. I realized that the word  or note “incense” means two very different things between the worlds of incense and perfume. In perfume it seems to refer to frankincense more than anything else while, really, the term incense is so much broader.

Many of the notes that make a piece of burning or heated quality sandalwood or aloeswood so special and unique are very hard to capture in a perfume. The element of heat adds an entire extra dimension to the scent. More even the heat of wearing it on one’s skin. The same is true if you heat a drop of sandalwood or aloeswood oil. Another set of notes come out to play. This might be very difficult (if not impossible) to replicate in a perfume. Possibly using synthetic molecules but not sure at all about using the naturals. Even smelling the best aloeswood/oud oils is nothing like heating up a piece of good Kyara. The same goes for sandalwood, it is rare to find good quality sandalwood for less then $100/oz, never mind the cost of high grade oils.Even if you perfume were 50% sandalwood in no way would it smell the same as, say, Daihatsu’s Sliced Sandalwood on an incense heater.

It occurred to me when looking at this that burning incense seems to compress the time between scent notes that most perfumes are built around,  in other words, the length of time between the top, middle and base notes is delivered all at once. Also incense seems to favor the base notes more. The tops and middles tend to mix together with the bases, there is quite a lot going on at one time when an incense stick is burning, while an incense heater can tend to stretch out and slow up the delivery.

Many of the standard citrus top notes would get lost or simply not work well in the incense medium, the same being true for many of the floral’s. They can get lost very fast (having just watched a seemingly large amount of Rose EO somehow vanish in an incense mix I made). Of course the smoke aspect of incense plays a huge roll also, even in the smoke-less styles available now, there is still some and that effects how you are going to accept the scent.

None of this is to knock one or the other, I like both! It’s just a few thoughts that have been passing through of late. Thanks for the input Christian! – Ross



  1. hyblaean said,

    February 27, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Eau de Parfum – Atomizer spray
    by Omnia Profumo
    Just tried this one today, and on my skin (this one seems to really differ with chemistry) it has a very nice texture to it. Might qualify as a good one for incense lovers. It’s also kind of dark, leathery, tobacco-rich. I could see a man wearing this, even though it is classified as a woman’s scent.

    • Christian said,

      February 28, 2011 at 1:29 pm

      All perfumes differ with chemistry, though Luca Turin disagrees.

  2. February 27, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    one other thought…when using natural perfumes they are there and evolve and fade in beauty (hopefully) but good real incense lingers and changes the space it has filled. For Days one may appreciate a fine incense and the energy and quality it brings with its sacred smoke. We all know to never judge a incense by the smell of its smoke alone but what is left when the smoke is gone.

    • Christian said,

      February 27, 2011 at 1:50 pm

      “We all know to never judge a incense by the smell of its smoke alone but what is left when the smoke is gone.”

      Beautiful thought and can be applied to more than just incense…

    • Mike said,

      February 28, 2011 at 9:52 am

      Just came across this Dion Fortune quote, “How quickly do our thoughts turn away from earthly things when the drifting smoke of incense comes to us from the high altar; how quickly do they return to them again when we get a whiff of patchouli from the next pew!”

      • clairsight said,

        February 28, 2011 at 10:09 am

        great and true quote Mike!
        Top 10 will be up this evening!

      • Christian said,

        February 28, 2011 at 1:29 pm

        I am laughing out loud at my desk.

  3. February 27, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Some very astute comments, it is very frustrating working with Eo’s at times due to their changeable and ephemeral nature. Give some good frankincense or labdanum to burn and I am always pleased.

  4. Christian said,

    February 27, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Wonderful posting, Ross.

    I think what the “incense” perfumes convey is an idea of incense, and a very limited one at that.

    It is highly doubtful that some nose or big company like Firmenich is going to replicate and then try to market something like Lotus Ground incense to Macy’s or Nordstrom and the public in general.

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