See SAFETY and USES for more aromatherapy information. LINKS2 has a list of other useful aromatherapy websites.

Essential oils evaporate at different rates. Aromatherapy has borrowed the perfumer's terminology and describes oils that evaporate quickly as "top notes", those that evaporate slowly as "base notes", and those in-between as "middle notes". This is not the same as whether an oil has a strong or weak odour, though the two things can be confused, as an oil that evaporates quickly will have a more greater immediate impact on your sense of smell.

Classification of some oils is variable and arbitrary - I have seen ginger and nutmeg described as top, middle, and base notes in different books. The matter is complicated by the fact that within each oil, some chemicals evaporate more quickly than others - i.e. each oil has its own top, middle and base notes. The list below is therefore a "rough guide" based on several books and my own experience.

Some sources suggest that if you blend several different oils, you should always include a top, middle and base note oil. I do not see this, as we are doing aromatherapy, not perfumery. If you do a full-body massage which may last an hour or more, then it is true that including only top notes will mean most of your aroma has evaporated before the massage is over. But if you mix up a blend for your frozen shoulder, I think the pain-relieving and other properties of the oils, as well as your liking the aroma, are more important -  though some base notes can act as fixatives, and prolong the shelf-life of a blend by slowing down the evaporation of more volatile oils.

How much attention you need to pay to evaporation rates all depends on the circumstances, but in any case do not let ignorance in this area put you off using oils!


Bergamot, cajuput, caraway, citronella, cumin, eucalyptus, grapefruit, lemon, lemongrass, lime, mandarin, niaouli, orange.


Basil, cardamom, coriander, fennel, ho wood, lavender, peppermint, petitgrain, pine needle, rosemary, rosewood, tea-tree.


Camomile, carrot seed, clary sage, geranium, ginger?, juniper, marjoram, melissa, myrtle, nutmeg?, palmarosa?, turpentine?, thyme.


Black pepper, cypress, frankincense, jasmine, neroli, rose, ylang ylang.


Benzoin, cedarwood, cinnamon leaf, clove, myrrh, patchouli, rockrose (ciste/labdanum), sandalwood, vetiver.

See LINKS2 for other aromatherapy and general health websites.

Page main content updated 29.07.14. Whole page updated 4.10.21


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