12 French Words From The World Of Aromatherapy

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ve compiled 12 French words from the world of perfume making and aromatherapy.
French aromatherapy words represented by someone using a dropper to mix scents in a tincture.

A Brief History Of Perfume Making

Perfumes have been enchanting us for thousands of years. According to hieroglyphics found in Egyptian tombs, perfumes have been made as far back as 3000 BCE. Priests and pharaohs were buried with fragrances, as a way of connecting humans with the gods. Jasmine, frankincense, myrrh, cypress grass, wine, honey, raisins and juniper were among the most prized ingredients of the time. They were pounded together and burned to please the gods as well as preserve a harmonious balance between the body and the soul.

The art of perfume making was later refined by the Ancient Greeks, who were the first to use oils as a means of creating liquid perfumes that could be worn directly on the body, and the Romans who gave perfume its name: per fumum (“through smoke”), a reference to the burned materials. 

Perfumes lost their appeal during the middle ages, when pomanders (from the French pomme d’ambre, “apple of amber”) started making their appearance. Pomanders were small bags of fragrant herbs worn or carried around to mask the awful smell of pestilence in the Middle Ages. 

Then, in the late 14th century, perfumery as we know it today was born when Queen Elizabeth of Hungary commissioned one of the first alcohol-based perfumes in Europe, primarily made with lavender and rosemary. It became known as the Queen of Hungary Water. 

The epicenter of perfumery soon moved to France and in 1656, Maîtres Parfumeurs et Gantiers, (the Corporation of Glovemakers and Perfumers) was formed in Paris. It was King Louis IV, however — famously known for being terrified of bathing due to the diseases that water could spread — who took perfumery to new heights. Although he is said to have taken only two or three baths in his entire life, he was known as the “sweetest-smelling King of all” thanks to the large amounts of perfume he wore. He commissioned his perfumer to make him one new perfume for each day of the week and under his reign, the cities of Montpellier and Grasse became burgeoning perfume-making centers. Today, Grasse is still known as the perfume capital of the world.

With France being at the heart of everything perfume, it’s no wonder that lots of our perfume terminology comes from French.

Eau De…

You may have heard of the French terms eau fraîche, eau de cologne, eau de toilette, eau de parfum and parfum, but do you know what the difference is between each of them? It all comes down to the different concentrations of perfume oils and perfume strength. A higher concentration of perfume oils means there’s less alcohol used, which in turn means the fragrance lasts longer and is purer.

As a general rule of thumb, eau fraiche is the freshest and lightest of perfumes, with a perfume oil level between 1% and 3%. 

Eau de cologne has a concentration between 2% and 5%. Its main notes are floral, fruity or citrus, and it doesn’t usually last more than two hours. For that reason, it’s also cheaper to buy compared to the following three. 

Eau de toilette has a concentration between 5% and 15% and lasts from three to four hours, depending on the skin type. It’s ideal for everyday wear.

Eau de parfum has a perfume oil concentration around 15% to 20% and can last up to five hours on the body. This variation is particularly popular with perfumes that are worn during the evening or on a night out.

Finally, parfum has the highest concentration of perfume oils, and it’s the most expensive to buy on the market. With a concentration from 20% to 40%, it can last on the skin for up to eight hours. 

Improving Your Mental Health With Aromatherapy

The first person to use the term aromatherapy back in the 1930s was the French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefossé, after he was able to cure his badly burnt arm with the help of pure lavender oil. His fascination for the therapeutic properties of essential oils led him to creating the Société Française des Produits Aromatiques, or the French Society of Aromatic Products.

Today, we know that aromatherapy plays an important role in improving our mental health and well-being, all thanks to the special properties and characteristics of essential oils.

  • Lavande, bergamote, camomille (lavender, bergamot, chamomile) — Their calming properties can help reduce stress and anxiety. Lavender-scented products are especially great if you have trouble sleeping, as lavender is also known to lower blood pressure and reduce heart rate.
  • Citron, menthe, romarin (lemon, peppermint, rosemary) — Their stimulating properties can enhance the mood immediately and improve focus and concentration.
  • Menthe, eucalyptus, pamplemousse (peppermint, eucalyptus, grapefruit) — Use this blend if you want to boost your energy levels and improve your mood.

Here’s a short aromatherapy routine you can follow.  Start the date with an invigorating shower. I like to use shower steamers in the corner of my shower. You can choose menthol for a revitalizing experience or if you are in the mood for a more calming effect, rose, jasmine and powdery vanilla go down like a treat. I always keep a de-stress roller ball in my bag. They are small and easy to use on the temples, pulse points, the neck, and behind the ears. They are especially effective if you’re having a stressful day and want to take a 1-minute aromatherapy break. Go for a natural blend of frankincense, chamomile, and rosemary to help you focus better throughout the day.

You can use de-stress reed diffusers around the house but personally, I am also keen to try diffuser necklaces which allow you to add a couple of drops on them so you can carry your favorite essential oils everywhere you go with you. Go for lavender if you’re having a stressful day or if you think you may be coming down with a cold, eucalyptus can do the trick. If you’re having a bath, you can use stress-relief bath salts but I also like to top the experience with a luxurious lavender body lotion or oil. Finally, don’t forget your spray pillow mist. To prepare for a blissful night’s sleep, spray your pillow and sheets sometime before you go to bed. It’s important to let the essential oils develop before you go to bed. Some mists can also be used on the face.

Finally, like Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the French fictional character in Patrick Süskind’s Das Parfum, you don’t only need to have a strong nose (nez) for scents, you also need to know your scent terminology. To help you with that quest, we’ve compiled 12 French words from the world of perfume making.

  • Accord An accord is a blend of several notes/ingredients. Together they can give perfumes their own distinctive character
  • Capiteux (“heady”)  A heady scent that affects your senses.
  • Notes In perfumery, you have the notes de tête (top notes), notes de cœur (middle or heart notes) and notes de fond (base notes). Notes de tête are perceived immediately upon application and evaporate within 5 to 15 minutes. The notes de cœur form the main body or corps of the perfume and can evaporate within 20 to 60 minutes while the notes de fond can still be perceived after many hours.
  • Enfleurage —  A traditional perfumery method which consists of using odorless fat to obtain the fragrance of fresh flowers. It was first used in 16th-century Grasse.
  • Extrait (“extract”)  This refers to the concentrated materials that derive from a plant, flower or fruit.
  • Huile essentielle ou essence (“essential oil or essence”)Oils extracted from plants of fruit by distillation or cold pressing.
  • Ligne (“line”)  A fragrance line. A series of products that derive from the same perfume.  Note also that a flanker is a newly produced perfume that shares some attributes with an existing perfume.
  • Pommade (“pomade”)A highly fragrant fat, a by-product of the enfleurage process that’s used to extract the scent of delicate flowers like the rose, jasmine or mimosa.
  • Palette —  A list of ingredients/raw materials ((matières premières) available to create a new perfume.
  • Sillage the scent trail a perfume leaves behind when worn on the skin. It comes from the French word for “wake” as in ship wake.
  • Soliflore A single floral aroma; a perfume built around the fragrance of one particular flower.
  • Touche ou mouillette (“smelling strip or blotter strip”)An absorbent piece of paper cut in strips that allows you to test and evaluate perfumes.
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