How to Smell Essential Oils


Essential oils are very complex. They might comprise hundreds of chemical compounds, all of which evaporate with a different speed. On the opening of the bottle your nose will be confronted by the most volatile ingredients first. And this is why smelling essential oils directly from the bottles will never allow you to experience and get to know their aromas well. It might even be an overwhelming - or sometimes uncomfortable - experience! So, how do we look beyond this first impression?

Smelling essential oils like a pro will help you learn their secrets – the deeper, hidden layers of their aromas. So let’s begin! 

Prepare well:

  • Use a fragrance-free and well-ventilated area.
  • Do not wear perfume/aftershave.
  • Allow plenty of time to carry out the assessment
  • Have a notebook ready
  • Always use smelling strips!

Step by step aroma assessment process:

  1. Select one essential oil and write its name on a smelling strip.


  1. Carefully apply 1 drop of the chosen essential oil to the strip and close the bottle tight. Hold the strip in your lap. Wait for the aroma to reach your nose. Inhale slowly and deeply. Make a note of anything that comes to your mind. Do you recognise the smell? Does it remind you of anything? Write down your observations.


  1. Lift the strip half way up, to your chest level. Wait again for the aroma to reach your nose. Inhale slowly and deeply. Can you notice any changes in the aroma? Perhaps you can taste it or it has a shape or a colour…? What is its mood…? Write down your observations.


  1. Finally lift the strip close up to your nose. Inhale slowly and deeply… Write down your observations.


  1. Revisit the smelling strip at regular time intervals and reassess the aroma through the ‘dry down’ stage. This will help you establish the note of each essential oil.

Tip: Essential oilscan dissolve furniture varnish and plastics. To avoid accidents during your smelling exercises bend the tip of the smelling strip where you have applied the essential oils to. You can now place the strip down and the oil will not come into contact with the table.

What are the perfumery ‘notes’ in a nutshell:

You will notice that some aromas dissipate very fast – these are referred to as ‘top notes’. Some will hang around a bit longer – these will be the ‘middle notes’. Once they begin to dissipate the ‘base notes’ will finally show up. This is known as the ‘dry down’ period. Some base notes, in a true couch potato fashion, will linger for a long time, even over 24 hours!

It takes many hours to truly explore the hidden depths and ‘layers’ of any essential oil (or perfume). Patience is crucial.Have fun!

Tip: We are only able to smell few essential oils before our sense of smell ‘gives up’. Restore it to the working order by taking regular breaks and sniffing ground coffee.It really works!

 Margaret Pawlaczyk-Karlinski MSc. (Hons.), Cert. Ed., M.I.F.A., NHS reg.