The joy of aldehydes

Recognizing the presence of aldehydes in perfume is not easy for me.  In fact, I bought White Linen by Estée Lauder as a reference scent just to be able to practice.  But the aldehydes in White Linen are easy to identify because they are overdosed and they are the kind that really sting.  Generally, the aldehydes are not so obvious and so I look for different clues.  With Joy eau de parfum by Jean Patou, it was the abstraction that provided the clue.  In other words, it’s not so much what I smelled but what I didn’t smell.  I couldn’t pick out notes.  Jacques Polge said it best when he said that “les aldéhydes concourent à brouiller les pistes.”  Simply, aldehydes blur the notes.  That’s why Chanel No. 5 doesn’t smell like its constituent parts… rose, jasmine and ylang ylang.

For people just starting out with perfume, aldehydes are frustrating because they can make a perfume illegible and everyone loves to be able to sniff a fragrance and say… “Ah… iris!” or “What a great rose note!”  But with aldehydes, you can’t do that because the notes are blurred.  Aldehydes force you to just smell (and perhaps feel)… but not think!  Total fragrance abstraction reminds me of abstract art such as the sublime rubber stamp print by Saskatchewan-born Agnes Martin.  There is no point in analyzing it.  You are reduced, or rather elevated, to just looking at it and appreciating it for what it is.

Chemically, aldehydes are built of 3 hydrogen atoms and a carbon atom (H3C) at one end followed by a straight chain of carbon atoms and anchored with an oxygen atom at the other end.  The first 8 iterations (from 0 to 7 carbon atoms) are not used in perfume.  But from C8 (8 carbon atoms) to C12 (12 carbon atoms), watch out!  Their notes vary from waxy to citrus to incense-like.  What they do to perfume is difficult to describe but they are responsible for masterpieces like Chanel No. 5, Arpège (pre-reformulation) by Lanvin and Chant d’Arômes by Guerlain… the most famous among them being No. 5 with its cocktail of C10, C11 and C12 aldehydes.  If anyone is interested in finding out more about aldehydes and perfume, I encourage you to check out The Secret of Scent by Luca Turin.

And so for this week, I’ll be wearing either Joy eau de parfum or Diorella and I’ll get back to you with my review.

Have a nice week everyone!

Image : Praise (1976) by Agnes Martin

Leave a comment


  1. Richard Townson

     /  November 14, 2011

    As always your ability to find a work of art that mirrors the main tenet of your post is spot-on. And your chemistry explanation is so clear that even a chemo-phobe such as myself can understand.

    Keep up the interesting work.

  2. Anonymous

     /  November 14, 2011

    Bonjour Normand

    J’ai découvert votre site depuis que je me suis inscrite à la conférence que vous donnerez mercredi le 16 novembre à la bibliothèque de Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville. Je me reconnais dans l’article intitulé “Perfumes that I wanted to love” et, que dire de celui-ci sur les aldéhydes… très intéressant!

    Je suis depuis toujours passionnée des parfums, de leurs compositions, de leurs flacons et de leurs odeurs qui nous transportent (parfois non!!) et je possède maintenant une petite collection. J’ai lu le dernier Guide de Lucas Turin et Tania Sanchez …livre qui m’a laissé un peu sur ma faim. Je cherche depuis toujours LE LIVRE RÉFÉRENCE sur le sujet mais je crois qu’il n’a pas encore été écrit.

    Mes plus récent coup de coeur: BLACK de Bulgari (je crois qu’il ne se fait plus malheureusement), CUIR de Lancôme, CALANDRE de Paco Rabanne que j’ai redécouvert récemment et l’extrait fabuleux de BAL À VERSAILLES (qui n’a rien à voir avec l’eau de toilette). Ah oui, j’oubliais… HABANITA de Molinard…. une petite merveille.

    Au plaisir de vous rencontrer mercredi soir à St-Bruno et bonne continuité…. je suis ravie d’avoir devant moi des heures de lecture car je n’ai pas tout lu le contenu de votre site.


    • Bonjour Marie-Claude,

      Merci beaucoup pour le commentaire super intéressant! “Le livre référence” n’existe pas, je crois. Peut-être à vous à l’écrire? 😉 Avez vous “Le guide du parfum” par Rebecca Veuillet-Gallot? C’est assez bien mais parfois on dirait plus une annonce pour les parfums que de la vraie critique. Vos choix sont très bien. J’ai hâte à vous rencontrer mercredi.

      Au plaisir,


  3. I am not an expert on aldehydes and I cannot say that I have pinned them down completely. I think I can most easily identify them when they give a cool metallic vibe to the scent.. A favourite aldehydic scent is Serge Lutens La Myrrhe.

    • Well… they can be so different. A couple of extra carbons and an aldehyde can smell like something completely different. Thanks for writing! I’ve got to try La Myrrhe. People seem to love it.

  4. Matthew Miller

     /  November 19, 2011

    I am sure you have read “The emperor of scent”, but it might be interesting introductory reading for those interested in perfume.

    Interesting blog.


  5. anotherperfumeblog

     /  November 20, 2011

    Your description of the “blurring” effects of aldehydes is one I hadn’t read before, and one I find very apt. The chemistry side is not my forte, but I did enjoy both The Secret of Scent and The Emperor of Scent, so I can second those recommendations.

  6. brittney leigh

     /  August 22, 2012

    Crushed diamonds or bright light.

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